An early buddy cop movie. And very explicitly so, as the poster makes clear: “above all, it’s a love story” between the two feuding, fighting partners. I’m not sure the whole buddy cop dynamic has ever be spelled out as explicitly and up front.
All the elements are here—the feuding, the style and ethnic/racial differences, the insecurities addressed in their dynamic, the tender final moment… and if you want to talk about a sexual or homoerotic component, you don’t have far to look. The pair spend a lot of times in toilets; there’s a scene with a young gay guy taking a bath; concerns about Bean’s wife having an affair form a major subplot; and so on.
Given how strongly all the key elements of the buddy cop film are present, and its year of release, a case could be made for Freebie and the Bean as the very first in the genre. In an interview in Spectacular Optical, Richard Rush, who directed and developed the original treatment, certainly makes this claim and I think it’s spot on:
a movie that dealt with two cops, one moral and one not, who rode around together in a police car and quarreled with each other like an old married couple. It was a good idea. It was a new one, never done before, regardless of how many times you have seen it since, through the franchises it has spawned. It started the genre of ‘The Buddy Cop Picture’.
It’s weird watching old cop movies like this: the casual brutality against a nobody crook is striking enough, but using the threat of sexual assault to get someone to squeal is really shocking. Things like this still happen in movies, but they need much more context and justification—here, it’s basically just part of the schtick, the style and wacky interplay of Freebie and the Bean. Likewise, Freebie’s persistent racially-themed needling of Bean (Alan Arkin) who’s Mexican-American (though not particularly believably).
One of the treats—for me, anyway—of watching older movies set in San Francisco is simply the street scenes. Seeing old joints like Omar Khayyam’s, the Sutter Cinema (an ‘adult’ theatre near Union Square) or even the demolished bits of the Central Freeway and Embarcadero Freeway… though for some reason a surprising amount of it seems to have been shot in and around the Transamerica Pyramid—including the final crash, even though it is supposed to be an ambulance driving to a hospital from the ‘Stick.
The chases—car, motorcycle, and foot—and attendant crashes are worthy of The Blues Brothers—with the one where their car ends up in a 3rd floor apartment being particular memorable. I was surprised to see a car crash that looks to have been actually staged in the Broadway Tunnel. There’s a crash involving a truckload of live chickens. The easy excuse for all the crashes is that Freebie (James Caan) is both a reckless and bad driver. The chase in and around the Gateway Plaza / Embarcadero Center area is a whopper, ending with a fight in a kitchen that covers Bean and the bad guy in a huge pot of marinara sauce.
The screenplay is by Robert Kaufman—not a name to conjure with, and his later credits include The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington, but he started out as a writer on The Bob Newhart Show and his comedic and dialogue skills are in fine form in Freebie.
Loretta Swit, who played Hot Lips on TV’s M*A*S*H, and Valerie Harper, best know as Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, have minor roles.
“I gotta have a taco.”
- Freebie and the Bean (1974) – IMDb
- Freebie and the Bean – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Freebie and the Bean (1974) – Overview – TCM.com
- Freebie and the Bean – Amazon.com