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On Tonight's Double Bill (said in best Quinn Martin Narrator voice): FREEBIE & THE BEAN starring Alan Arkin and James Caan, and BRANNIGAN starring John Wayne. Quentin might as well have called it 70's POLICE BRUTALITY FILMS...

I try not to order again the pepperoni pizza, my favorite in Austin, which has a dearth of GOOD pizza -- until Home Slice popped up, which also made its debut behind Kurt Russell in the xtended cut of DEATH PROOF. I digress, but it's a small grindhouse world. I'll wait til Friday for pizza. I order nachos.

Quentin comes out with his customary strut and starts going into a great riff on 70's cop films, and how vilified and misunderstood FREEBIE AND THE BEAN was when it came out in 1974 (yet it was one of Warner Brothers top-grossing hits of the year). Directed by one of my favorites, Richard Rush, the film was attacked for the near amorality of its mismatched cops, Freebie (James Caan) a slick proto-hustler and Bean (Alan Arkin), a powder keg and somewhat unlikely Mexican. The chaotic team beat up any suspect in their path, destroy every car they can manuever around, and engage in generally sociopathic illegal behavior using their shields as a blank check. And this is a comedy! Rush said later he intended this to be an answer to DIRTY HARRY and THE FRENCH CONNECTION, with its fuck-you-Miranda-lovin'-criminal-coddling-libs heroes.

Rush, a true iconoclast who also directed PSYCH-OUT, the second best counter-culture film of the 60's, does not seem like the kinda guy to deify violent policemen, so Quentin's intro was well-stated. And when I saw F&TB a few years later at the Egyptian, Rush reiterated this. Sadly, Tarantino's print was non-anamorphic, so Lazlo Kovac's expert Panavision compositions were lost, but it was great to watch anyway as I hadn't seen it since I was a wee lad living off afternoon and late show fragments of movies. Quentin told us to pay attention to a long scene between Arkin and Valerie Harper (as his wife) which he thought showcased them at their best.

But FREEBIE & THE BEAN is still disturbing after all these years. Amid some of the greatest car chases in American film history, our heroes are crude, bigoted and oblivious to their swath of destruction. The film is particularly homophobic, or the attitude is, with lots of "fag" putdowns and the major bad guy is a transvestite. But Caan and Arkin are just PERFECT as the bickering team. I've never warmed much to Caan, but this might be his loosest and funniest performance. Arkin is as Mexican as Chuck Heston, but he's always watchable and even funnier. Rush said that the pair did not get along, which doesn't seem surprising, but that tension fits the combative duo. And Quentin was right, when Arkin grills his wife, the interplay between him and Valerie Harper is magnetic.

What makes the film problematic at first glance is the cavalier way they almost run people over or even shoot a nurse bystander. However, the people around these maniac cops do see them as dangerous, especially their captain, well-played by Alex Rocco in a terrific scene. Even Loretta Swit verbally slaps down Caan at the end, and she's right. But come on, the reason this was a hit and still holds up is the action, a tribute to the Hoopers of the 70's. The shoot-outs are filmed with quick violence and are very effective, particularly an amazing moment in a bowling alley bathroom. Even Freebie's homophobia is offset by the fact that the Transvestite (as labled in the credits) kicks the shit out of him. The film ends on somewhat typically 70's downbeat vibe, but the Alamo crowd loved this one. As did I. Too bad a DVD release is unlikely because of its political incorrectness. Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson have announced a remake. So we have that to look forward to. Don't we?
2008-03-02 01:52:15 GMT
Comments (2 total)
Haven't seen the picture (and probably won't till DVD I'm afraid) but Bruce Willis could tear this kind of character up if allowed to. He's a terrific tough guy, as well as a very funny, self-aware actor. But who are we kidding? He won't be allowed to.

And I saw that article on H-E about the Pelham remake, my review was a coincidence and not a reaction to it. But Denzel and Travolta? I can't think of a less interesting pairing. And Tony Scott has ZERO ZERO cred with me, not that I imagine that keeps him up.
2008-03-03 14:01:16 GMT
If they kept Freebie as Freebie, Willis would be great. But you know they'll put in a scene of him saving a dog or a backstory about his black mother.
But Sam Jackson as Bean?
2008-03-03 15:35:56 GMT