Cheap Detective, The (1978): Neil Simon’s Spoof of Humphrey Bogart Noir Detectives

“Vive La France!” “Hooray for Hollywood!”  These are some of the pseudo-funny lines in The Cheap Detective, the wannabe satirical comedy, written by playwright Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore.

The cast, especially the women, is all in this It was made as a follow-up to their more successful collaboration, Murder by Death, of 1976, which also featured an all-star cast.  The ensembl includes Madeline Kahn, Louise Fletcher, Ann-Margret, Eilen Brennan, Stockard Channing, Marsha Mason. Sid Caesar, John Houseman, Dom DeLuise, Abe Vigoda, James Coco, Phil Silvers, Fernando Lamas, Nicol Williamson and Paul Williams.

The spoof, which is too theatrical, reflecting Neil Simon’s real forte, and Moore’s lack of understanding of the film medium, stars Peter Falk as Lou Peckinpaugh, a detective very much in the Humphrey Bogart mold.

As Falk plays his, Peckinpaugh is a bumbling San Francisco private detective, who needs to prove his innocence when he becomes suspected of his partner’s murder while helping some strange characters recover a lost treasure.  Falk does the same shtick, donning the characteristics he used in the 1976 spoof thriller of Agatha Christie, Murder by Death.

Among other films, The Cheap Detective parodies affectionately–but not wittily–Casablanca (all the way down with a rendition of La Marseilleuse), The Maltese Fallcon, and To Have and Have Not, all classic Bogart vehicles, plus some reference to modern noir detectives such as Chinatown and musicals like Gigi.

Ann-Margret later said that she based her character on “Rusty” from Viva Las Vegas (opposite Elvis Presley) and “Dallas” from the 1966 film, Stagecoach, a disappointing remake of the 1939 John Ford-John Wayne movie.

Stiers juggled this role with his better known role in the TV series, M.A.S.H. as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III.

In the same year, Channing also played Betty Rizzo in the movie musical, Grease, starring John Travolta.


Peter Falk as Lou Peckinpaugh

Madeleine Kahn as Mrs. Montenegro

Dom DeLuise as Pepe Damascus

Louise Fletcher as Marlene DuChard

Ann-Margret as Jezebel Dezire

Eileen Brennan as Betty DeBoop

Stockard Channing as Bess

Sid Caesar as Ezra Dezire

Marsha Mason as Georgia Merkle

John Houseman as Jasper Blubber

Vic Tayback as Lieutenant DiMaggio

Abe Vigoda as Sgt. Rizzuto

James Coco as Marcel

Phil Silvers as Hoppy

Fernando Lamas as Paul DuChard

Nicol Williamson as Col. Schlissel

James Cromwell as Schnell

Scatman Crothers as Tinker

Paul Williams as Boy

David Ogden Stiers as Captain