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Freebie and the Bean

tn_freebieFREEBIE AND THE BEAN is an early example of the buddy cop movie, but it seems like it was made after that was a long-established genre, and by a director who got bored and tried to subvert it at every possible turn. The director in question is Richard Rush in 1974, before he did THE STUNT MAN. The story seems fairly by-the-numbers after we’ve seen so many other movies of this type, but that doesn’t prevent the whole thing from seeming really fuckin odd, sometimes in ways that it’s hard to put your finger on.

The first shot in THE STUNT MAN was a dog licking its own balls, this one starts on a cat snooping around a curb where a fat movie-mobster puts his garbage cans. A car pulls up and two men get out and steal the garbage. One can they put in the back seat of the car, the other they pour into their trunk.

It’s the titular buddy cop team, and they’re looking for evidence to put this guy away. Freebie is James Caan, a tough cop willing to go a little to the dark side because he’s angry about working so hard for so little money. The Bean is Alan Arkin, who whines even more than Freebie does and is having marital troubles and what not. Together they’re a team of shat-upon detectives. They get no respect.

mp_freebieBut to be fair their boss has every reason to hate them – in fact should honestly hate them way more than he does. He gets mad when they total three police cars in two days, but he should probly’ve fired them a long time ago for the tremendous amount of damage they’ve done both in physical property and human life. They are some really, really shitty cops, although arguably pretty good drivers considering the extreme circumstances they drive under.

There are some crazy chases in the movie, with a major emphasis on cars smashing into other cars or knocking over things in or around their path. In one scene they launch their car off an overpass into the side of an apartment building, then calmly climb out as an elderly couple lay in bed watching them like they’re TV. Most of the comedy in the movie is a little too broad and wacky for my tastes, partly because of the whimsical score by Dominic Frontiere. But I like how Freebie calls for a tow truck and takes a moment to check the number on the front door so he can tell them it’s on the third floor.

Another good stunt sequence is a big motorcycle chase where Freebie drives over a bunch of gridlocked cars, through a crowded park, etc. There’s alot of attention to detail and timing, like the excellent shot from inside their car where they pull up to a hotel just as a guy is thrown through the lobby window. Or when they get in a smash-up battle with another vehicle and their car backs up and makes tracks across its own hood.

What makes the movie unique is the way Rush seems to throw in some weird detail or staging for practically every scene. For example there’s one where Freebie and Bean are in the chief’s office having a word with him. We’ve seen that scene a hundred million times in movies and TV shows so instead of having them just sitting there like normal people Rush for some reason has them leaning in uncomfortably close, invading the chief’s private space. And the chief is shaving the whole time.

Sometimes it’s subtler than that, there’ll be something weird in the background, like a shot where they’re talking and way off in the distance there’s one woman standing there looking at them. Or there’s a fight and shootout that happens in a dentist’s office, with one of them laying on top of a guy that was in the chair having a procedure done. Freebie and the Bean are never gonna just have a shootout in a warehouse or shipyard like your standard issue movie cops. With them it’s gonna be something strange like a fist fight with a transvestite in a women’s bathroom.

(There’s also a great scene where they stop and adjust their clothing and weaponry and talk over their plan before rushing a guy in a men’s room.)

There’s a chase through a restaurant and into the kitchen, similar to the one in THE MAN FROM HONG KONG. In one part they come smashing through a window and knock over some old ladies at a table. If you watch closely there’s a grey-haired lady in a fur coat with her back to the camera. When she’s knocked over her wig falls off and it’s clearly a man underneath. Because of the strangeness of the movie I honestly don’t know whether it was a screwup that they left in there or if it was an intentional gag that a man was in drag at the restaurant but got outed by this chase. Either one would fit with the movie.

I didn’t get this until just now, but the reason he’s called Freebie must be because he abuses his power as a cop to get people to give him shit he can’t afford (for example a suit coat that he and his obvious stunt double wear throughout the movie). And the reason he’s called The Bean, I think, is racism. At one point Freebie does his Bean imitation with a thick accent, I thought that was kind of weird. Later he starts calling him racial slurs, and you realize that Alan Arkin is supposed to be Mexican. Stranger still, we later meet his wife, a hot Latina played by Valerie Harper.

It didn’t occur to me when I watched BAD BOYS 2 but that movie is almost like an update of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. Both are about two sort of shitty cops who never shut their fucking yaps and are constantly bickering at each other and it’s clearly supposed to be alot funnier than it actually is. Both buddy teams are involved in wreckless vehicular mayhem that causes massive property damage and endangers hundreds of innocent lives, played for wackiness. In fact, Freebie even shoots innocent bystanders on accident and they make a joke out of it. The scuffle in the dentist’s office leaves a woman with a bullet wound in the hip. Afterwards Freebie complains “I can’t hit nothin today,” and the Bean says “Oh, don’t feel too bad. You hit a nurse.” And she’s never mentioned again.

And like BAD BOYS 2 and other Michael Bay joints this one has alot of racist and homophobic joking around. It’s okay that he calls him a “spic” because he really loves him, you know. They also have a BAD BOYS style approach to family disputes, as Bean decides his wife is cheating with a neighbor so he threatens to kill the guy’s dogs, then angrily interrogates her. The difference though is that as he unloads every piece of evidence he has on her it turns out that there are logical explanations for everything and she actually is innocent. In BAD BOYS he’d be right and it would be to show how awesome he is – “ha ha bitch, he caught you!” – but here it turns out he’s a paranoid dipshit who owes his lady a huge apology. (Otherwise he could always replace her with Sandy Duncan.)

According to Rush on the STUNT MAN dvd, Stanley Kubrick called FREEBIE AND THE BEAN the best movie of 1974. That would mean he liked it better than THE GODFATHER PART II, CHINATOWN, THE CONVERSATION, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and even HERBIE RIDES AGAIN. I’m gonna assume he hadn’t seen MR. MAJESTYK or BLACKBELT JONES yet because it seems too riduclous that he would choose it over one of those.

Anyway I don’t agree with Mr. Kubrick on that one, but FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is definitely a distinctive movie with alot of good spectacle, worth your time in my opinion. For years it wasn’t on DVD but was finally made available a few months ago through the Warner Archive.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, May 16th, 2011 at 11:03 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Freebie and the Bean”

  1. Why the animosity? Buddy cop movies perfected disregard for public safety, and I think no buddy cop movie did it quite as well as Freebie and the Bean. Things get completely wrecked in this movie, left and right, and it’s funny because of the way Arkin and Caan play it. Its like an episode of Seinfeld with car chases. I think it’s waaay funnier than anything in Bad Boys 2. I agree that driving your Hummer through a Haitian village and dismantling people’s homes isn’t laugh out loud funny. But in Freebie there’s lots of laughs because of the trail of destruction they leave behind. It helps that it happens in a city.

    Compared to The Stunt Man this movie looked genius. I dont know what the hell Rush was smoking when he made The Stunt Man though.

  2. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    May 16th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I saw this once on late night tv many years ago. I always remember the carnage and humour was up there with The Blues Brothers. Now I know its available on dvd, I’ll make a purchase. Good work Vern.

  3. This one, for me, had kind of legendary status precisely because of it’s unavailability. I felt like I had to see it al all costs but now that it’s available I’m kinda’ like, yeah, I might pick it up if I come across it somewhere. It does look funny but I think CATCH 22 is probably Arkin at his absolute best. What a movie.

  4. I saw this in the theater when it came out and I remember feeling really guilty and strangly excited while watching it. It really had a different vibe from most of the films I had seen at that point. I saw it again on TV in the late 80s and felt disappointed it wasn’t as good as I recalled. But that was probably at least partly because I was watching it censored on a 17 inch screen. I’d like to see it again, but I don’t really feel like buying it. Maybe it will show up on Netflix.

  5. And the theme tune, Vern, what did you think of the theme tune?

    I think this is my Dad’s favourite movie.

  6. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    May 16th, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    The Limey> When I got to know my old man when I had grown up enough to have a beer with him, this movie amongst other car wrecking classics was one of his favourites too.

  7. The team of Alan Arkin and James Caan sounds unbelievably tempting, but if that music in the trailer is any indication of how it plays in the movie I really can’t imagine liking it. I wonder how it would play to a more serious score?

  8. I saw part of this years ago, and I also found it weird that they shoot a bystander by accident and don’t feel bad about it.
    “According to Rush on the STUNT MAN dvd, Stanley Kubrick called FREEBIE AND THE BEAN the best movie of 1974. That would mean he liked it better than THE GODFATHER PART II”
    Not enough James Caan in that for Kubrick’s liking, perhaps?

  9. I’ve been wanting to see this for years, being a big fan of The Stunt Man (which is coming out on blu ray soon fyi)

    the idea that Richard Rush might be the proto-Michael Bay is bizarre

    also “like a shot where they’re talking and way off in the distance there’s one woman standing there looking at them.”, is it just me or does that sound extremely creepy?

  10. I saw a double feature of this along with THE STUNT MAN a few years ago in Hemet, of all places. Rush was there and he answered a few questions (his biggest influence? David Lean). I’d really like to see more work from him. FREEBIE AND THE BEAN goes a little too over-the-top for me, but overall it’s great fun.

  11. Hey Vern,
    Off topic but I noticed an Actor who was in one of my Film School projects appears to have landed a role as Seagal’s partner in a new show “True Justice”. Saw this photo album on his facebook showing the sets and some behind the scenes.
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/media/set/?set=a.440874744133.225011.205865704133
    Someone in the comments is grilling Alex for details so there’s quite a bit of insight.

  12. This is the film that tuned me into the great James Caan (Rollerball sealed the deal). I remember seeing it a long long time ago on tv – the first time i thought it was hilarious, what with the Roadrunner style carnage. When i saw it a few years later I became aware of just how dangerous the cops were and the amount of collateral damage and harm to innocent bystanders they were causing. I also seem to remember a scene where
    Freebie and the Bean flat out execute some guy in a toilet cubicle. Did you guys know there was a (very) short lived tv series based on this?

  13. remember that time James Caan had jello feet?

  14. Jareth Cutestory

    May 17th, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Mr. Subtlety: Did you find that the chase music in THE BLUES BROTHERS detracted from your enjoyment of that film? I’m thinking in particular of the punchy, almost Benny Hill-like music played during the car chase through the shopping mall.

  15. I love the senseless destruction and buddy chemistry between Arkin and Caan in this movie. Supposedly they both hated the director because he almost killed them a couple of times.

  16. I just watched this last night on the strength of your intriguing review. I’ve got to say that this movie was way ahead of it’s time in some places( action and dialogue). Completely in the dark ages in others(The racial humor). This movie is completely surreal,but never boring. I expected to see a 70’s movie with some carnage and action that had that fake 70’s feel to it. Instead what I got reminded me more of Lethal Weapon.

    All of the action scenes are pretty damn good, especially the end with the transvestite. Some of the action is completely jarring. The shooting of the guy in the toilet was brutal. It was like a Paul Verhoeven scene that wasn’t shot by Paul Verhoeven. At the same time it threw me for a loop when the goofy music would play as if this was all for jokes and laughs.

    What other movie will you ever see James Caan do a completely racist imitation of a Mexican straight out of a Speedy Gonzalez cartoon,Alan Arkan(sounding as Jewish as can be) as a latino ,and Valerie Harper doing the worst mamacita impersonation ever. Even if I didn’t know that Valerie Harper wasn’t Latino, I would have never believed she was judging from an accent straight out of an SNL sketch. This has to be the most openly racist movie towards Latino’s ever. With that said, I would still recommend anyone who loves 80’s style action movies to see this. What a crazy and surreal experience that has to be seen to be believed.

  17. rollin thunder 611

    May 25th, 2011 at 10:40 am

    i love this movie ,it has to be one of my favorite films of all time, the violence & mayhem cracks me up ,i first saw this when i was 11 yrs old ,iam 43 now and i love this as much as i did the first i saw it , peace out to all those love this movie as much as me

  18. I’m kind of late to this party, I should have asked this earlier

    anyway how come Richard Rush was not a bigger success? the guy directed only 3 damn movies, he makes Terrence Malick look prolific

    out of those 3 I’ve only seen The Stunt Man, which is an awesome movie, Rush was obviously talented, it’s just so bizarre that he never went anywhere, it makes me wonder if there’s some behind the scenes story to the reason why

    also I’m lying a bit, I confess to watching parts of Color of Night as a teenager for impure purposes, but I didn’t realize it was a Richard Rush movie at the time, nor did I care

  19. What’s the song on the trailer, it’s been stuck in my head all week. Someone in work told me it was the theme tune from the series also.

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