Directed and Produced by Richard Rush
Written by Robert Kaufman/Floyd Mutrux
You ask most people what’s a Buddy Cop Movie and I’m willing to bet you next month’s rent they’ll say; “Lethal Weapon.” And actually I got no problem with that. The “Lethal Weapon” series is without a doubt The Gold Standard of Buddy Cop Movies. It elevated the genre to such a new height that there’s really never been another Buddy Cop Movie Series that was able to catch up and top it. The only movie series I think that came even close is the two “48 Hours” movie with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy.
Now if you ask me The Buddy Cop Movie Genre here in America started in 1970 with “Cotton Comes To Harlem.” In that movie we first see a lot of the elements that would become a staple of Buddy Cop Movies in the decade to come such as the bickering pair of heroes, madcap humor, wildass car chases and a plot that is both complicated enough to make your head hurt and yet as simple as chicken soup. But in these kind of movies what really matters is the relationship between the two cops who are our protagonists.
And protagonists is exactly the right word for the main characters of this movie. Because FREEBIE (James Caan) And The Bean (Alan Arkin) are certainly not heroes. They’ve been working a 14-month long case to get evidence against numbers rackets king Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen) not because he’s a bad guy. Bean wants a promotion to Lieutenant for the prestige while Freebie wants to get into the Vice Squad where he dreams of payoffs that will make himself rich. There’s one big problem: they aren’t good enough cops to make a case against the guy. The District Attorney of San Francisco (Alex Rocco) has a gut-bustingly hilarious scene where he tries to explain to these two morons who hand him ledger papers soaked in olive oil they have stolen out of Meyers’ garbage why they don’t have a case. There’s only one thing that saves them: there are hit men coming from Detroit to San Francisco to kill Meyers. And since The Super Bowl is being hosted in San Francisco that same weekend, there’s no way to keep the hit men out. Freebie and The Bean will have to keep Meyers alive for the weekend until their star witness comes back into town to testify against Meyers.
Of course this is nowhere as easy as it sounds. During the course of the weekend, Freebie and The Bean will get into no less than four car chases, five fist fights (two of them between themselves) three shootouts, deal with the issue of Bean’s wife (Valarie Harper) possibly cheating on him and at the end of their case find out that it wasn’t really their case at all.
You guys know how much I love 1970s movies. Mainly because I was there. And I actually did see FREEBIE AND THE BEAN during it’s original theatrical run (I think it came out during my first year of High School) mainly because Cop Movies were just about all that were in the theaters then so if you didn’t want to see a Cop Movie you didn’t see anything. I do recall liking it even back then because it was an oddball kind of Cop Movie and I recently saw it for the first time since then and now I know why I like it:
THE DIRECTOR: The movie was Directed by Richard Rush who directed one of my All Time Favorite Movies: The Stunt Man. FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is nowhere as good as The Stunt Man but it’s nowhere near what you would expect from a Buddy Cop Movie.
THE ACTORS: First of all, if you can’t get past Alan Arkin (born Jewish) and Valarie Harper (who as far as I know, identifies as Italian) playing Mexicans then this probably isn’t the movie for you. And if you can’t get past James Caan playing Freebie as a racist who would embarrass Archie Bunker then this isn’t the movie for you. Mind you, I fully understand why many of you would not find the humor in this movie funny. On the other hand, understand that I grew up with this style of comedy and therefore I have no problem finding it hilarious. ‘Nuff Said. We move on.
James Caan is an actor I’ve always admired in his early movies for his sheer physicality and FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is an excellent showcase for it. He’s always running or fighting or throwing himself off of rooftops here. And he’s also a very funny guy when he has the opportunity to be so and he has it here. He’s equally up to the task of keeping up with Alan Arkin who like Jack Lemmon could easily switch back and forth between drama and comedy. They have a terrific chemistry in this movie and halfway through the movie when they have a fight in a park at 3AM you understand that the main reason why they’re partners is because they really don’t like anybody else except each other.
Valarie Harper plays Bean’s wife and she’s such a terrific actress she makes the most out of the little she’s got. There’s a subplot where Bean thinks she’s cheating on him and he confronts her. By the end of the scene you’re both convinced that maybe she was and maybe she wasn’t cheating on Bean. That’s how well she plays the scene. Loretta Swit plays the wife of Red Meyers and pay attention to her role because even though it seems like a cameo it plays off big time at the end.
THE CAR CHASES: I know that it was an expected thing for Cop Movies of the 1970s and 1980s to have Car Chases but pay particular attention to the ones in this. Because I’m firmly convinced that John Landis was inspired by the car chases in FREEBIE AND THE BEAN for his car chases in “The Blues Brothers.” In fact, the car chases become a running joke in the movie as is the fact that Freebie and The Bean cause so much damage to the city and risk to the citizens in their pursuit of criminals it would be cheaper and safer to let the bad guys GO. Sound familiar?
So should you see FREEBIE AND THE BEAN?: I would certainly recommend that you do if you’re a fan of Richard Rush, James Caan, Alan Arkin and Valarie Harper. Yes, yes, the racist and sexist attitudes of the 1970s will offend most of you and so I urge you to pass it by. But for the rest of you who want to check it out, it’s a stylish, entertaining and snappy precursor to a genre that would dominate in the 1980s and you should by all means watch it on that basis. The action, especially in the fistfights and car chases approach slapstick humor and there are moments of surprising warmth and humanity in between the mayhem and chaos. FREEBIE AND THE BEAN should be watched if you love the “Lethal Weapon” “48 Hours” and “Rush Hour” movies and would like to spend two hours visiting one of their grandfathers.