Saturday, May 26, 2007

It Comes Back With The Buttons On It

Ah, the seventies, the one time in history where you could have a buddy-cop movie starring the team of James Caan and Alan Arkin. That’s 1974's FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and all I can say is, why have I never seen this movie before?

James Caan is Freebie. Alan Arkin is The Bean. They’re two San Francisco police detectives who’ve been working as partners for over a year and spend more time arguing with each other than trying to solve whatever case they’re working on. It’s pretty much ground zero for every buddy-cop movie out there. There are some chase scenes that are truly jaw-dropping in how fall on the floor hysterical they are. The characters, as well as the film, are racist, sexist and homophobic. The film is extremely violent. There are examples of massive public destruction. Rarely have I seen such a film from a major studio (Warner, in this case) that could be considered truly socially irresponsible. I think I kind of loved it.

There is a sort of plot in this film, where Caan and Arkin try to take down a local crime boss (played by THE APARTMENT’s Jack Kruschen), but the plot winds up as kind of incidental to simply following these two guys around as they get into fights with each other, chase down pointless leads, deal with the women in their lives and get into more fights with each other. Alex Rocco appears as the D.A. (Sonny Corleone meets Moe Greene!) and Valerie Harper plays Bean’s wife Consuelo. Harper is only in two scenes but manages to almost walk away with the film. The sequence where Bean interrogates his wife, convinced she’s having an affair, yet she has an airtight answer to everything he accuses her of, is kind of amazing to watch. But except for these diversions, it’s really a two-man show for Caan and Arkin and they’re absolutely fantastic.

There’s some neat San Francisco location work, with porno theaters seemingly everywhere—there’s a shot that shows one sharing a block with a Health Food store. Still, it can’t really be considered a great San Francisco movie—not like THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE depended on New York or MOTHER JUGS AND SPEED depended on L.A. (random examples I know, but in some ways the seventies-ness of these movies seem to go together) Even with the multiple car chases, they surprisingly don’t depend on the locations every other chase in this city use as much as they focus on the wanton destruction that the characters cause. In some ways, the tastelessness in the film could have been set anywhere. It was the seventies. It was a different time. There’s also a scene here that strongly mirrors a similar one Caan plays in 1999’s MICKEY BLUE EYES—I’m truly embarrassed that I noticed this.

There’s one bit during a chase where Caan, at the wheel of the car, pulls off an outlandish stunt and when it happens he just quietly utters “Ta-Dah!” as if he’s surprised by it as well. After a beat, Arkin responds by trying to strangle him. That kind of sums up the movie. If I’m being light on the analysis here, it's because FREEBIE AND THE BEAN doesn’t really demand that, unless of course you’re going to take it more seriously than is at all necessary. It just asks that you laugh when Alan Arkin tries to strangle James Caan.

At the Egyptian last night, the movie played like gangbusters with the audience, myself included, in hysterics at times. Director Richard Rush was there for a Q&A after the film and started it off by thanking us for the joy we’d given him with our response. Since he gave us FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, no thanks were necessary.


Marty McKee said...

Great film. The bit where Caan steals Bean's gun always cracks me up.

Was I the only one excited about the FREEBIE & THE BEAN reunion in the GET SMART film?

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I know I was. I think I'm the one who told you about it!

Marty McKee said...

So I watched it again tonight, but this time I got to watch the Warner Archive DVD, which is the best I've ever seen the film look. I've only seen it once before in widescreen, but not looking this good. FREEBIE is still brilliant, however, whether seeing it for the first or the twentieth time. Its only real fault is that it has too many endings; I would cut two minutes from the scenes between Caan stopping the bad guy and Caan in the ambulance.

If Warners ever put out the TV series on DVD, I'd blind-buy it.