Starring Alan Arkin, James Caan, Jack Kruschen, Valerie Harper, Loretta Swit, Alex Rocco, Mike Kellin, Paul Koslo, Linda Marsh, Christopher Morley. Directed by Richard Rush. (1974, 113 min). WARNER ARCHIVE
Before Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys, there was Freebie and the Bean, a relatively forgotten 1974 action comedy that preceded the popularity of the "buddy cop" film by a decade.
I remember seeing this with my folks at the local Southgate Quad when it was the bottom half of a double bill (remember those?). I don't recall the main feature at all, and even though I forgot Freebie and the Bean's plot before even leaving the theater, it had destructive car chases, two cops swearing & fighting like an old married couple and - be-hold! - a woman's naked butt! When you're 11 years old, that stuff is glorious.
Despite being a big hit and inspiring a short-lived TV series, Freebie and the Bean is mostly forgotten today, seldom cited among 70s' enduring action classics. I never gave the film much thought over the years, either, at least until it was mentioned in a recent website article and triggered old memories: "Hey! I remember that one!"
Watching the film forty years later, I was reminded of a few things:
Car chases were an art form in the 70s. Everything was done in-camera without seizure-inducing editing or CGI. Expertly-choreographed ballets of speed and destruction, they somehow looked & felt more real. Freebie and the Bean has, not one, but three elaborate chase scenes, one which is as slick and exciting as those in The French Connection or The Seven-Ups, and another with enough gratuitous destruction to rival The Blues Brothers.
James Caan (Freebie) and Alan Arkin (the Bean) made a great team and it's a shame they didn't do more films together. Arkin has always been amusing, but considering Caan's tough guy reputation and dramatic intensity, this film is a great reminder of how genuinely funny he could be.
There's a good reason I never recalled the plot when I was a kid: It's nearly non-existent. Freebie and Bean are one witness away from nailing a local racketeer, Red Meyers, then learn there's a contract out on Red's life. Now they are forced to protect Red from hired hitmen until their witness turns up. The film spends about as much time on the actual plot as I did to write that summary. And it doesn't matter anyway because the movie's always been about the cantankerous friendship between Freebie and Bean.
Though definitely a product of its time - including a considerable amount of decidedly un-PC dialogue - Freebie and the Bean is still pretty damned entertaining, mainly because of the emphasis on character over action. With hindsight, its easy to see the film's belated influence on the action-comedy genre. Aside from a trailer, this disc from Warner Archive is sadly bereft of any bonus material, though still a wonderful stroll down memory lane.