Wednesday, September 22, 2010

For Dennis: Freebie and the Bean (1974)

Nothing in this world helps with a bad time like family and friendship. And kindness expressed through a keyboard, often by people whose faces you have never seen, is an enormous comfort. It makes things a bit better. It makes you that much more grateful that you began the blog, and that people read and care about what you write. It also makes you realize that resuming a normal state of online affairs is one step, even if it's small, toward resuming other things as well. And so, back to the Siren, and back to bits of unfinished business.

*****


The Siren has made many friendships through her blog, but Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule is particularly close to her heart. A few weeks ago, as part of our meeting of the minds, the Siren asked Dennis to assign her a movie out of her comfort zone. Dennis, ever courteous, picked something that adheres to classic precedent: Freebie and the Bean.


There is a fine old American movie tradition of crime thrillers with gleefully unintelligible plots. Here the Siren thinks of The Lady from Shanghai; after the credits rolled on that one, Harry Cohn offered one thousand 1947 dollars to anyone who could explain the plot to him. No one took him up on it. And sixty years later the Siren still couldn't earn that money, and she worships Welles and has seen Lady about four times. Nor could she break down the plot of Freebie for Dennis or anyone else, and she realized that was going to be the case as soon as she saw the opening scene. We start with the two cops of the title dumping garbage cans into the trunk of a car and getting really excited about a receipt. You realize that not only do you not know what is on the receipt, but nobody is ever going to explain it to you in a manner you can retain.

And, as with classics like The Letter, the opening anchors our themes, when an orange tabby cat that had crawled in a garbage can leaps out and the cops deposit the animal on the side of the road, miles from its home. Thus is established the insouciance with which Freebie and the Bean will treat bloody anybody interfering with what they want, which is to arrest a suspect. You don't know precisely why this suspect is bad--hijacking, it seems, although Freebie earns his nickname by hijacking quite a lot of stuff himself--but they really, really want this arrest.

The Siren can see why Dennis thought this would be a departure, despite her love for director Richard Rush's The Stunt Man. Serpico this ain't. Freebie (James Caan) steals everything but the dinner mints and the Mexican Bean (oh dear), played by Alan Arkin, upbraids his partner but then pummels the hell out of suspects right alongside him (your lips says no no, but your fists say yes yes). They blackmail businessmen, they threaten to throw a construction worker off a crane, later they beat up the worker and threaten to rape his girlfriend, they make arrests on false evidence, they drive through San Francisco like it's the Indy 500 track and dear god, they don't even brake for marching bands. They do not, however, fire their guns into crowds, which establishes their fundamentally caring natures, one supposes. The racial ad hominems are mostly confined to Latinos, but there is a transvestite who, although he's the most dangerous character in the movie apart from the leads, is depicted with particular venom.

But through it all the Siren enjoyed Freebie and the Bean, a lot, mostly for the charisma and chemistry of Caan and Arkin, the director's panache and the give-a-damn attitude toward audience expectations. Plus, aside from some moments where mayhem became cruelty, the movie is often very funny.



Freebie is famous for the car-chase sequences, which slam around San Francisco's hills and tight corners and through pedestrian plazas and, in one credulity-snapping instance, lead to a dive off a freeway ramp and into some poor couple's bedroom. The Siren found herself liking the action outside the cars more, though, as the fun of seeing bloodless drive-by injuries palled. She loved the crane scene, where the camera is planted just behind the actors and moves so closely with them that the Siren, her acrophobia kicking in big-time, was momentarily afraid Bean was going to throw HER off and not that ratty-haired worker.

A sequence in a bowling alley worked superbly, as the cops tail a hitman, monitor the guy's flirting and beer intake and follow him to the men's room, where their mark thoughtfully chooses a stall and not a urinal. The noisy payoff for the bathroom scene surely inspired a lot of other directors, but it's the prelude that's perfect, as Freebie and the Bean each tuck two guns into their waistbands, then check how their shirttails flop over the artillery with the fussiness of a new mother trying to hide the post-baby belly.

In another good sequence, the two cops accompany their suspect to a dentist's office and read magazines while you await the inevitable shoot-out. And after the shooting starts--and wounds the receptionist in the backside, but you don't hold it against the heros because gee, it's the sort of thing that could happen to anyone--the chase shifts to a couple of glass observation elevators, everybody still shooting over the Muzak.

The Siren's favorite moment, however, had no action at all--it was the "cops get upbraided by the DA" scene, a movie cliche high on most "oh god not again" lists. Still, it was hilarious, made so by the timing of Arkin and Caan and the perfect rhythm of their reactions.

An unexpected good time. So, Dennis. Does this mean I'm ready for the next Grindhouse Film Festival?

38 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

I haven't seen Freebie and the Bean since its original release. I'm glad you enjoyed the film, though. As far as grindhouse festival readiness, a qualified maybe based on some other films you've reported on. For myself, I would really love to see you write about The Phenix City Story as you can offer a very unique, and personal, perspective.

SteveW said...

Don't know why I haven't seen FREEBIE, since I love THE STUNT MAN beyond all reason. It's pretty sui generis though. Would love to read your take on that one.

Nora said...

Once again Siren you will be taking me out of my comfort zone and I will watch FREEBIE. Although some of the scenes described sound familiar, 1974 is a very distant and hazy memory so if I’ve seen it, I don’t remember it. And while the grindhouse festival sounds intriguing, I’ll wait and see how you fare before venturing into that venue. So a tentative thanks on this one.

Vanwall said...

I'm glad you liked "Freebie and the Bean", it's a frenetic, loose-cannon movie I saw on release, and catch it when I can on the tube. If anything FATB is actually in line with the more modern shoot-em-ups and over-done car chase FX films of today - unexplained mayhem is now de rigueur, I think.

I actually prefer the somewhat darker "Busting", with Elliot Gould and Robert Blake, from around the same period, it has a more coherent feel to it, and more of noirish feel. hard to see tho, I don't thinks it's on DVD, at least legally.

Greg said...

This movie was not made before 1960. You have confused me. Of course, I blame this confusion on Dennis, always throwing this and 1941 in my face. I haven't seen this in years so who knows, I might actually like it (I saw it when I was around six and remember, um, nothing). I did see The Stunt Man again about two years ago. I loved it when it came out but was sorely disappointed upon re-watching it. Sorry. I hate when we disagree.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Blame accepted, Greg, all in the name of restoring a bad reputation or two (and I'm only tangentially referring to my own here!)

Siren, first of all, I hope you know I second everything you said about holding our friendship dear. It is a perfect example of the best thing to have resulted from this whole blogging adventure.

But to the immediate point, I read this review with such delight as you'll never fully know, not because you're out of your comfort zone but just to hear your voice talking about it. And I totally agree, one of the funniest things in the movie is the scene (which wouldn't be such a cliche if it were always this good) where the D.A. (Alex Rocco, saliva gathering in exasperation) dresses down our heroes, who have such great comic timing that there's barely a moment when they aren't talking over each other or tripping on each other's words. The vehicular mayhem is also great and leads on one of my favorite lines in the movie, when during the aftermath of a particularly gnarly crash you hear someone in the crowd say, "You're not gonna believe this, but I'm from Allstate!"

I posted a Funk Decimator on my site today because I've been feeling kind of low this week, but, Siren, you laid a nuclear weapon on my funk with this post. Thank you!

As for Julien Duvivier, I have Saturday morning all laid out for a Le Fin du Jour/Pepe Le Moko double feature, after which I will write my return response. One question: Do either of them feature cars hurtling off freeway overpasses? I hold out hope.

Binx Bolling said...

Funny this should come up today, because I'm planning to watch two Richard Rush films in a double bill this weekend: Freebie and the Bean, and Getting Straight. I can't wait to see them after reading your piece here.

Karen said...

I don't think I've seen this since it first came out, either, but you certainly make a re-screening tempting.

The '70s were a fantastic time for anarchic buddy black comedies: this one, M*A*S*H, Cops and Robbers...probably many more that I'm not remembering off the top of my head. It's not a genre that lasted out the decade with any real success, which is a shame. They may be a guilty pleasure, some of them, but they are undeniably a pleasure.

Donna said...

Oh my, I saw this on first run in our local small town theater, in the balcony. I have fond memories of it and have not thought of it in years. Forgetting it was set in San Francisco I simply must view it now. I love picking out the varied locations and how chase scenes jump from neighborhood to neighborhood, not requiring actually using neighborhoods that are connected to one another.

Dan Leo said...

Oh my God, Siren, next thing you know you're going to be watching incomprehensible 60s and 70s Yakuza movies with me! Amazingly, even though I'm a big fan of both Caan and Arkin I seem to have missed Freebie and the B, but don't worry, I'll amend that lack as soon as I can.

By the way, you've written before about watching less-than-great movies just to see a certain actor -- well, the other night I noticed that Netflix had The Glory Guys (1965?) on its instant-play list, and I suspected it would be crappy, but on the other hand it had the young Jimmy Caan about sixth-billed, so I had to give it a try. Jimmy giving his all as a stereotypical tough wiseguy Irishman in the great Cagney "Fighting 69th" tradition. Ah well, unfortunately I could only take about a half-hour of the movie, even though Slim Pickens did play the sergeant and Senta Berger played the love interest...

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Never got around to seeing this, although I remember the bad word-of-mouth about both "Freebie" and "Busting" back when such topics were current.

I do love "The Stunt Man," though, and the guilty pleasure that lingers in my memory is the Rush-directed "Getting Straight." Gawd only knows how that film would look to me nowadays. I saw it on a double-bill, back in the proverbial day, with "Medium Cool." Talk about *zeitgeist*!

... and did "Getting Straight" *really* include that line, from the backward student who read Cervantes, about "He better than Batman, he braver"?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Love The Stunt Man, loathe Freebie and the Bean

DavidEhrenstein said...

Rush is a curious guy. Very charming in person. Full of energy. But he has few actual ideas. (Color of Night is a total disaster.)

Noel Vera said...

Loved Stunt Man. Liked Color of Night. Thought Psych-out was interesting.

gmoke said...
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gmoke said...

Still remember that crazy shot looking up at Elliot Gould through the typewriter keys in "Getting Straight."

"Getting Straight" was the grad student version of "The Strawberry Statement" and "The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart."

Haven't seen "Freebie and the Bean" but will now keep an eye out for it.

Charles Noland said...

Huh, so something named "Freebie and the Bean" can actually be interesting? That's just about as much consideration as I've ever given to that movie, I'll have to try it.

The Stunt Man? Seems like there might be a little more flash than substance there, but it's been a while since I've seen it.

StyleSpy said...

How is it possible I've never seen this?? Caan and Arkin are two of my all-time favorite actors. Which leads me to the next question: How do you feel about "The In-Laws"? (The original one, not the godforsaken remake that happened a couple of years ago.) IMHO, the n'est plus ultra of inspired lunacy mismatched buddy movies. "Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!"

DavidEhrenstein said...

The original In-Laws is Peter Falk's masterpiece.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here's THE great scene

Flickhead said...

Freebie and the Bean, eh? Next thing you know, you'll be mining nonexistent qualities from The Super Cops.

Me, I'm a Chu Chu and the Philly Flash man, myself. But I draw the line at Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe?

StyleSpy said...

Thanks, David. I needed that. God, I start laughing at the first syllable out of Falk's mouth and just never stop. And was there EVER a better straight man than Arkin? I really don't think so.

Flamenco dancers of death... ooooooh, lordy.

Noel Vera said...

I can't make a case for Who's Killing to be good, much less great, but it's a showcase of some really classic '70s dishes, from pressed duck to that lovingly assembled bombe.

And the description of Robert Morley's every flab of fat as an assembled masterpiece I still remember.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The In-Laws was written by Andrew Bergman, whose masterpiece is the grievously neglected So Fine

DavidEhrenstein said...

Alas, all I could find was the trailer.

So Fine is one of THE great comedies -- the only one made over the past 30 years that bears comparasion with Preston Sturges. Ryan O'Neill and Jack Warden play a father and so who actually like one another. Warden's garment business is in hock to Mafia Bigwaig Mr. Eddie (Richard Kiel) who insists that Wardens' son, O'Neill, be brought into the business. His henchman kidnap O'Neill -- a professor of American literature who specialzes in Melville -- during a literary conference whose guest of honor is an aged poet played by the aged Bruce Mullholland (whose play "Napoleon on Broadway" was reconcievd by Hecht and MacCarthur as Twentieth Century)Thtough comic complicatiosn far too difficult to relate O'Neill inadvertently invents designer jeans with see-through plastic bottoms. (The ads for the jeans star the late, great Anita Morris and were choreographed by her husband Grover Dale.) O'Neill falls madly in love with Mrs. Eddie -- the fablous Mariangelo Melato, who in the movie (but not the trailer) grandly announces "I fuck around."

It all ends magnificently in a hommage to A Night at the Opera with Melato and Kiel perfoming Verdi's "Otello"

DO try and find it. I'm not sure if it's on DVD or not.

pvitari said...

So Fine is available through the Warner Archive program.

http://www.wbshop.com/So-Fine-1981/1000179846,default,pd.html?cgid=

You can watch the first three minutes at that link. :)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh that's marvelous. Fred Gwynne is amazing. Of course his most off-the-wall film appearance was in Bertolucci's deliciously bonkers La Luna.

Noel Vera said...

Bergman did So Fine? I must see it again, then.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Andrew, not Ingmar.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Ingmar Bergman's So Fine wasn't as good. I hope never to see Erland Josephson's butt cheeks again.

The Siren said...

Okay, when I'm done laughing at Peter's last comment I plan to post some responses here. Should take, oh, about an hour.

gmoke said...

Mr Nellhaus should not see "Sarabande" then. Erland's nether parts are on display in that movie as well.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Gloria Stuart R.I.P.

I thought sure she was going to live forever.

Vanwall said...
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Casey said...

I've heard about Freebie and the Bean for years, and after reading your review, Siren, I might actually watch it. Rush is an interesting, if erratic filmmaker. I see some people mention Getting Straight, which I think is his best work after The Stunt Man. It's a sharp, funny film, and Elliot Gould is excellent as the teacher who doesn't feel comfortable with either the establishment or the students.

tomcervo said...
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tomcervo said...

"So Fine"?

My God. I thought I was the only one who liked it. So completely . . .outre.

Hal said...

SO FINE is a masterpiece. No one was happier than I was when it finally made it to DVD via Warner Archive.

http://hornsection.blogspot.com/2006/05/film-review-so-fine-1981.html