This week’s entry into The Culp Collection, my irregular trawl through the various Robert Culp TV movies which have appeared on YouTube over the last year or two, is Last of the Good Guys, a 1978 effort from Columbia Picture Productions.
The 1970s saw Culp star in a raft of made-for-television films, with the genre a popular one for US TV networks keen to give their audiences 90 minute movies that they didn’t have to leave their homes to watch. Actors such as Culp, who was still appearing in the odd theatrical release, were still big draws for TV viewers, and he became a regular in films such as 1973’s A Cold Night’s Death and Last of the Good Guys.
This time around Culp is cast as the establishment figure of Sergeant Nichols, a no-nonsense cop running an LA precinct of oddballs which includes Dennis Dugan’s Officer Johnny Lucas and Larry Hagman (who’s given Special Guest Star billing) as Sergeant Frank O’Malley. When we meet him, O’Malley is close to retirement, which immediately sets alarm bells ringing in the minds of experienced/jaded TV viewers.
We soon discover that O’Malley has been ill for a while, but doesn’t dare tell anyone in case his pension is affected. As this film aired in the same year as the first season of Dallas, in which Hagman became a household name around the globe as JR Ewing, I’m assuming the two were filmed around the same time, but this is a very different Hagman to the oil tycoon. Hagman ensures O’Malley is a sympathetic character and it’s easy for the audience to feel for him.
It’s tricky to explain the plot without giving away what could be considered a spoiler, but what happens next is the crux of the film; look away now if you’d rather not find out. Still here? OK, well O’Malley dies, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves, until Lucas decides that he’s going to help his old buddy by pretending he’s alive right up until his retirement date, by which point he’s guaranteed a pay-out.
Knowing that Nichols won’t agree to the scam, Lucas convinces his colleagues to set up an elaborate set of tricks and ruses which essentially mean O’Malley doesn’t attend morning roll calls while Nichols slowly begins to twig that his men are up to something.
Although Dugan gets most of the screen time here, Culp is very much the moral compass of the film. OK, so he’s a stuffy, by-the-book, copper who doesn’t want to see that book thrown away, and we’re meant to revel in Lucas outwitting him, but Culp doesn’t make Nichols a bog-standard bad guy. Nichols is doing his job, and there’s a nagging feeling throughout that had he been told the truth about his old friend from the start that he might just have joined in.
In the end this is solid 95 minutes of entertainment which may stretch credibility but which gives us another well-played Culp character who makes an impact in his short amount of screen time. Also look out for appearances from an OTT Ernie Hudson and a wild-haired Jonathan Harris from Lost in Space, who add a bit of colour to proceedings.
Head over to YouTube to watch the Last of the Good Guys in glorious ten-minutes-at-a-time-o-vision: