Warner Archive continues to dig gems out of its vault. Freebie and the Bean, a Grade-A buddy cop flick starring Alan Arkin and James Caan, is a prime example. If you’re a fan of 48 Hrs. or Lethal Weapon, please give this film (which btw is beloved by Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick and Edgar Wright) a shot. Five reasons to love this flick is below!!
Plot: Determined to take down mobster Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen) in a last ditch attempt to save their jobs, the pair shadow him for several days to ensure Red doesn’t get killed (he’s the target of a planned hit). Once their witness arrives in San Francisco, Freebie (James Caan) and Bean (Alan Arkin) can arrest Red and bring him to justice. Unfortunately, the therm “all’s well that end’s well” doesn’t apply to these brave (yet foolhardy) cops.
1. James Caan and Alan Arkin Have Perfect Chemistry
Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, along with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson are considered tops of the pops when it comes to buddy cop duos. James Caan and Alan Arkin reach similar heights as San Francisco detectives Freebie and Bean. The chemistry between the pair is completely on point, and though they spent much of the movie playfully arguing and yelling at each other, their dynamic never gets annoying.
Whether it’s Freebie trying to help Bean get over a seemingly adulterous wife (Valerie Harper) or Bean simply telling Freebie to tuck his shirt in before they see the D.A. (Alex Rocco), their mutual love is evident from the get go. And Caan and Arkin fit the roles like a glove.
2. Cinematographer László Kovács’ Compositions Are Eye-Catching
Apologies for the grainy screen-grabs (the Blu-ray transfer is much cleaner), but I wanted to point out how cinematographer Lászó Kovács (Ghostbusters, Paper Moon) simply knows how to fill a frame. For example, instead of simply shooting from the outside of a room, Kovacs uses the adjoining hallway to give the space a bit of scope. As Caan enters the doorway on the right side of the frame, an unidentified woman exits the restroom down the hall. It’s simply a few seconds in a 113 minute story, but it shows that director Richard Rush (The Stunt Man) wanted to give his buddy cop comedy much more visual breadth. This review’s featured image, which has neon lights reflecting off their car window and obscuring Freebie’s face, is my favorite shot from the film.
3. The Action Scenes Are Downright Insane
During the promotions for Baby Driver, director Edgar Wright said Freebie and the Bean has one of cinema’s top 10 car chase scenes, and the film doesn’t chintz on these sequences. One scene has Freebie driving off the Embarcadero Freeway and into the window of a third story apartment as an old couple are having breakfast in bed! Bystanders, most notably a school marching band, are barely avoided during these scenes, and it’s amazing how Rush and his production team pulled off these stunts in the seventies.
Along with the car chases, the actual fist fights (one involving Arkin and a criminal in a restaurant kitchen and another with Caan taking on a transvestite in a bathroom) are also a sight to behold. I had no idea that Arkin had an action star bone in his body, but his sequence in Freebie and the Bean is absolutely well done. And…without giving too much away, Caan’s scene, which occurs during the film’s third act, is also a memorable and highly controversial confrontation (if you don’t mind any spoilers, check out how this scene is referenced in the documentary The Celluloid Closet).
4. The Narrative Isn’t Afraid Of Making Drastic Left Turns
One of the rules of screenwriting is to consistently move the story forward, and while having a lean and mean cinematic machine is my cup of tea, taking a narrative turn now and again is welcome. Robert Kaufman’s screenplay is top-notch, and credit goes to Rush for adding a bit of expository fat into his storyline. For example, there’s a hilarious scene with the cops as they stutter their way through a meeting with the D.A. (Alex Rocco) that is downright hilarious (at one point Rocco exclaims that the pair couldn’t guard the fish at the local aquarium).
Before the film’s final action scene at Candlestick Park, we are given an extended sequences between Bean and his wife Consuelo (Valerie Harper). Bean uses his detective skill set to question if his wife is cheating on him, and what ensues is a memorable battle of the sexes battle/flirtation between the actors. There’s a ton of memorable moments in Freebie and the Bean, and as much as I love the Caan/Arkin pairing, it’s Arkin’s transcendent scene with Harper that I’ll watch on Blu-ray again and again.
5. This Film Is As Politically Incorrect As The Day Is Long
The flick came out in 1974, and ethnic (Bean is Latino) and homophobic slurs are casually thrown about. Freebie and Bean also rough people up during questioning without a moment’s thought, and bystanders literally get caught in their crossfire (a receptionist is shot during a gunfight).
Reason #5 may be your #1 reason to not watch Freebie and the Bean. If you don’t mind a heaping does of political incorrectness, then Freebie and the Bean is a breath of fresh (or is that toxic?) air.
***Freebie and the Bean is now available on Blu-ray via Wbshop.com or online retailers where Blu-rays and DVDs are sold.