The Top Ten Robert Culp Films

Although best known for his work in television, Robert Culp, who would have turned 85 on back on August 16th, starred in over 30 feature films (theatrical releases). Although I haven’t seen them ALL yet (there’s several in the DVDs To Be Watched pile and others I’m still trying to ah, trackdown…), I believe these to be a respectable top ten.

In order of release year:

Robert Culp as Ensign George "Barney" Ross in PT 109PT 109 (1963) – Robert Culp’s feature film debut, he plays Ensign George “Barney” Ross of John F. Kennedy’s PT boat crew during WWII. The epic film (in every sense of the word), clocks in at over two hours long, features an all-star cast and is the only biographical film done about a President while said President was still in office. In the film, Ross, a friend of JFK’s, more or less hitch-hiked on the 109 after his own boat was blown to pieces. Ross’s arrival on the 109 is used to foreshadow the fate of the boat and crew, but Culp’s portrayal of the Ensign shows a man who stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done to help save as many of the crew as possible after the 109 was struck by a Japanese destroyer.

Robert Culp as Russ Wilson in SUNDAY IN NEW YORKSunday in New York (1963) – When Culp shows up in this one, almost an hour into the film, he bursts through a door with a hello and proceeds to steal the rest of the movie. Culp plays Russ, the rich, handsome boyfriend of Aileen (Jane Fonda). Aileen takes off to New York City one Sunday to visit with her brother Adam (Cliff Robertson) after Russ asks something of her that she’s not ready to give just yet. A comedy of errors ensues for Aileen, who meets Mike (Rod Taylor) on the 5th Avenue bus and things go appropriately haywire for her from there. By the end of the movie, Aileen makes a choice between the two men and, in my opinion, picks the wrong guy.

Robert Culp as Bob Sanders in BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICEBob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) – This movie is hilarious, even 45 years after the sexual revolution of the sixties. Culp is Bob Sanders, a film maker, who attends a free thinking retreat with his wife Carol (Natalie Wood) and upon returning the couple decide to experiment with open communication, honesty (now THERE’S a novel idea!) and affairs outside of their marriage. Honesty is great and all but the humor comes in watching the couple try to find the line that divides sex and love. Plus, Culp’s wardrobe is a bonus in this thing. Ruffled shirt? Check. Velvet jacket? Check. Cordoroy? Got it. Full leather suit? Oh. My. God.

Robert Culp as Thomas Luther Price in HANNIE CAULDERHannie Caulder (1971) – A western starring Raquel Welch as Hannie who is raped, burned out of her home and her husband killed by three wandering outlaws (Ernest Borgine, Strother Martin and Jack Elam). Hannie vows revenge but she doesn’t know how to shoot a gun. Enter Thomas Luther Price (Culp) a bounty hunter, whose steely eye and quick draw of a gun contrast with his storefront preacher look. Initially he refuses to teach her but eventually gives in. The lesson is practical and real. Culp’s finesse with firearms is showcased best during the shootout at the gun maker Bailey’s home (Christopher Lee).

Robert Culp as Frank Boggs in HICKEY & BOGGSHickey & Boggs (1972) – This is Culp’s only feature film as a director, and although I may be biased, a fine effort at that. An early 70’s neo-noir style film about two private detectives in Los Angeles (Culp and Bill Cosby) who are literally the last of their kind. They’re also on their last hope, their last thread and their last dime. The film is dark, and violent, but Culp as director refuses to glorify.  Seeing Culp and Cosby play complete and total losers (and completely NOT their I SPY characters) is perhaps more refreshing 50 years after I SPY, than it was to audiences a mere 4 years after.

Robert Culp as Sly Wells in INSIDE OUTInside Out (1975) – A lightweight caper style film, Culp is Sly Wells, an ex-jewel thief living overseas. He is recruited by ex-Army Major Harry Morgan (Telly Savalas), who in turn was recruited by former POW Kommandant Ernst Furben (James Mason), to help bust a Nazi war criminal out of prison, find out where six million in gold is located, take it, put the Nazi back in prison and enjoy a happily ever after. Although Savalas is the ringleader, Culp is the cool and low key schemer, planner and wheel man for the caper.

Robert Culp as Jack Colby in THE GREAT SCOUT AND CATHOUSE THURSDAYThe Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976) – The title alone should land this movie on a top ten list somewhere. A complete and total farce, the film is outrageous both in plot and political incorrectness. Set in 1908, Lee Marvin is Sam Longwood (the Great Scout – and essentially channeling his Cat Ballou character here) and Culp is smooth talking, sharp dressed railroad baron and political schmoozer Jack Colby with eyes on the governor’s office.  Having stolen gold from Marvin and some other buddies years before (including Strother Martin and Oliver Reed as a well-spoken but bat shit crazy Indian) the old gang wants their share of the money back and they put Culp through the ringer to get it.  The knock down drag out fight scene between Marvin and Culp is worth the price of admission.

Robert Culp as Lt Frank Sirrianni in BREAKING POINTBreaking Point (1976) – Seeing Robert Culp in the role of a lawman isn’t unusual (he played such a role multiple times). What stands out about this particular role, however, is the cop can’t catch a break. After Mike (Bo Svenson) witnesses a mob beating, identifies the attackers and testifies in court, he and his family face threats of harm. Lieutenant Sirriani (Culp) tries in vain to protect the family but every conventional mob MO is turned on its ear this time and Sirriani can’t do anything right. The film is violent and Svenson swears like a sailor but Culp is rather mild mannered, in fact he looks appropriately haggard in this. The most poignant moment comes when Mike’s sister learns that her boyfriend has been killed by the mob. Sirriani phones Mike with the news and then after hanging up remains in his office smoking a cigarette and looking rather defeated. The scene is juxtaposed with Mike telling his sister the news of her boyfriend.

Robert Culp as Jonas Braken in SKYRIDERSSkyriders (1976) – Robert Culp had one thing and one thing only to do in this movie: Look worried. And he’s got plenty to worry about when terrorists kidnap his family and hold them for ransom. Culp is Jonas Bracken, an American businessman living in Greece and he scrambles to liquidate assets and raise the millions the terrorists want. When he gets it, they then give him a shopping list of weapons to buy. Meanwhile, McCabe (James Coburn), the ex-husband of Jonas’s wife arrives on the scene when he learns of the kidnapping and sets out to save Sue Ellen (Susannah York) and the kids. One might expect Jonas and McCabe to be at each other’s throats but they’re not (which was actually kind of refreshing to see). Although I had hoped that Jonas would join with McCabe in the daring high flying operation to save the family, he instead gets jailed by the Greek police. Nonetheless, he does take part in the police raid. Seriously, how many multi-million dollar international business men do you know look so damn comfortable sporting a six shooter on their hip?

Robert Culp as The Colonel in THE ALMOST GUYSThe Almost Guys (2004) – Watching 70something year old Robert Culp leadfoot around in a ’68 Camaro as an aging repo man just puts a zing! in my heart. Culp’s co-star, Eric Fleming (who also wrote and directed) clearly was a child of the 70s and 80s and brings all those elements from those decades together into a fun film. Culp is The Colonel and Fleming is Rick, two down on their luck repo men whose luck goes even worse when they stumble on a major league baseball pitcher bound and gagged in the trunk of a car they’re repoing. The World Series is three days away, the pitcher isn’t exactly being honest with the Colonel and Rick about his situation and somewhere in the mix is a million dollars ransom. The almost perfect kidnapping scheme that almost worked. Almost.

Honorable Mentions:

The RaidersThe Raiders (1963) –  I don’t believe this was actually intended to be a feature film. It feels more like a pilot for a potential television series focusing on the exploits of the three leads, Culp as Wild Bill Hickcock, Judi Meredith as Calamity Jane and Jim McCullan as Buffalo Bill Cody. I’ve seen this movie get trashed by other reviewers more or less because the historical characters are completely put through alchemy in the story line. There’s no doubt it’s complete and total fanciful fiction and if you can forget who Wild Bill Hickcock, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody really were, the concept here had it’s positives. Culp is fun to watch as the sharp dressed and sharp shooting Wild Bill. The chemistry was there, but alas, it was only for one pass. Since TV movies weren’t quite the norm yet (they were literally just around the corner) one would assume that Universal decided to release the pilot as a feature film since it was at least worthy of that.

Rhino!Rhino! (1964) – Basically National Geographic Goes to the Movies Rhino! was filmed entirely on location in Africa and the actors in the film get up close and personal with the various animals, Culp especially since he’s playing a scientist. Harry Guardino is a safari guide (and closet poacher) who agrees to guide Culp through the countryside in search of the white rhino. Bond girl Shirley Eaton is the love interest. At the time the film was made there were 650 to 700 southern white rhinos in South Africa. Today, thanks to conservation efforts such as what was portrayed in the film there are over 16,000 southern white rhinos in South Africa.

Sadly, however, the northern white rhino found mostly in East and Central Africa are down to four. One is in a zoo and three are in a conservancy in Kenya. The last surviving male, known as Sudan, is under 24 hour guard.

Turk 182

Turk 182! (1985) – Zimmerman flew and Tyler knew! Culp is New York City Mayor John J. Tyler in the middle of a re-election campaign when scandal hits. Meantime, NYC firefighter Terry Lynch (Robert Urich) is injured during an off duty fire rescue. He’s denied disability benefits and his younger brother Jimmy (Timothy Hutton) tries to get help from the Mayor’s office. Shut out by the Mayor, Jimmy lashes back, adding fuel to the brewing scandal by tagging “Zimmerman Flew and Tyler Knew” all over NYC with the signature “Turk 182.” Watching Culp deal with the proverbial political egg on the face through out the film (from the subway SNAFU to the meltdown at the Meadowlands) and pitching a beautiful fit with Peter Boyle, who plays his head of security, are worth the view.

pb1The Pelican Brief (1993) – If I don’t mention this one, somebody’s gonna smack me, and rightfully so. However, at the time of this writing I have not watched The Pelican Brief yet so I can’t comment anything on this movie. I did read the book back in high school but…yeah, that doesn’t help me. At all.


Is there a movie not on this list that you think should be? (Keep in mind, this is THEATRICAL releases, not TV movies.) Let me know in the comments!

~Lisa Philbrick

National Lampoon’s Movie Madness


AKA National Lampoon Goes to the Movies

Originally released – straight to video – 1983

**Contains spoilers – You’ll thank me for this**

There’s a reason this movie, originally filmed in 1981, went straight to video in 1983.

It sucks.

Seriously. This thing is bad. And I mean real bad. You know how sometimes a movie can be so bad it’s good? No, no this is not even that. This is clearly what-the-hell-were-they-thinking-and-why-didn’t-they-burn-it BAD.

The premise of the movie is to spoof other typical movie genres. There’s three segments, although apparently the movie was originally supposed to have six. (My God were they kidding?!) The first segment spoofs the personal growth plot line, the second segment (with Culp) spoofs the rags to riches plot line and the third segment spoofs cop movies. I’m only going to tell you about the second segment that Culp was in and not bother with the other two because 1. Culp isn’t in the other segments, 2. I didn’t bother to watch the first segment at all and 3. I have no idea WHY I watched the third but there’s just nothing to say for that one.

The second segment is called “Success Wanters.” Ann Dusenberry plays Dominique Corsair, a recent college graduate who is trying to find a job. She’s not having much luck and must lower herself to taking a job as a burlesque dancer/stripper.

Her first gig is to do a show for a bunch of geezers at a dairy convention. Yes, a dairy convention a concept of which would be ripe for tons of double entendre and innuendo and the best thing the writers could come up with for this curdled milk of a movie? A butter bang.

Please don’t ask me what a butter bang is. The geezers butter bang Dominique leaving her innocence shattered and her completely humiliated. But Dominique isn’t the kind of girl to stay down, oh no. She decides she’s going to get her revenge against the butter bastards by switching to margarine.

She finds her way to the Everest Margarine Company, manages somehow to sneak into this bajillion floor office building and waits in the board room, in her trashed stripper costume, smoking a cigarette. Enter Paul Everest, owner and CEO of Everest Margarine Company played by Robert Culp.

Ok, I’m digging the GQ suit here and attaché. Very nice…

Dominique introduces herself and says she’s been waiting for him. Mr. Everest dismisses Joyce, his secretary (who’s no fool and knows exactly what’s going to happen next). After Joyce leaves, Dominique says she wants to know everything there is to know about margarine. He tells her that margarine is a ruthless industry and is no place for a woman. She tells him that he’s never met a woman like her and proceeds to demonstrate that fact by taking an ice cube from the ice bucket, tracing it seductively around her mouth, placing it in her mouth and then sliding under the table to crawl over to him.

Everest presses the button on his intercom to ask his secretary to hold all his calls. Gee, whatya think’s gonna happen next?! I dunno! Why are they playing “Jaws” like music?!

Everest, meanwhile, is all nonchalant for a guy who knows what he’s about to start his day off with. He continues with his paperwork until we hear *ziiip!* and with a deadpan expression he flicks his fancy pen across the room.

Ok, I chuckled at that. But, ya know, I would have had it that there wasn’t enough clearance and she bangs her head against the table…

You still reading? Really? Ok, well I’ll keep going then…

Next scene is in Hong Kong at an Everest Margarine production facility. Ms. Corsair is still in her trashed stripper costume but she has a nice trench coat. At least, at the outdoor scene here where they first arrive. She’s presented a lovely bouquet of flowers. No, I’m not really sure why.

Inside, she no longer has her trench coat, but still has her flowers. Her voice over (yes, this thing is narrated) says, “The excitement of my introduction to margarine was so thick, you could cut it with a knife…” I think I was supposed to laugh there. I’m sorry I forgot.

Actually, I’m distracted by Culp in that suit. Did I mention Culp looks super smashing in that suit?? Damn…

He extols the amazing story of how what was once a mere byproduct of the lowly ol’ soybean had become “a wholesome and nutritious foodstuff known all over the world. Ideal for all forms of cooking and baking, delicious in sandwiches, perfect for snacks and on toast!”

Damn, I’m sold! I’ll even take the stick he dropped on the floor there as he got all carried away…

He then tells Dominique how someday they’ll find a way to make a margarine that tastes better than butter. She, ever the cheerleader, believes they will. Awww!

On the plane back to Los Angeles, he dictates a memo, which she happily types up for him. He then is distracted by her soft and inviting backside. Woohoo…

He suggests they take a break since it’s been a long day (actually, the entire time span from when she showed up in his board room at about 7 am to this point is only two and half hours.) There’s a kiss and then a presentation of some jewelry. A huge, monstrous, red, blue and white necklace that weighs a ton and nearly causes her to fall out of her chair. (The jewelry is a running joke through the whole segment, as Dominique goes on to collect additional outlandish pieces). After, he calls the pilot with a change in flight plan. Off to St. Tropez…

In St. Tropez they enjoy a private tender loving satin sheeted moment that unfortunately gets spoiled when Everest suffers a massive heart attack. But! All is not lost, because he has papers in his attaché transferring power and presidency of Everest Margarine to Ms. Corsair (that he somehow found time to do up in the previous 3 hours). Before he finally is done in by the “heart attack, massive coronary and a cold” he makes the handover official with his notary seal, which Dominique has to smash his hand on the crimper to make it all legal.

News flash: You can’t notarize your own documents! And when she smacks his hand on the crimper seal – that had to hurt. For real! One of those “ow’s!” from Culp I think was legit.

Yes, that’s Culp under all those satin sheets. Considering how bad this thing is, I’d be hiding my head too.

Dominique goes on to take over the company, romances the son of one of the butter bastards from the start of the segment, encourages said son to kill his father, she turns him in, buys up all of the butter business, ends up marrying a Greek tycoon, gets some more jewelry, sleeps with his son, the Greek tycoon kills his own wife, he then ends up dead (I think he was executed for killing his wife, I can’t really remember) and Dominique inherits a bigger fortune. Then, a German scientist discovers a cure for cancer by having a stick of Dominique’s margarine “radiated” by a color television set. She wins the Nobel Prize. She then schmoozes with the President of the US, sleeps with him, he presents her with some outrageous gold over sized Presidential seal necklace, blah blah and ends up becoming the new First Lady after the current First Lady abdicates her title in favor of the woman she loves.

Ridiculous. But I’m gonna save you from ever having to pay to watch any of this. (I paid $5.24 for the DVD -with FREE shipping! – but it was about $5.24 too much. Seriously, I should have been paid to watch this.) You can watch Culp’s entire bit, beginning to end (all seven or so minutes of it) below.

Please. Don’t thank me.

I can only hope that Culp got a really nice big fat paycheck for what was probably two days’ work for him. Otherwise, I can not fathom why he would have taken this gig. Did he owe somebody a favor? Was he lied to? Blackmailed? I don’t know the answer but I do know that it was a good thing he had The Greatest American Hero to go back to after this!

I don’t know what’s worse. The fact that Culp’s talents were completely wasted here or the fact that Dr. John was equally wasted for the movie’s damn catchy theme song. I mean, seriously, whoever wrote this movie had to be driving that train, high on cocaine. It’s not like National Lampoon didn’t have a precedence. After the surprise success of “Animal House” in 1978, there was quite a bit of anticipation about a follow up film. Media reports noted early in 1981 that the folks at National Lampoon were up to no good again and it seemed the public had some sort of expectation about the end result. The end result, however, was crap. Or, as Shary Flenniken, one of the writers associated with the movie put it, it was “a cocaine fueled fiasco.”

So they were high on cocaine! That explains everything…

Not convinced this movie is as bad as it really is? The movie was tested with an audience in Rhode Island once it was completed. The audience was so appalled and disappointed by what they had seen, they tore up the seats in the theater.

There are a couple of interesting things to note about this movie, however. The director of the “Success Wanters” segment was Bob Giraldi who went on to direct more accolade worthy things like Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video.

And Everest’s secretary, Joyce? Is none other than Andy Warhol alum and “Cult Queen” Mary Woronov in what has to be the most non-oddball role she’s ever been cast in.

National Lampoon’s Movie Madness is available on DVD through places like Amazon and such. I’m not putting a link to it though because you don’t need to spend your hard earned money on it. Really. You don’t. The tagline on the DVD says it all: “The film that Hollywood doesn’t want you to see!”

Exactly. Heed the warning.

Retro Hijinks: Boob & Carnal & Tad & Alas…. & The Mad Magazine Spoof of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

May I state for the record that I don’t think I’ve ever used that many ampersands in anything. Ever.

Robert Culp was no stranger to the antics of Mad Magazine, having been spoofed at least four times (that I’m aware of), for I Spy, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Columbo and The Greatest American Hero. Previously I featured the 1973 Mad satire on the popular detective series Columbo (called “Clodumbo“) which included Dr. Robert Culpable as the poor unfortunate sap that gets pestered by the lieutenant to the point he confesses to a crime he didn’t commit just to make the lieutenant go away. Now, we go back three years prior, to 1970, and the spoof of the 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

May I add that Culp looks cute here as a caricature? All shy and innocent lookin’, holding the blanket up, just like he is in the movie…

Ah, well…ok, maybe not quite!

The same art is not used for the storyboard. Instead the storyboard is drawn by the legendary Mort Drucker (who also did the I Spy spoof for Mad in 1967). Drucker’s drawing of Culp this time around although recognizable, is at times more outrageous than anything.

Square jaw? Check. Big teeth? Got it. Hippie hair? Plenty. In the first panel though, where “Boob” and “Carnal” are being introduced to the Institute, “Boob” looks suspiciously more like Alan Alda.

This is indeed a satire of the movie.  Sometimes searing, other times goofy but a complete and total farce. Take a look for yourself! Keep your eye out for Bill Cosby to appear in a couple of the panels just for the heck of it. Also note the additional names added to the title that run around the whole storyboard.

Hickey & Boggs: Alas, Aero Theatre Q&A, We Hardly Knew Ye

During my Hickey & Boggs retrospective a couple of weeks ago I included a post  that featured a three part video, originally done by the folks at Criminally Unknown, from a Q&A session with Culp after a screening of the film at the Aero Theatre in LA in 2007. It appears the video is no longer available and the Criminally Unknown FB page is gone. Their Twitter account has been dormant for more than a year and their website is gone too. I know the internet is a fickle place and nothing last forever but…dammit all, did it have to go away not two weeks after I added it here?!

Their YouTube account appears to still remain, but also with no updates for more than a year, and the only piece of the nearly 40 minute Q&A session that was posted was a segment regarding Bill Hickman and the connection the Rolls Royce used in Hickey & Boggs had with The French Connection. I’m going to include the clip here but… don’t dilly dally watching it for it may be gone tomorrow.

If, by any remote, insane, million-to-one shot chance that somebody out there, either from Criminally Unknown or who knows them or something, sees this, could you contact me? I would be more than happy to give that 40 minute Q&A video a home with all proper credit and attribution and whathaveya to Criminally Unknown. The video is a rare, fantastic gem full of stories and tidbits on Culp’s only directorial feature. Oh please, don’t let it be lost forever…

Hickey & Boggs: Commentary, Tidbits and Extras

For the longest time it seems this movie languished in obscurity. I had heard of it almost as soon as I started delving into All Things Culp, but finding the thing proved a task. Up until 2011, there had not been an official DVD release and apparently whatever copy was out there floating around, was not of the greatest quality. One grainy clip of Culp and Cosby going into the hotel to try to find Mary Jane was about all I’d ever seen of the film. And that wasn’t even posted on YouTube.

Then sometime in 2009, I found the movie available through iTunes (and still is). Naturally I purchased and downloaded it, although I lamented going this route. I pined for a DVD, something tangible that ensured, for the most part, that I would always have the movie, even if I burned through the computer that I downloaded it to (which, eventually, I did.)

Thankfully, 20th Century Fox on behalf of MGM released the film in a manufacture on demand format – along with several other MGM titles that Fox now has the rights to – in 2011.

What saddens me is that Culp did not live to see the film finally get a proper DVD release. The demise of MGM in the 70’s, the breakup of the studio’s film catalogue between other studios (Fox, Warner and Sony/Paramount) pretty much shoved everything into a vault for years while legal issues were hammered out before any of these titles could see the light of day again. Also, before the advent of the manufacture on demand, studios were hesitant to make the investment into a DVD release for a movie that they felt probably wouldn’t get much of a return.

Very unfortunate, as it would have been fitting to have Culp put together a “director’s cut” or at least a good amount of extras and commentary on the movie.

What we do have though, is various tidbits and commentary about the movie via other sources that I wish to bring together here. Bonus material, if you will, that didn’t make the DVD…

The re-teaming of Culp and Cosby was certainly noted by the media at the time the film was being shot in September/October of 1971. I Spy had ended 3 years earlier but was still fairly fresh on people’s minds. (At the time I Spy was cancelled, it was still pulling good ratings. So why was it cancelled? That’s another story).

Culp was very clear, however, when speaking about Hickey & Boggs to the public. “The story has nothing to do with ‘I Spy,’” he was quoted in the press at the time. “The fellows we played were winners, obviously. These two guys – Hickey & Boggs – are losers.”

Most entertainment writers noted the same thing but their stories played up the I Spy angle more than anything. Michel Poiccard of the Los Angeles Times noted in October of ’71, “’Hickey & Boggs’ will obviously generate much of its interest because it stars a team of actors who are both well known and loved by American audiences.”

Critically, it did garner interest. The film got a mix of good and “meh” reviews, some who praised the acting of Cosby and Culp, appreciated Culp’s directing skills, the use of locations, establishing a mood, ect. ect. The Pittsburgh Press (now Pittsburgh Post) called the film a “fine thriller about human private detectives.” Although the reviewer noted that it was sometimes confusing, they compared it to The Big Sleep noting that Hickey & Boggs’ “momentum comes more from characters and isolated situations than from the coherent flow of a story.”

Jamie Portman of The Calgary Herald also lamented that the plot “suffers from severe confusion if not dislocation.” But even he seemed to forgive this, extolling more about the characters and characterization of Al Hickey and Frank Boggs. “You can talk all you want about the gut realism of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer stories; but they are also invested with a rueful romanticism. The romanticism has gone sour in Hickey and Boggs.” Portman concluded that Hickey & Boggs “is a metaphysical detective thriller – fragmented, maddening and extraordinarily watchable.”

Frank DeGuida of The Milwaukee Sentinel applauded the film, the Culp and Cosby reunion and appreciated Culp’s direction, in particular the action sequences and Culp’s “fine sense of composition, with many shots presenting interesting visual effects.” DeGuida concluded, “all in all, if Culp has a sequel in mind when he has his heroes walk away into the sunset after the final shootout, I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it.”

Not all critics were as generous. Some couldn’t figure out who was who and what was what. Some blamed the script, some the directing. Others just didn’t get it, such as Variety which complained that the script ”suffers through audience never being entirely certain as to the identity of some of the characters.” (While some critics appreciated that the film didn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence by having to explain everything, Variety reviewers apparently liked their movies simple and spoon fed.)

I did not find any reviews from any Florida newspapers, which, so far in my searches, typically were less than kind of any Culp film or tv show (leading me to believe that it simply must have been depressing to live in Florida in the ’70s.) However, I did find a review from the Ocala Star-Banner for when the movie premiered on television on NBC’s “Saturday Night at the Movies” in March of 1976. The reviewer noted the following about the plot: “During their travels through the less glamorous sections of Los Angeles, Hickey and Boggs stumble up on a major case that places them in the midst of a major hold up at Dodger Stadium.” Um…what?

But overall, the critical response was positive. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into much success at the box office. Although critics seemed positive about the film being well done and such, they also noted, heavily, that the film really was a downer. However, in looking at the promotional materials for the film at the time – the trailer and movie poster – the movie seems to suffer a little of an identity crisis. The trailer at least is fairly clear; two down and out PIs who are in over their heads but the funkified music and Dragnet-esque voice over ruins it.

Then there’s the poster. It has a great photo of Culp and Cosby on it with the shot up Rolls Royce and the very blunt tag line: “They’re not cool, slick heroes, they’re worn tough men and that’s what makes them so dangerous. They hold their .44 magnums with both hands and keep shooting until they hit something. Anything.”

I understand the first line, a bit of a poke at the fact that this is not I Spy. But the rest of it, about shooting their guns until they hit something…. The poster doesn’t so much as even hint at any thing else about these two men (ie, that they’re PIs) and I can’t help but wonder if they’re a couple of guys who just go berserk (ala Michael Douglas in Falling Down) and start shooting people. And ya know, I wouldn’t wanna see Culp n’ Cosby in a movie like that.

Perhaps, that may have been what kept others from seeing the film too. The whole “this isn’t I Spy” angle may have been driven home too much.

It may have just been, perhaps, that the average movie goer didn’t want to see Culp and Cosby as “losers.” The point was certainly driven home enough, in both reviews and in the promotion of the film that these two characters were down trodden, seedy, bottom of the barrel type guys. Cosby’s expression on the movie poster is pretty hang dog for a guy whose bread and butter is comedy. And Culp, after being handsome and dashing as Kelly Robinson, looks…well, he looks like shit in this movie. He’s pale, drawn and has what has to be the worst hair cut I’ve ever seen on him.

But friends, that’s what makes it all work.

When I first saw this movie I was struck by both Culp and Cosby’s performances in this. I grew up knowing Bill Cosby as he was on The Cosby Show and also remember a children’s show he did called Picture Pages. This is the guy who wore those wild sweaters during The Cosby Show run in the 80s, pitched Jello products and is a hilarious comedian. Of course, I was familiar with I Spy before seeing the movie, but nothing he did there was nearly as dark as what he did in Hickey & Boggs.  I was genuinely impressed.

I don’t believe Bill Cosby would have done this kind of movie if Robert Culp had not directed it.  This is not Cosby’s typical vehicle but Culp knew the kind of performance he could get from Cosby and got it.

As for Robert Culp…damn, I thought. He is so damn good at what he does, he really looks like a downtrodden, bottom of the barrel, crawling into the bottle kinda guy. He can’t run worth a damn in this thing. Brilliant!

Ah, well I might have been giving Culp a little too much credit. Not that he’s not that damn good at what he did (because he was) but come to find out he had something happen to him two weeks before filming started that contributed to his somewhat less than stellar physical appearance here.

He had double hernia surgery. That’s right. Double. Ouch.

Which explains his tripping down stairs, limping running style and being bent at the waist whenever he could get away with it. This is especially noticeable at the end of the shootout scene at the Coliseum, when Boggs is at the top of the bleachers looking down at Hickey and the dead bag man on the ground, leaning on the fence, bent double and looking like he’s making sure his innards are still where they’re supposed to be.

Culp told nobody about having surgery, except Cosby who would have known something was wrong. Culp swore Cosby to secrecy because if the insurance company knew about it, the production would have been shut down immediately, something Culp couldn’t afford to have happen.

There are a lot more interesting stories and tidbits about the movie, more than I can possibly do justice by cramming into this post, so instead I invite you to check out the following three part video. Back in 2007, there was a screening of Hickey & Boggs at the Aero Theatre in Los Angeles and Robert Culp was on hand for a Q&A session afterward. He talks about everything, from getting the script, the financial backing, directing it, the clothes he and Cosby wore (Cosby hated them), the “laughing garbage man” and the hernia surgery, amongst other things. All three parts together total about 40 minutes or so. The video is originally from the folks at Criminally Unknown. A great “featurette” for this Hickey & Boggs 40th anniversary salute! (Links originally lost in 2012, restored in 2015).

My capapalooza post for “Hickey & Boggs” can be found here.

And finally, Hickey & Boggs is available on DVD and Blu-ray through Do yourself a favor, get this movie!

~Lisa Philbrick