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:
PT 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.
Sunday 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.
Bob & 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.
Hannie 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).
Hickey & 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.
Inside 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.
The 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.
Breaking 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.
Skyriders (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?
The 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.
The 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! (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! (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.
The 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!
There’s a reason this movie, originally filmed in 1981, went straight to video in 1983.
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. The first segment spoofs the personal growth plotline, the second segment (with Culp) spoofs the soap opera style plotline 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…
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…
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…
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…
Originally released, September 20 (limited)/October 4 (nationwide), 1972
Robert Culp plays Frank Boggs who, along with Bill Cosby’s Al Hickey, is a down trodden gotta-reach-up-just-to-touch-the bottom of the barrel private investigator. Hickey and Boggs work out of an old office building somewhere in downtown Los Angeles, where the bright California sun does little to make their world any more cheerful. They’re old school PIs who are trying to hang on in a business that’s been pretty much legislated out of existence by the State of California.
These guys have hardly anything. They don’t have enough money to pay all their bills (but do manage to scrounge enough for drinks at the local bar), they drive junk cars, wear old suits and both have marriages/relationships that have busted apart.
Yet, they keep moving, not exactly forward but moving. And this is where the movie opens. They’re at the bar, having a few drinks, watching the boxing match on the tv. During the commercial break they talk finances. They don’t have enough money to pay both their phone service and the answering service, so Hickey only paid for the answering service. Boggs offers to borrower against his house, which I take based on Hickey’s reaction there’s not a lot of equity left in the place.
In order to check their messages and return phone calls, they’re reduced to using the payphones outside of the bar. One of the messages is for an appointment the next morning which Hickey has to make because Boggs decides he’s going into the tank. (Can you get any lower than this?)
Magazine clipping that, unfortunately, I don’t know what magazine it comes from. However, I do know it’s from England. This was part of a small collection of foreign clippings related to Robert Culp I found on eBay a couple of years back.
Part of my 40th Anniversary look at Hickey & Boggs, here’s an original trailer, this being a 55 second television spot that ran back in 1972 that I found on YouTube sometime back in 2011.
I’ll be honest in that I wasn’t really bowled over by this trailer – and I had already seen the movie multiple times. The disadvantage, of course, is I’m looking at this from a perspective forty years after the fact and I’ve been spoiled over the years by the likes of voice over folks like Don LaFontaine. (Can you imagine if Don LaFontaine had done the trailer for this one?). The voice over here sounds like Jack Webb and it has almost a Dragnet feel to it. The music –although definitely early 70’s flavor – is totally wrong for the film (infact, it’s not even music used in the film). The clips used are great and certainly show the down and out feel of the characters and the good action scenes in the film, but the music and voiceover just don’t cut it. And the line about “they’ll knock you out of your seat” …um, eeeyeah.
Having been kind of disappointed in the original trailer (I think the movie deserved better), I was inspired to try to edit together one of my own. Now, mine’s probably no better than the original and I’ll admit my editing skills are pedestrian. Plus, I don’t have Don LaFontaine to do the voice over (in fact, I have no voice over with this). But, ever have an idea grab at you and not let you go until you do whatever it is it asks?
It was 40 years ago this September/October of 1972 that Robert Culp’s only feature length directing effort, Hickey & Boggs was released. The film starred Bill Cosby along with Culp and although it was not a big commercial success at the time of its release, the film has obtained something of a cult status and is now considered a lost gem of early 70’s noir.
I’m biased, of course, but this movie really is a lost gem. As such, and since Hickey & Boggs truly was a significant milestone in Robert Culp’s career, it seemed natural that my next “capapalooza” post would be for the film and I would have it ready by the time of the 40th anniversary. I actually started working on the post way back in January since I knew it would probably run a little long between the number of screens caps I had and doing the overview of the film.
A little long? The whole thing literally got away from me. I have hundreds of screen caps, the overview ran waaay too long plus I had tons of commentary. The whole thing ended up a monster.
So instead of one great big LONG overkill of a post, I decided to break things up into smaller parts. There will still be the usual big capapalooza post (with some restraint on the overview) but I will separate out most of my commentary and other tidbits and gems about the film into other posts. So stay tuned over the next few weeks for more on Hickey & Boggs.