Freebie and the Bean (1974) Retrospective

Freebie and Bean are a pair of maverick detectives with the SFPD Intelligence Squad. The volatile, gratuity-seeking Freebie is trying to get promoted to the vice squad to garner perks for his retirement while the neurotic and fastidious Bean has ambitions to make lieutenant. Against a backdrop of Super Bowl weekend in San Francisco, the partners are trying to conclude a 14-month investigation, digging through garbage to gather evidence against well-connected racketeer Red Meyers, when they discover that a hit man from Detroit is after Meyers as well. After rejecting their pretext arrest of Meyers to protect him, the district attorney orders them to keep him alive until Monday.

After locating and shooting the primary hit man, and distracted by Bean’s suspicions that his wife is having an affair with the landscaper, they continue their investigation seeking a key witness against Meyers who can explain and corroborate the evidence. In the midst of this, they foil a second hit on Meyers by a backup team, leading to a destructive vehicle and foot pursuit through the city, after which they learn that Meyers is planning to fly to Miami before Monday. Tailing him, they receive word that their witness has been located and a warrant issued for Meyers’ arrest. Unbeknownst to them, a woman Red Meyers picked up at a local park is actually a female impersonator looking to rob Meyers.

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During the arrest attempt Bean is shot by the thief, who flees with Meyers into the stadium where the Super Bowl is underway. Freebie corners the hit man in a women’s restroom. Despite being shot himself, he rescues a hostage and kills the hit man who nearly bests Freebie with his unexpected martial arts skills. The D.A. arrives after the shootings and tells Freebie that the warrant is canceled because the witness was assassinated on the way to the station. Freebie goes nuts and demands to be allowed to arrest Meyers, which is granted by the lieutenant in command of his squad, only to find that Meyers has died of a heart attack. Freebie is further demoralized to learn that the evidence they gathered was planted by Meyers’ wife in an extra-marital conspiracy with his lieutenant.

Bean is not dead after all, however, and in the ambulance the two wounded partners engage in a free-for-all when Freebie thinks Bean has been playing a joke on him, causing yet another accident.

When Jimmy Caan and Alan Arkin interrogate me, they did that little scene about the pliers, I didn’t know what they were talking about, because they just threw that in there! What am I gonna say “Hold guys, this isn’t in the script? Who am I 1o cut the scene? I just went along with, and a realy worked out well, Jimmy was selling the pliers, and my finger was in there already So when he tried them out, he really squeezed my finger. I said “owww!” and he was like “Awww, did that hurt? That was real. He didn’t want to stop the scene either. – Paul Koslo as Whitey

Filming took eleven weeks in 1973. It was a difficult shoot, in part because Arkin and Caan felt their characters were being made secondary to stunts and action sequences.

Arkin said his relationship was Caan “was great. There is a very exciting interaction between us. Jimmy pushes me and forces me to change.. But a lot of the time we’ve taken a back seat to the action.”

There were difficulties between Rush and Arkin/Caan. Rush says “the main factor was Arkin. Caan was a copycat. He was Arkin’s buddy and would do anything Arkin did… Arkin needed conflict as part of his method, and it was horribly disruptive, but it didn’t show in his work.”

Key scenes were shot on location in San Francisco at Candlestick Park, then home of the Major League Baseball San Francisco Giants, and later the home of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers. Dealing with local authorities was reportedly very difficult for the crew.

The plot includes the protagonists’ repeated “totaling” of a series of their own unmarked police vehicles during three different chase-crash sequences. One sequence was filmed on an elevated portion of the since-demolished Embarcadero Freeway, ending with their police vehicle car crashing into an apartment building. After the car lands in an elderly couple’s bedroom as they are watching television, Arkin’s character collapses from nervous shock against the wall as Caan’s character calls for a tow truck, adding that their location is “on the third floor”. The couple retains their aplomb throughout.

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Rush said he “shot the film partly in a Tom and Jerry style, with lots of car chases and car crashes, and the heroes are being indestructible. The audience is laughing and enjoying themselves and suddenly Freebie would drive around the corner into a marching band of kids, and just sloughed through them. The audience thought Wait a minute. What am I laughing at?, and the style of the film had changed to stark realism. There was a lot of game-playing in the picture.”

“I never actually knew what Rush wanted,” said Arkin at the end of filming. “He [Rush] is so uncertain it’s hard to handle,” said Caan.

The city really got behind us, except for Herb Caen, who was the big columnist in San Francisco, since we were closing down three or four major streets every morning doing those car chases. Traffic was rerouted and somehow it bothered him on his way to work. So every morning we’d run to buy the Chronicle to see what nasty thing he said about us that morning. The film was very funny. I thought that the timing that Jimmy Caan and Alan Arkin had was incredible. – Gary Kent (Stuntman)

Director Richard Rush going through a street fight
Director Richard Rush going through a street fight

Interview with Director Richard Rush
You refer to Freebie and the Bean as kind of a job for hire that you did for the money. Do you really think of it that way? Because your style is all over it. I also didn’t realize until re-watching Freebie that it was based on a story and exec produced by Floyd Mutrux, whose film Dusty and Sweets McGee I love as well. What was the working relationship like with Mutrux?
Richard Rush: Floyd Mutrix and I got along famously, but we did not have much, if any, contact with each other on Freebie and the Bean. He had submitted a screenplay to Warner Brothers which they offered to me. It wasn’t really a screenplay. It was a treatment, an idea for 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’. I turned it down at first, but John Calley, the smartest executive I have ever met, talked me into it: “Do it and write it the way you want, turn it into a Richard Rush picture. We really want this movie, he said.” I wrote a long treatment, flushing out the violent but funny characters, creating the ironic love story for Bean and the esoteric one for Freebie. Allan Arkin had turned down the project, but the studio gave him my treatment, and he approved. Then I brought my collaborator, Bobby Kaufman, in to write the screenplay with me, which was approved and we made it.

Meanwhile, my earlier financiers were doing another project with Floyd Mutrux, entitled, “PINBALL”, and they brought me in with his permission to unofficially supervise it..Floyd and I had a lot of interesting, successful interaction on that. And, Freebie and the Bean turned out to be Warner Bros. top Grossing film of that year.

What excited you the most about the opportunity to make FREEBIE AND THE BEAN?
Richard Rush: Well, actually, at the time it was offered to me it didn’t intrigue me. I turned it down several times. It was a treatment written by Floyd Mutrux that the studio had about two corrupt cops who ride around in a police car, quarreling with each other like an old married couple. You were never sure which one was the wife and which one was the husband. They became interchangeable. There was also the somewhat clumsy, rough skeleton of the plot concerning a criminal that they must keep alive to testify while assassins are contracted to kill him, which survived through our final film screenplay. I liked these ideas idea but there was nothing else there to make a movie work. John Calley, who was the head of the studio and was the only great executive that I have ever met in my life, asked me ”Why don’t you want to do the movie?” I said ”I want to make a Dick Rush picture. ” He said ”Why don’t you turn this into a Dick Rush picture?” He was very generous and promised the studio would be very agreeable. It was the kind of offer that you can’t refuse.

So I called my writing partner and we wrote a new screenplay about two bickering cops that became a prototype of the buddy cop movie. I put a lot of meat on the bones, with the unstereotypical wife of Freebie tormenting him with jealousy and the comic relief of their relationship. I also enjoyed holding a Funhouse Mirror up to the audience to let them examine their own attitudes towards violence. I shot the film partly in a Tom and Jerry style, with lots of car chases and car crashes, and the heroes are being indestructible. The audience is laughing and enjoying themselves and suddenly Freebie would drive around the corner into a marching band of kids, and just sloughed through them. The audience thought ”Wait a minute. What am I laughing at?”, and the style of the film had changed to stark realism. There was a lot of game-playing in the picture. At the time, we were in the middle of the Vietnam War, and we were watching villages being napalmed at dinner time on the TV set. Violence was engulfing our culture and it impacted upon our morality. At the same time, we were human beings with families and pets. It seemed to me that it was the time to play some games with the audience in a way that would help the picture and not hurt it.

Did Floyd Mutrux have any other involvement in the film?
Richard Rush: No. He did not participate in any further writing or production or post-production work, just the original piece of material that the studio handed me. I was later hired by the financier of THE STUNT MAN, Mel Simon, to supervise the filming of a film Mutrux was directing entitled Pinball, but I got busy directing THE STUNT MAN, so I hired a young director named John Theile to supervise the film instead.

Freebie came out the same year as Jack Starrett`s The Gravy Train (aka The Dion Brothers) and I often think of them as films that really complement each other. Did you and Jack Starrett talk about production on your respective films while you were making them?
Richard Rush: Jack Starrett and I never got a chance to talk about films when we were making them, except when we were working together on Hell’s Angeles on Wheels. I think he was fascinated by the fact that I was departing from the screenplay, then working my way back to it pages later. It was the first time I started seriously improvising on film – and I never stopped. We discussed that at the time.

There was friction between Alan Arkin, James Caan and yourself during the shooting of the film. Do you think it helped the film in any way?
Richard Rush: No, but thank God it didn’t hurt the film too much. I had never had trouble with actors in my life before that film and I have never had problems since. The main factor was Arkin. Caan was a copycat. He was Arkin’s buddy and would do anything Arkin did. When I told John Calley I wanted Arkin for the role he warned me”Arkin is a director killer. We just did CATCH-22 with him and he put Mike Nichols in the hospital. ” I said ”Hell, I’ve never had any troubles with actors. I’ll take my chances. ” It was kind of a stupid mistake on my part. Arkin needed conflict as part of his method, and it was horribly disruptive, but it didn’t show in his work. I found myself having to erase my own laughter from the soundtrack because the work Arkin and Caan were doing was so funny.

Is it true that Alan Arkin and James Caan made your life harder than it needed to be on that set?
Richard Rush: I definitely had some problems with Arkin and Caan. Arkin had made it part of his routine, part of his method, to irritate all of the directors he’d work with. It was just his thing. He found creative energy and inspiration out of being combative. And it was the only time in my 50 year career I had a problem with an actor. Warner Brothers approached me to direct the film, and they had a treatment that had been written by Floyd Muturx and Caan was attached and already part of the package. I ended up rewriting most of the script with Robert Kaufmann but I didn’t take credit. And the studio said I could cast the other cop, so I immediately said I wanted Arkin. And John Calley, who was the greatest executive that I’ve ever met in my life, casually warned me not to hire Arkin. He told me he’d driven Mike Nichols into the hospital while they’d been making Catch-22. But I said I didn’t care, and that I’d take my chances. And Calley told me I’d regret it.

Did you?
Richard Rush: Yes and no. Arkin just had this thing about him as an actor where he needed confrontation, and it got malicious at points. And Caan was a follower, he’d do whatever he saw Arkin doing. It turned into a living hell for a while, but they did everything I wanted them to do as professional actors and the results were brilliant. Arkin wouldn’t take direction very well at times, though, which became challenging, but he’s a great talent and that was just his process. They had such terrific chemistry on-screen that the off-screen antics, while frustrating, were worth it in the end in terms of the final product. I had to edit out a lot of my own laughter from the set. What I needed out of those two main characters in Freebie was for them to create a four-armed, four-legged, two-headed monster, and they did! It wasn’t easy at times but the movie has a sense of manic energy that I’m not sure we’d have achieved with anyone else in those roles. I just became their common enemy.

I love the scene where Alan Arkin confronts Valerie Harper. How was it working with her?
Richard Rush: That’s my favorite scene. It’s a wonderful scene, beautifully written. She was the perfect person for that role, and we specifically wrote it for Valerie. I had to get the studio moving to get her cast, because she was up for another film at the same time that Freebie was going to shoot, and the studio, for whatever reason, was stalling. Arkin had approved her but they were just being lazy. So I got on the phone and demanded that she be cast before we lost her! She was gorgeous and so much fun to work with, and I really loved what she did in the film, because her role elevates the movie a bit more from just being a buddy-cop film, there’s an extra dimension because of her.

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How much of the film was re-written on the day or improvised? Did you devise any new action sequences during filming?
Richard Rush: The film was thoroughly written on paper, including all the action and the dialogue, but of course Arkin and Caan kept up a habitual banter talking over each other, arguing and contradicting each other, which I strongly urged. The adjusted dialogue somehow emerged through this banter and therefore sounded completely hilarious and spontaneous. Of course there was spontaneous action. I had never seen the location or equipment when I wrote the stunts. It’s all generated from what you have on hand. Getting a studio to approve a car off a freeway into a building involves a monumental campaign.

Do you think there’s an element of repressed homosexuality at all in the relationship between Freebie and Bean?
Richard Rush: Of course. And since Arkin and Caan are such rugged, masculine characters in reality and in their own minds, it makes their dependence on each other more poignant and funnier.

FREEBIE AND THE BEAN inspired so many other buddy cop movies, but few if any had parts for women like your film did.
Richard Rush: No, they didn’t. Most of the copycats never ‘got’ what made the movie work, except for a few, like Dick Donner with LETHAL WEAPON (1987) or BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984).

FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is outlandish at times, but it still stays grounded.
Richard Rush: The film shows how life can resemble a cartoon at times, but it’s still very real and actions have consequences. I consider my major value as a filmmaker to be my ability to walk the tightrope between comedy and drama and deliver without falling off.

Is there anything you’d have done differently on Freebie?
Richard Rush: You always think of things in retrospect, and there are a few silly things in there I’d probably lose today. Those giant dominoes falling over would be one thing.

Did you have anything to do with the Freebie and the Bean TV series?
Richard Rush: Nothing! They had asked me to do one, I said, ‘No, I already did that movie”. When the pilot for Starsky and Hutch was finished, they asked me to look at it, to see if Warner’s could sue for plagiarism. I said, “No, I don’t think they got it”


Freebie and the Bean (TV series)
The show ran opposite the very popular series Love Boat, which overshadowed it in viewer polls. In their book The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present, authors Tim Brooks and Earle F. Marsh write, “Unfortunately this series was such as mishmash of comedy and drama, slapstick and reality, that it soon sank without a trace. The fact that it was scheduled opposite ABC’s The Love Boat-which had no trouble defining what it wanted to be-probably didn’t help.”

Freebie and the Bean was a short-lived nine-episode American action-comedy film television series about two off-beat plainclothes police detectives in San Francisco. Based on the 1974 film of the same name, it starred Tom Mason and Héctor Elizondo in the title roles and was broadcast on CBS on Saturday nights at 9:00 PM[5] in December 1980 and January 1981

Richard Rush

Richard Rush

Robert Kaufman Floyd Mutrux

James Caan as Det. Sgt. Tim “Freebie” Walker
Alan Arkin as Det. Sgt. Dan “Bean” Delgado
Loretta Swit as Mildred Meyers
Jack Kruschen as Red Meyers
Alex Rocco as D.A. Walter W. Cruikshank
Mike Kellin as Lt. Rosen
Paul Koslo as Whitey
Valerie Harper as Consuelo Delgado
Linda Marsh as Barbara
Christopher Morley as Transvestite
Maurice Argent as Tailor

Shock Cinema#36

4 thoughts on “Freebie and the Bean (1974) Retrospective

  1. Yep. This and Busting with Elliot Gould and Robert Blake. They’re the “buddy cop” gold standards. Honorable mention to Rob Lieberman and David Selby in The Supercops.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. See! We think alike! A trio of great films. I would have to add Hustle with Burt Reynolds and Rachel Welch. Gritty, dark comedy cop flick. The popular ’70s novel it’s based on escapes me at the moment.

        Liked by 1 person

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