Created by Neil Simon
“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 PECKINPAUGH is The Cheap Detective, in Neil Simon’s film of the same name. A decent take-off on about a thousand B-films, particularly The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, it’s got enough eccentric characters and enough loopy plotlines (and a cast of thousands! that includes Ann-Margaret, Eileen Brennan, Stockard Channing, James Coco, Scatman Crothers, Dom DeLuise, John Houseman, Marsha Mason, Nicol Williamson, Louise Fletcher, Madeline Kahn, Sid Caesar, Fernando Lamas, Phil Silvers, John Houseman, James Coco, and Paul Williams) to stand up nicely beside some of its targets. Still, a little Mel Brooks or Airplane-style anarchy would have been welcome.
Then again, it’s Neil Simon.
Doing his best Bogart, Peter Falk shines as Peckinpaugh, a scruffy, rumpled San Francisco gumshoe trying to find out who plugged his partner and to recover a large, egg-shaped diamond, while avoiding the advances of six different women. As the tagline puts it, “He knows every cheap trick, cheap joke, cheap shot and cheap dame in the book.”
Along the way, several loopy, over-the-top characters (the film’s full of them) are bumped off in increasingly strange ways.
Fluff, but fun. It’s a sort of follow-up to Simon’s better-known and similarly star-studded mystery satire, Murder by Death (1976), which included Falk as similarly rumpled P.I. Sam Diamond.
And if you like this one, it’s worth checking out, as are Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Black Bird.
- “Nice catch, Mr. Peckinpah, I was almost a widow!”
— Georgia Merkle, after she’s caught trying to roll her wheelchair-bound husband into a fireplace.
- Lou Peckinpaugh: Your husband’s dead a little over an hour and you’re already dressed in black? How long you had that outfit waiting in the closet?
Georgia Merkle: You’re wrong. I just bought it. There’s an all-night widow shop at Fifth and Geary.
- Lieutenant DiMaggio: Mind answering a few questions downtown, Lou?
Lou Peckinpaugh: We are downtown.
Lieutenant DiMaggio: Then this will be fine.
- Lou Peckinpaugh: What you you doing here?
Betty DeBoop: I missed my boat.
Lou Peckinpaugh: It doesn’t sail until tomorrow!
Betty DeBoop: So I missed it a little early.
- “If you loved The Maltese Falcon and can recite all the best lines from Casablanca by heart, you’ll hate The Cheap Detective, which is basically just the year’s classiest and most expensive rip-off.”
— Roger Ebert
- “Neil Simon has done it again. Written a film that is funny, entertaining, and a treat for old movie buffs.”
— The Fresno Bee
“… may be the flimsiest script Neil Simon ever wrote… But it’s worth a look because it’s a veritable warehouse of invaluable character actors. The cast has a high old time making mincemeat of movie archetypes, and the fun is infectious… a series of thumpingly obvious cheap shots at Hollywood’s classics.”
— Tim Appelo in Entertainment Weekly
- THE CHEAP DETECTIVE | Buy this video | Buy this DVD | Watch it now!
Screenplay by Neil Simon
Directed by Robert Moore
Produced by Ray Stark
Starring Peter Falk as LOU PECKINPAUGH
Also starring Ann Margaret, Eileen Brennan, Sid Caesar, Stockard Channing, James Coco, Dom DeLuise, Louise Fletcher, John Houseman, Madeline Kahn, Fernando Lamas, Marsha Mason, Phil Silvers, Abe Vigoda, Paul Williams, Nicol Williamson
- The Cheap Detective (1978, by Robert Grossbach) | Buy this book
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- April 2, 2023
THE BOTTOM LINE: The movie’s hit-and-miss, but Peter Falk rocks his best Bogie in Neil Simon’s spoofy The Cheap Detective.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.