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The Cheap Detective

The Cheap Detective, a parody of Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and the works of Raymond Chandler, may be the flimsiest script Neil Simon ever wrote. Typical of its wit is this phone exchange between the femme fatale and the Bogart-like hero: ”Lou? This is Georgia.” ”Oh, I guess you were on my mind.” The Cheap Detective is like Airplane!, only dumber.

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. Falk’s gravel-gargling Bogart routine is so awful it’s irresistible; Dom DeLuise does a porcine, oleaginous, and surprisingly able Peter Lorre impression. Check out Ann-Margret as a vulgar Chandleresque vamp and Sid Caesar as her decrepit sugar daddy. Or Fernando Lamas as Paul Henreid, Casablanca’s French freedom fighter, Nicol Willamson as his Nazi nemesis, and Scatman Crothers as the gin-joint piano man banging out the heartrending tune that brings tears to Bogey’s eyes — either ”Jeepers, Creepers” or ”Heigh-Ho,” the script isn’t quite sure which.

Additional absurdities are perpetrated by Phil Silvers, Louise Fletcher, Madeline Kahn, John Houseman, Stockard Channing, James Coco, Eileen Brennan, and Paul Williams. Even the ordinarily unbearable Marsha Mason is stylish as the dame who can’t hang on to a husband even when he’s in an urn.

The Cheap Detective is nothing but a series of thumpingly obvious cheap shots at Hollywood’s classics. But it does a good job of rounding up the usual suspects.

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