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, etc. It’s hard to pick which would be the best of that bunch, but in terms of a new favorite that I’d be inclined to rewatch over and over again, I’d have to agree with ole’ Stanley there.
I watched this for the first time, knowing its reputation as a beloved gem from the likes of Tarantino and Marc Maron. I wasn’t prepared to laugh as much as I did, but also to be agape at the tremendous set pieces throughout. I mean, yes this is buddy cop movie, but it’s surprisingly dark and callous at times. There’s no denying that it sets up all the cliches - oil & water personalities, loose cannon antics, implausibly daring car chases, and a “gotcha” moment that feels like a relief and a “cop out.” But much like the work of Shane Black, it never feels weathered but fresh. It takes genuine talent to make tropes and conventions feel like first-time experiences. There are multiple set pieces – the first car chase establishes how crazy Freebie is, then they top it a few times much to the shock and awe of the viewer. They get stuck in San Francisco traffic so bad that Freebie commandeers a dirt bike and chases a van through a park during an art exhibition, knocking down a huge set of dominoes. I laughed so hard at the ridiculousness of it all, including the number of times I see James Caan’s stunt double jumping vehicles left and right. It’s borderline farce since there are moments of background sight gags, surreal dialogue exchanges or odd body language.
A fine example of what elevates this above other genre films involves a surprisingly subdued confrontation with the district attorney, in which dialogue delivery is skewed in ways that wouldn’t be out of place in POLICE SQUAD, only this is more of loving homage than outright parody. Then especially, later on, there are unexpected moments of sheer brutality, particularly once the final confrontation takes place inside a woman’s bathroom. Now I know why people say “This movie would not get made today.” The majority of the fun comes from Arkin and Caan strangling each other as they drive each other nuts during their police work. The dialogue fires at the speed of HIS GIRL FRIDAY at times, to where I know I have to watch this again to pick up on all the witty banter and clever quips they share together. They have the kind of chemistry that dreams are made of. I’ve always been a fan of both actors but the more I see from Arkin, the more he’s becoming a true favorite and this is easily one of my favorite comedic performances of all time. Ditto the film in general as a new favorite for me. I haven’t explored the work of Richard Rush as much, but I plan to now.
There’s an energy and sharpness to the proceedings, a real sense of confidence throughout that never falters. Even a subplot surrounding Arkin’s wife, who may or may not be cheating, doesn’t bog down the central narrative. Because everyone is consistently funny and offbeat, there’s rarely a dull moment. If you were a fan of THE OTHER GUYS or THE NICE GUYS, I can’t imagine you not loving a 1970s version of a gritty slam-bang action comedy of an even higher caliber. It may be sacrilege to proclaim this, especially since I’m from Chicago, but I loved the chemistry, comedy and action sequences far more than what Landis brought to THE BLUES BROTHERS. This is even more over-the-top and has zero musical numbers to boot. It’s just this type of movie done impeccably well and now that Warner Archives has put it out, you have no excuse not to finally catch up with it and potentially have the same experience I did seeing it for the first time. A
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