Film Review: The Cheap Detective (1978)

in #aaa2 months ago


Parodies seem like the easiest kind of films to make, because they require the least creative effort. Yet, they are rarely made right. In 1976 famous playwright Neil Simon seemed to make it right with his script for Murder by Death, comedy which spoofed Agatha Christie’s mysteries and featured character of Bogart-like hard boiled detective played by Peter Falk. Two years later Simon tried to repeat this success by script for The Cheap Detective, comedy directed by Robert Moore.

In this film Falk again plays Bogart-like private detective. His name is Lou Peckinpaugh and the plot, set in 1940 San Francisco, begins with his partner getting murdered. Peckinpaugh had an affair with his wife Georgia (played by Marsha Mason), so, in order to clear his name, he begins his own investigation. This coincides with an arrival of French resistance leader Paul DuChard (played by Fernando Lamas) and he is accompanied with wife Marlene (played by Louise Fletcher), who long time ago used to be Lou’s lover. Lou tries both to help DuChard escape Nazis and to discover various bizarre character whose quest for ancient treasure had something to do with his partner’s murder.

Simon seems to have concentrated his parodic efforts almost exclusively on two of Bogart’s best known films – 1941 film noir classic The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. He tried, not that successfully to fuse those two plots into one. In any case, this film requires audience to be quite familiar with both of those films, because otherwise many of the jokes simply wouldn’t work. But even those who are familiar with often have difficulties laughing because Simon is often betrayed by his sense of humour. The most attractive part of The Cheap Detective is actually guessing what actor and when would trying to incarnate character or the iconic actor who had played him or her in 1940s. The Cheap Detective at times looks less like a parody and more like a reenactment, most notably in the scenes in which Louise Fletcher uses the same wardrobe and hairstyle as Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, and even the ending, shot on the same soundstages as the original film, leaves too much of deja vu. There are some bits and pieces that are occasionally funny and it seems that the cast, which included Simon’s then-wife Marsha Mason, had a blast during the shooting. The audience, unfortunately, will not.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

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