Retro-View: QT lll Fest – 70’s Cop Films

a70-2770Oh yeah. Now we’re cookin’ with hot petrol in screaming cars.

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 Cop Brutality Films… I try not to order again the  pizza, my favorite in Austin, which has a dearth of good pizza — until Home Slice popped up, which 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 my pizza fix. I order the hefty black bean nachos. Texas!

Quentin comes out in his customary strut and starts going into a great rap on 70’s cop films, and how vilified and misunderstood FREEBIE AND THE BEAN was when it came out in 1974 (yet it was Warner Brothers top-grossing hit 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.

o_tsf0hygs2li0z2tBut 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 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 the pair run people over, including a school marching band, or even shoot a nurse bystander. However, the people around these maniac cops actually 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 for his brutish idiocy, and she’s right. But honestly, the reason this was a hit and still holds up is the fantastic action, a tribute to the long-gone Hoopers of the era. The car chases are still jaw-dropping, and would never be done today. The gun battles are filmed with quick violence and are very effective, particularly a hardcore “shoot-in” at a bowling alley bathroom. Even Freebie’s homophobia is offset by the fact that “The Transvestite” (as Christopher Morley is credited) kicks the total shit out of him at the climax — though the documentary THE CELLULOID CLOSET uses this scene to critique the movie’s attitude.

FREEBIE AND THE BEAN ends on a typically obtuse 70’s vibe, but the Alamo crowd loved this one. As did I. As does every audience I’ve seen it with. Too bad a DVD release is again 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?

mcginnis_brannigan75I was less impressed with BRANNIGAN, John Wayne’s second attempt after MCQ (1974) to play a modern Dirty Harry type cop (since he had passed on DIRTY HARRY). Here he’s set loose in stodgy dodgy London ,where it’s always fun to watch a Yank copper bust the tea and crumpet chops of Scotland Yard’s finest. It’s good to see Wayne in action at least once in my time in Texas, especially in such a fish-out-of-water environment with game supporting cast of stock era Brits like Richard Attenborough and Judy Geeson, not to mention Ralph Meeker (the best Mike Hammer), still in the game after all those years. I only wish the script and direction had more wit and spark. The spectacular poster by Bond artist Robert McGinnis of the Duke kickin’ blimey pub ass is genuinely better than anything in the film. I can’t actually recall Quentin ‘s intro or thoughts but he didn’t sell it as an unsung classic, just a fun ride.

And after all that vehicular movie mayhem, I try to keep the speed at a steady 90, blaring the GET CARTER soundtrack, on the short way home …to get in the mind of Gangster Films for tomorrow’s theme…

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9 Responses to “Retro-View: QT lll Fest – 70’s Cop Films”

  1. ’70s cop films are a regular staple in my DVD player so I must hang my head in recognition that I have never yet seen Freebie and the Bean. Can’t believe it myself.

    Brannigan… Not even Richard Attenborough and John Vernon can save it from being a mediocrity. Amusing but not worth revisiting.

  2. Wow. YOU haven’t seen FREEBIE…You can watch a pan and scan version on youtube or you can find a nice widescreen dv-r on certain sites you should know…I’m hoping with Alan Arkin’s career resurgence that WB would put this classic out on DVD proper…amazing what the studios sit on. Even their biggest hits!

  3. Yes, I still cannot believe I haven’t seen Freebie…

    ’70s cop films are, like I say, one of my favorite delicacies, so I’m still not sure why I haven’t seen it. I’ve just about worn out my disc of The Seven-Ups! (Such an underrated gem.)

  4. christian Says:

    The last time I saw THE SEVEN-UPS I was distracted and thought it too purposefully vague and FRENCH CONNECTION like. I would like to see a good widescreen copy.

  5. I have a VHS widescreen copy of “Freebie” dubbed off the laserdisc release. It’s one of my favorite comedies. I don’t understand the “politically incorrect” label as the title characters are IDIOTS. Of course they are un-PC, they are murderous as well (not to mention more than a little dumb). “Indecent exposure!?!?! Red Meyers!?!?!?” Still a very funny movie with, as you mention, great action & some spectacular shoot outs. “Ok, Michigan Phil, come out with your hands up & your pants down.”
    Also, “The Seven-Ups”, that is a helluva B-movie with the great & well missed, Roy Scheider.

  6. christian Says:

    Because Rush never really lets on how he feels about the characters, the film confuses people. Certain gay cinema scholars use F&TB as an example of mainstream Hollywood homophobia…

  7. […] FREEBIE AND THE BEAN! Excited as cinephiles are about Warner Brothers brilliant move to make their entire catalog available online, I and others hoped that one of the titles to be made available soon would be Richard Rush’s anarchist cop satire, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (1974). Here’s a snippet of my review from Quentin Tarantino’s 1999 Film Fest: […]

  8. […] Culture, Politics & SKIDOO « President Obama In The House Retro-View: QT lll Fest – 70′s Cop Films […]

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