Freebie and the Bean is one of the prototypical buddy cop movies, this stars natty dresser and crazy driver James Caan as “Freebie,” and the hot-tempered but by-the-books Alan Arkin as “the Bean,” so called because he is Mexican. When they’re not trying to kill each other they’re a great team of detectives, but they tend to destroy lots of property in the process. Sound familiar? Well, this is one of the early ones, sort of a West coast version of The Seven-Ups. There’s a hit on by Michigan Phil. Our two unorthodox street detectives have to stop the hit, with their zany method of crime fighting.
Arkin and Caan have some terrific comic energy and riff off each other very well, so seeing them blunder and bellow through typical cop movie scenes is very entertaining. This one sets up all the cliches- oil & water buddies, loose cannon cops, ridiculous car chases, and the “gotcha” ending- but does them so well that it doesn’t feel weathered. There are multiple set pieces – the first car chase establishes how crazy Freebie is, then they top it a few times. They jump a moving train. They get stuck in San Francisco traffic so bad that Freebie commandeers a dirtbike and chases a van through a park during an art exhibition, knocking down a huge set of dominoes.
Richard Rush doesn’t even bother to linger on the dominoes, they just tumble in the background as a sight gag as the chase goes on, and never interrupts the pacing of the movie. There are a lot of stunts and memorable scenes, but director Richard Rush (The Stunt Man) nonchalantly keeps the story going, and focused on the characters. Both guys have lives other than cops; Bean is convinced that his wife (a hilarious Valerie Harper) is cheating on him; Freebie has his girl, but we never get “drama” shoved in our faces for its own sake. It’s sad that Rush made so few movies, because he makes this seem effortless.
Before The Blues Brothers put a cop car “in a truck!” these guys put one in a 3rd floor apartment. This is also where the “let’s get a taco” line from Reservoir Dogs comes from; Bean is always hungry, and when he beats up a huge redneck with a billy club up his sleeve he says casually “let’s get something to eat.” Later on he’s clamoring “I need a taco!” but I’ll leave you to discover that very funny scene. But even with all that, the majority of the fun comes from Arkin and Caan strangling each other as they drive each other nuts during their police work. These are two of our best actors, enjoying themselves and we get to share in the fun. This is a lost gem of the ’70s and fans of Arkin and Caan should definitely hunt it down. It is criminally not on DVD, but can be found on youtube.