Hickey & Boggs (1972, directed by Robert Culp)

Frank Boggs (Robert Culp) and Al Hickey (Bill Cosby) are two private investigators who are constantly in danger of losing their licenses and going out of business.  Hickey is the responsible one.  Boggs is the seedy alcoholic.  When Hickey and Boggs are hired to track down a missing woman, their investigation lands them in the middle of a war between the mob and a group of political activists who are fighting over who is going to get the loot from a recent robbery.  Hickey and Boggs are targeted by the mob and soon, everyone is dying around them.

With its cynical themes and downbeat ending, Hickey & Boggs is very much a 70s film.  The script was written by future director Walter Hill and when it was eventually offered to Bill Cosby, Cosby agreed to star on the condition that his I Spy co-star, Robert Culp, be hired to direct.  Producer John Calley hired Culp but after Calley refused to provide the budget that Culp requested, Culp bought the script and raised the money himself.

There are a few problems with Hickey & Boggs, the main one being that the plot is next to impossible to follow.  As a director, Robert Culp apparently didn’t believe in either filming coverage or providing establishment shots so, especially early on, it is often impossible to tell how one scene is connected to another or even how much time has passed between scenes.  I don’t know if this was an intentional aesthetic decision or if the production just ran out of money before everything could be shot but it makes it difficult to get into the film’s already complicated story.  On a positive note, Culp did have a flair for staging action scenes.  The film ends with a shoot out on the beach that’s is handled with such skill that it almost makes up for what came before it.  Also, like many actors-turned-director, Culp proved himself capable of spotting talent.  Along with giving early roles to Vincent Gardenia, James Woods and Michael Moriarty, Culp also took the chance of casting sitcom mainstay Robert Mandan as a villain.  It was a risk but it worked as Mandan convincingly portrays the banality of evil.

Of course, the biggest problem with Hickey & Boggs is that it stars Bill Cosby as a straight-laced hero and that’s no longer a role that anyone’s willing to believe him in.  Cosby actually does give a convincing dramatic performance in Hickey & Boggs.  Just look at the final scene on the beach where Hickey has his “what have we done” moment and shows the type of regret that Cosby has never shown in real life.  The problem is that to really appreciate Cosby’s performance, you have to find a way to overlook the fact that he’s Bill Cosby and that something that I found impossible to do while watching Hickey & Boggs.  When you should be getting into the movie, you’re thinking about how many decades Bill Cosby was able to get away with drugging and assaulting women.  If not for a comment from Hannibal Buress that led to a social media uproar, Cosby would probably still be getting away with it.  If Buress’s anti-Cosby comments hadn’t been recorded and hadn’t gone viral, Bill Cosby would still be free and the media would probably still be holding him up as some sort of role model.

At the time Hickey & Boggs was made, both Bill Cosby and Robert Culp were at a career crossroads.  Cosby was hoping to transform himself into a film star.  Culp was hoping to become a director.  Hickey & Boggs, however, was disliked by critics and flopped at the box office.  Culp never directed another film and we all know what happened with Bill Cosby.  (Of course, it wasn’t just the box office failure of Hickey & Boggs that kept Cosby from becoming a movie star.  Say what you will about Robert Culp as a director, he had nothing to do with Leonard Part 6.)  Hickey  & Boggs is too disjointed to really work but Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were convincing action stars and the film’s downbeat style and cynical worldview is sometimes interesting.

Zapped! (1982, directed by Robert J. Rosenthal)

In this painfully dumb high school comedy, Scott Baio is Barney, a teen scientist who experiments on lab mice and grows specially modified orchids for his high school’s principal, Walter Coolidge (Robert Mandan, who played a lot of high school principals back in the day).  When there’s an accident in the lab, Barney develops telekinetic powers.  Barney then falls in love with the class president, Bernadette (Felice Schachter), while his best friend Peyton (Willie Aames) pursues the beautiful but vain Jane (Heather Thomas).  Barney uses his powers to make a ventriloquist act as if it’s possessed and to help Peyton rig a casino-themed frat party.  Meanwhile, Scatman Crothers plays the school’s baseball coach and has a long scene where he gets high and imagines that he’s riding a bicycle with Albert Einstein.  That’s actually kind of cool.

Zapped! is a movie where Scott Baio magically gains the power to move things with his mind and yet the most implausible part of the movie is the idea of Willie Aames being the most popular student at the high school.  Heather Thomas is believable as a cheerleader and Felice Schachter is perfectly cast as the brainy class president.  Even Scott Baio is not terrible as Barney.  But then Willie Aames shows up and we find out that he’s supposed to be a chick magnet and it becomes impossible for those watching to continue to suspend their disbelief.

Not much really happens in Zapped!  Even after he gets his powers, Barney is frustratingly passive character who just does whatever Peyton tells him to do.  Barney uses his powers to help Peyton show up Jane’s college boyfriend and he uses his powers to help Peyton win games at the school carnival and then Barney uses his powers to help out Peyton when Jane’s boyfriend tries to beat him up.  Maybe Barney needs to get new friends.  The only time Barney uses his powers for himself is when he’s playing baseball and he makes the ball stop in mid-air so that he can hit it.  Somehow, no one watching the game seems to find it strange that the baseball stops in mid-air.  The movie ends with a take on Carrie.  Barney uses his powers to blow off everyone’s clothes at prom.  It’s all to help Peyton, of course.

Zapped! supposedly has a cult following, probably composed of people who were 13 when they first saw it and who only remember the sweater scene with Heather Thomas and the final prom scene.  (Or they’re remembering the famous poster, which is a lot more fun than anything that actually happens in the movie.)  Other than that, this is one of the most boring films ever made.  Perhaps the only interesting thing about the movie is that Heather Thomas sued the production when they failed to acknowledge that a body double was used for Jane’s nude scenes.

On a positive note, Zapped! did give us this classic Onion headline:


A Movie A Day #326: MacArthur (1977, directed by Joseph Sargent)

The year is 1962 and Douglas MacArthur (Gregory Peck), the legendary general, visits West Point for one last time.  While he meets the graduates and gives his final speech, flashbacks show highlights from MacArthur’s long military career.  He leaves and then returns to Philippines.  He accepts the Japanese surrender and then helps Japan rebuild and recover from the devastation of the war.  He half-heartedly pursues the Presidency and, during the Korean War, gets fired by Harry Truman (Ed Flanders).

MacArthur is a stolid biopic about one America’s most famous and controversial generals.  It was produced by Frank McCarthy, a former general who knew MacArthur and who previously won an Oscar for producing Patton.  McCarthy was obviously hoping that MacArthur was do its subject what Patton did for George Patton and both films follow the same basic pattern. a warts-and-all portrait of a World War II general with all of the action centered around the performance of a bigger-than-life actor in the title role.  Though obviously made for a low budget, MacArthur is a well-made and well-acted movie but it suffers because Douglas MacArthur was just not as interesting a figure as George Patton.  Gregory Peck does a good job subtly suggesting MacArthur’s vanity along with capturing his commitment to his duty but he never gets a scene that’s comparable to George C. Scott’s opening speech in Patton.  The main problem with MacArthur, especially when compared to Patton, is that George Patton was a born warrior while Douglas MacArthur was a born administrator and it is always going to be more exciting to watch a general lead his men into battle then to watch him sign executive orders.

Horror on the Lens: The Norliss Tapes (dir by Dan Curtis)

Today’s Horror on the Lens is The Norliss Tapes, a 1973 made-for-TV movie that was also a pilot for a television series that, unfortunately, was never put into productions.

Reporter David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) has disappeared.  His friend and publisher, Stanford Evans (Don Porter), listens to the tapes that Norliss recorded before vanishing.  Each tape details yet another paranormal investigation.  (Presumably, had the series been picked up, each tape would have been a different episode.)  The first tape tells how Norliss investigated the mysterious death of an artist who apparently returned from the grave.

For a made-for-TV movie, The Norliss Tapes is pretty good.  It’s full of atmosphere and features a genuinely menaching yellow-eyed zombie monster.