The Cheap Detective Reviews
Floyd Merkle (Wally Berns) has been killed, leaving his partner, Lou Peckinpaugh (Falk), as the prime suspect. This isn't helped by the lovely widow Georgia (Marsha Mason), who swans around in black saying incriminating things in front of her police escort. There is also she of the many names (Madeline Kahn doing the Mary Astor role from [i]The Maltese Falcon[/i]), who may have killed Merkle and is definitely trying to enlist Peckinpaugh for something. Peckinpaugh (an obvious play on the director Sam Peckinpah) also has a long-lost love, Marlene DuChard (Louise Fletcher as Ingrid Bergman in [i]Casablanca[/i]) and a new-found love (I [i]think[/i] this is Eileen Brennan, but I can't figure out who she's supposed to be playing), Betty DeBoop (probably.) There's also Ann-Margret as the devilish Jezebel Dezire (Lauren Bacall from [i]The Big Sleep[/i]).
The parodies work as far as they go, and the filming, et cetera, aren't bad. Actually, some of the atmosphere is quite charmingly captured, though I think Marlene is a very bad Ilse. I also think a lot of their costumes are wrong. Of course, it's hard to get Humphrey Bogart's traditional Sam Spade garb wrong, and Peter Falk's been wearing variations of it in most of his career--where do you think Columbo gets that jacket? And certainly there's a star-studded cast, here. But it doesn't really work. I wish it did. But it doesn't.
The thing is, you have to keep track of this movie on two levels. On the one, there is what's happening in the movie. This is easier to lose track of, because one gets the impression that Simon doesn't care, either. It's all intended to play on those movies that we all know, which means it's starting to fail as fewer and fewer people really get into old Bogart movies. You'll notice that there's at least one that I didn't get, and there's probably more. I'm not sure if Stockard Channing's Bess is supposed to be anyone in particular, either. You see, he's passing out of the public conciousness, sad to say. Bogart was a better actor than a lot of people who are and will probably remain more popular than he--someone somewhere is [i]always[/i] watching a John Wayne movie, and AMC played [i]Planet of the Apes[/i] today--but ask yourself one thing. When was the last time [i]you[/i] watched [i]Casablanca[/i]?
"The Cheap Detective" is a spoof of hardboiled detective tales and the film noir pictures from the 1940s and 1950s, and it plays as though the script emerged after someone tossed the movies "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca", a collection of the Complete Works of Dashell Hammett, and some copies of MAD Magazine into a blender set on high.
The result is a hilarious, but uneven, movie that's loaded with absurd situations, rediculous puns, and a crazy, chaotic storyline that anticipates comedies like "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun". If you're a fan of those movies, you're bound to enjoy this one. The film starts weak--with a gag involving a killer so efficient his victims don't even fall down when they die streteched so thin in loses all comedy value--and ends with a nonsensical and unfunny scene that seems to exist only to fit in one more cameo, but almost everything between the two badly done bookends is great stuff.
You're also bound to enjoy "The Cheap Detective" if you love the movies and the actors being spoofed. Peter Falk in particular is hilarious with his very effective Humphrey Bogart imitation, but Louise Fletcher's Ingrid Bergman is also great fun, as is Ann-Margaret's generic oversexed femme fatale and Nicol Willams. Much credit also goes, of course, to Neil Simon for the absurd dialogue and even more absurd situations.
Whether you're a fan of classic detective films and the film noir genre, or whether you simply enjoy crazy comedies, I think you'll find something to laugh about in "The Cheap Detective".
The Cheap Detective
Starring: Peter Falk, Louise Fletcher, Madeline Kahn, Marsha Mason, Eileen Brennan, James Coco, Ann-Margaret, Ferndando Lamas, Dom Deluise, John Houseman, Nicol Williams, and Stockard Channing, and Sid Ceaser
Director: Robert Moore
Peter Falk effectively plays Lou Peckinpaugh as a humorous send-up of Sam Spade and Rick Blaine. I enjoyed the other performances as well, particularly Nicol Williamson as a character parodying Major Strasser from "Casablanca" and John Houseman playing a character very similar to Kasper Gutman from "The Maltese Falcon". The only character that could have been better was Pepe Damascus, in a Peter Lorre type role, played by Dom DeLuise.
This film is funny in several respects. The dialogue is amusing and often emulates and parodies the snappy dialogue of "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon". Since the plot is cobbled together largely from those movies, there are a number of scenes like a humorous modification of the "La Marseillaise" scene from "Casablanca". Simon added a number of amusing complexities, sometimes nonsensical, into the script as a parody of the complexities in "The Maltese Falcon". Overall this film was consistently funny from start to finish. I recommend "The Cheap Detective" as a satire for people that enjoyed "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon".