Movie Diary: "Hickey And Boggs"
So yes, the shitty grainy transfer of "Hickey And Boggs" in which the colors are overexposed and burnt out and the titles look like they were done with a mid-80s dot-matrix printer, is perfect for the aura of burnt-out, grimy despair that the entire movie carries. It reunites "I Spy" costars Bill Cosby (Hickey) and Robert Culp (Boggs), and while I've never seen "I Spy," I've got to figure it was way more lighthearted than this. The film begins with our heroes discussing the woeful state of their finances, and how Hickey has chosen to pay the answering service instead of the phone bill, so that they can still get messages. Of course, they have to return their messages from phone booths now, but when Hickey does so, he makes an appointment for the next morning, at which a mincing queer stereotype named Rice gives Hickey a job--to locate a girl named Mary Jane. He also gives Hickey $500 as a retainer, which seems quite welcome. So he and Boggs jump into the job wholeheartedly, but what they don't know is that Mary Jane is mixed up in some serious criminal activity. She's trying to unload some stolen money from a bank job, and the mafia people who consider it their money are after her and her confederates, as are the police. Of course, Hickey and Boggs are just trying to do a job so that they can keep paying their rent. Hickey is on the outs with his wife, and is trying to win her back by showing that he can make a living and be a responsible husband and father. Boggs seems like he was in the same situation a while back, but now he's given up, htting up strip bars, getting whores, and attempting to unload his house, which has evidently depreciated in value since he got it.
The thing that gets Hickey and Boggs into trouble at first is that every lead they have for tracking down Mary Jane is someone who has just gotten whacked when they arrive for an interview. Now the cops are mad, and they get even madder when some of Hickey and Boggs's leads take them to the same places where the mafia guys are, resulting in shootouts where Hickey and Boggs don't even always know who they're shooting at, or why. Which only infuriates the cops more. Now Hickey and Boggs's PI licenses are on the line, and the papers are writing about them, which lets the mafia guys figure out who they are. And their leads for finding Mary Jane just get weirder, leading them to interactions with militant Black Panther types, even as their original client disappears on them.
At this point, things go straight downhill for our protagonists, and it'd be unfair to give away any more of what happens. But the ending is dark and grim, just as one would expect from a noir film, even one that's as well-lit and bright as this one. That Los Angeles sun is beating down on Hickey and Boggs, rather than shining warmly upon them, a fact that I felt was only driven home by the crappy DVD transfer that this film had. Duane Swierczynski associates this film with Altman's "The Long Goodbye" in both the sunlight-noir genre and the idea that both of them were showing a world that was increasingly hostile to the idea of private detectives. Hickey and Boggs have multiple conversations during this film about how their livelihood is being outmoded, and are told by a cop at one point that they're nothing but glorified process servers now. They're resistant to this fate, but in the end they can't change it. This movie is a dark, fascinating look at their attempt to nonetheless do so. Whether they succeed in the end is a judgment call you'll have to make for yourself.