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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Cheap Detective (1978)

"Being a private eye may not be much, but we do have a code of honor. It's all right to fool around with your partner's wife, but once he's dead it makes it all so dirty. That's the way it is, angel. You marry yourself a nice guy, have a couple of swell kids. Once you're all set up and happy, maybe we can fool around again."
- Lou (Peter Falk)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: November 14, 2001

Stars: Peter Falk
Other Stars: Ann-Margaret, Eileen Brennan, Stockard Channing, James Coco, Scatman Crothers, Dom DeLuise, John Houseman, Marsha Mason, Nicol Williamson
Director: Robert Moore

MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:32m:07s
Release Date: November 13, 2001
UPC: 043396903999
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+B C-

DVD Review

The parody genre gained popularity in the 1980s with spoofs like Hot Shots and The Naked Gun and exists today in the likes of Scary Movie, but the commonly recognized grandfather of the form, Airplane!, was not the first of its kind. Two years before the Zucker brothers released their box-office hit, Neil Simon and director Robert Moore created The Cheap Detective, an amusing take-off on the film noir boom of the 1940s.

The target chosen for parody was Hollywood giant Humphrey Bogart. Peter Falk, who played a Bogart-esque character in Simon's mystery comedy Murder By Death, reprises his role as imitator in the guise of Lou Peckinpaugh, a hard-nosed, hard-drinking, womanizing detective. There isn't much of a plot; rather, the film strings together sequences from The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, along with portions of Casablanca, creating a rather nonsensical, but fast-moving potboiler detective story with a plot as labyrinthine as any noir.

The real purpose for the parody seems to be to allow major stars of the '70s to imitate major stars of the '40s. Dom DeLuise handles the Peter Lorre role from The Maltese Falcon, Madeline Kahn does a hilarious send-up of Mary Astor's role in the same film and John Houseman takes on the Sidney Greenstreet role from Casablanca. They all have great fun with their roles, playing exaggerated caricatures within the conventions of these classics. Other stars include Ann-Margret as Lauren Bacall; Fernando Lamas as Paul Henried; and Louise Fletcher as Ingrid Bergman.

Robert Moore does a good job of capturing the flavor of the noir film and parodying it at the same time. Even in widescreen and color, the images have the same cramped, oppressive feel as their cinematic forebearers, but with a modern aesthetic. Simon's screenplay is all over the map, full of outright homage, slapstick, innuendo, and rapid-fire dialogue. Much of it works, but he also seems to willing to go for the cheap sex joke, and some of the physical comedy feels a bit staged.

The Cheap Detective will be funniest for those who have at least a tenuous grasp of the source material, but Simon's wordplay is sharp enough that even the uninitiated will find something to enjoy.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: I can't believe this film is nearly 25 years old. It looks fantastic on DVD. The 2.35:1 image features excellent color contrast (though the whole film has a dull, unsaturated look), and the black level is very strong. Shadow detail isn't the best, with some scenes looking overly dark, but it isn't much of a problem. I noticed no edge enhancement, aliasing, or digital artifacting. The print used for the master was in excellent condition, and doesn't show much in the way of lines or scratches. However, it does show some slight grain, and overall, the image is a bit soft, and shows some seemingly intentional haziness. Overall, though, this is a very nice looking release.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: For a film that is trying to re-create the feel of a 1940s picture, the mono soundtrack seems wholly appropriate. Dialogue is well mixed, and is always clear, though is does have the muffled quality of a film from the genre—I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, but it doesn't distract from the overall presentation. Other than that, music is used sparingly while blending well into the mix, but sound effects sound a bit unsupported and harsh. Not bad for a mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Murder By Death
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. A Conversation with Neil Simon
Extras Review: A Conversation with Neil Simon runs just over 11 minutes. It consists of film clips and newly produced interview footage with Simon. He reminisces about the genesis of the project and offers his insights on the noir genre and the work he put into the script. It's a good length, and worth a look for Simon fans. Also offered are talent files, some brief production notes, as well as trailers for The Cheap Detective and cult favorite Murder By Death.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A broad knowledge of classic film noir isn't necessary to enjoy The Cheap Detective, but it would help. Those with a bit of experience with the genre will enjoy the parody, in-jokes, and references all the more. Everyone will enjoy the fast-paced double-entendres of Neil Simon dialogue.


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