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Freebie and the Bean


‘…a tough guy comedy classic, fearlessly reflecting the racial and sexual issues of 1974 within a buddy cop narrative, with Arkin and Caan showing great charisma as the cops involved…’

I only had one interaction with the late, great Alan Arkin, on a 1998 LA shoot for a movie called Magicians that went straight to VHS. A few years before his Oscar-winning turn in Little Miss Sunshine, Arkin was on a bit of a downer about his career at that point, but with no reason; I was happy to remind him he’d been in a couple of cracking recent films Mother Night and Grosse Pointe Blank. It felt surprising to be reassuring such a significant star; Arkin was a great name in comedy when I was a kid growing up, and part of that allure was due to Richard Rush’s majestic, neglected Freebie and the Bean. I saw the trailer for this insane film on Boxing Day 1974, and managed to tape an abridged version off a BBC TX in the early eighties. It’s currently rocking a miserly 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, where the consensus is that Rush’s buddy cop action frolic is ‘A sour blend of misguided comedy and all-out action, Freebie and the Bean is a buddy cop picture that’s far less than arresting entertainment.’ Really? Hold my beer.

So let’s tell the truth about this movie, buried due to being out of step with the current fashion for trashing anything that’s not bland, corporate sanctioned, socially responsible messaging. Freebie and the Bean is cultural gold-dust; a box office smash on release, Stanley Kubrick called it the best film of 1974, Quentin Tarantino calls it a masterpiece, the movie inspired hits like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours and even spun off a decent tv show in 1980. That small-screen venture was something of a fool’s errand, given that a sanitised version of this kind of jet black, anything-goes, f**k you comedy is just not viable; Freebie and the Bean still feels like a dangerous, irresponsible, and verboten text, and that’s just three of the things that make it attractive to this day. Arkin plays The Bean, a fastidious Mexican cop with a San Francisco beat who enjoys a close rapport with the equally manic Freebie (James Caan); when we first meet the boys, they’re literally bin-raking in a dumpster, looking for evidence that might help their case against a flamboyant mobster Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen). That case provides a loose framework for Freebie and the Bean to try and protect Meyers from an incoming hit-man from Detroit, a mission that leads to wholesale destruction comedy, all taking place over a one hot, sweaty, action-packed Super-bowl weekend.

Shot by the great László Kovács (Easy Riders, Ghostbusters) in stunning, angular widescreen that makes great use of sunny San Fran locations, Rush sets out his stall early with a jaunty theme song; it’s a crazy world, and the cops trying to sort it are causing as much damage as the criminals. Rush would go on to fashion 1980’s The Stunt Man as a hymn to movie action, but his dynamic in-car-shots will never be repeated; check out the fluid way the camera swings around from a dashboard chat to pick up a couple of hitchhiking old ladies on the pavement. Our boys aim to be ‘mister inconspicuous’ but they’re anything but; there’s fights, beatings, dentists’ surgery shoot-outs, witness intimidation, hotel lift shoot-outs, the cops driving their car off an elevated freeway and into a 3rd story apartment, mayhem with motorcycles, lorry-loads of chickens and much, much more. If you have zero experience of actual life beyond social media, you might find the racist and sexist attitudes and language to be shocking and disturbing, but tough; back in 1974, they made films that reflected society, and that society was going straight to hell in a handbag.

‘These things ain’t worth sh*t unless you’re gonna use them,’ quips Freebie as he holsters his gun; for a cop who has ‘spent half my life in toilets’, bitter experience just about prevails in the blood-soaked, beat-down finale. The Bean meanwhile has wife problems, with Arkin opposite a sensational Valerie Harper, yes, Rhoda from Rhoda; the scene in which he accuses her of infidelity is a stone cold classic. Other highlights include a car driven like a lethal weapon through a marching band, Caan staunching a shoulder wound with a sanitary towel he busted out of a football stadium toilet vending machine, and the ingenious way Rush uses crowd noise to provide an accompaniment to the final, vicious fight. Like Caan’s bright orange Viva T-short, Freebie and the Bean is a stone cold classic, with great chemistry between Caan and Arkin, an original story, and a scabrous, vitriolic attitude that today’s cinema will never, ever repeat. It’s a tough guy comedy classic, fearlessly reflecting the racial and sexual issues of 1974 within a buddy cop narrative, with Arkin and Caan showing great charisma as the cops involved. Capeesh?


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  1. A huge and unexpected hit back in the day in Britain. It opened in the UK on the ABC circuit in the first week of Janaury 1975, start of the year generally a poor period for new openers, but it tore up the box office. I have happy memories of this one.

  2. If Caan and Arkin had waited a couple of years to be born, I could have given them some pointers on how to be a really tough guy.

    I’ve always assumed most actors were super duper ego-maniacs and as such, would need constant reassurance about pretty much everything. You probably should have smacked Arkin across the chops and told him to man up. Oh well, we all have lost opportunities we now regret…

    • Which was ok, I remember the lorry full of beach balls in the credits and Hector Elizondo. But there are scenes in the original film in which pretty much every line would be grounds of dismissal today, so the material didn’t really translate…

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