Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Movie That Fell Through the Cracks # 42

We're overdue for a good movie here. How about this one? Coming close on the heels of THE BLACK BIRD, George Segal's almost legendarily unfunny comedy "sequel" to THE MALTESE FALCON, is Peter Falk's THE CHEAP DETECTIVE, an all-star Neil Simon comedy from 1978. Made near the end of Simon's golden period, it is an episodic spoof of various Bogart pictures including THE MALTESE FALCON. In between COLUMBO episodes, Falk had played a Bogart-like role in Simon's delightful MURDER BY DEATH a couple of years earlier and due to his demanding TV contract ( It demanded he get lots of money and lots of time off and would turn in money-making COLUMBO episodes pretty much when he damn well pleased and that semed to work for everybody) found the time to expand it into a whole feature.
The fun in these kind of pictures, of course, appears in the character roles and here a bizarre assortment of them are played by an equally bizarre assortment of wonderful actors:
Eileen Brennan-She had appeared opposite Falk in MURDER BY DEATH and was headed toward a career high of her own.
Stockard Channing-Not longer after making her initial TV splash.
Dom Deluise-I think there's some kind of law that he's in all of these all-star thingies.
John Houseman-Orson Welles' former Mercury Theater partner had begun acting late in life and taken an Oscar for THE PAPER CHASE (a role he would later comtinue on television).
Fernando Lamas- Argentinian actor with a marvelous voice made famous when spoofed on SNL by Billy Crystal in the early eighties.
Paul Williams-Talented songwriter but untalented and, in fact, grating as an actor.
Sid Caeser-I believe this was in Sid's self-proclaimed "forgotten" era (due to prescription addictions) but he's still funny!
Louise Fletcher-Nurse Ratched could be funny!
James Coco-Another holdover from MURDER BY DEATH, Coco was a brilliant actor who rarely had a chance to do anything but Dom Deluise impressions.
Madeline Kahn-Always amusing ( particularly with Mel Brooks and/or Gene Wilder) but never the favorite to me that she is to many.
Ann-Margret-Always beautiful and fun, she was here coasting on the downslide of her acting career after her acclaimed performance in TOMMY.
Phil Silvers-He always looked "wrong" to me without his glasses!
Nicol Williamson-Legendarily quirky actor, memorable here as the "head of the Cincinnati Gestapo." Imagine that line in a packed free preview audience in the middle of Cincinnati!
Marsha Mason-Described in the ad as Simon's favorite actress, she was, at the time, also his wife!
Abe Vigoda-Ok. I'll go for it-Still alive as of today's date.
So what's not to love here? And yet if it's on DVD, it's certainly not a big seller and I haven't seen it on cable or TV in more than twenty-five years.


  1. Great post! Both The Cheap Detective and Murder By Death are in my top ten favorite comedies of all time. I remember watching them when my family first got HBO...when cable was "newfangled". ;D

  2. Anonymous9:22 AM

    Gotta see this one. And yes, Louise Fletcher can be VERY funny. She excels in playing weird characters and some of her more enjoyable roles have been in the remake of Invaders From Mars ("You missed the field trip, David Gardner!") and TV's The Karen Carpenter Story ("Kids, stop all the racket. You're gonna get us all arrested!") She is a very underrated actress.

  3. Anonymous9:45 AM

    The DVD of "The Cheap Detective" can be located in the $3 bin at most Big Lots stores. It's the official Sony DVD release.
    I purchased it recently along with "New York, New York" and "Runaway Train" all for 3 bucks each.

  4. The Cheap Detective is famous to me as the movie I almost didn't see. When it was playing everywhere I went to see it usually stopped showing it the week before. Finally with the invention of the DVD I bought it and saw it. It was funny but not as funny as I wanted.
    As you said about Paul Williams he is a great songwriter. He can be passable as an actor if cast in the right role. The one thing worse then his acting is his singing. What ever made him think he could sing?

  5. Anonymous6:03 AM

    "Paul Williams-Talented songwriter but untalented and, in fact, grating as an actor"

    Aww, come on - he was pretty good in "Phantom Of The Paradise"