I had been trying to find a film from the 1970s called “Freebie and the Bean” for some time when it showed up recently on the cable grid. It was a memorable film for me from back in the day, but when I re-watched it I was surprised at the outright racial comments made by one of the characters. “Freebie and the Bean” is a cop-buddy film and one of the cops has a Hispanic heritage and his partner uses just about every disparaging name you can call someone of Hispanic heritage. I’m no PC cowboy, but, watched today, the trash talk overshadows the good in the film and especially the energy between headliners James Caan and Alan Arkin (not to mention the wonderful performance by Valerie Harper). “Freebie and the Bean” is still showing up on the grid these days and you might catch it – but be warned about the name-calling.
‘Freebie and the Bean’
(1974; 113 minutes; rated R; directed by Richard Rush and starring Alan Arkin, James Caan and Loretta Swit)
A RELATIONSHIP RIDDLED WITH TRASH(Y) TALK
I certainly believe that political correctness is a brainless philosophy perpetrated by idiots, but some things can go too far. I began to feel a little uncomfortable with all the Hispanic slurs tossed about in “Freebie and the Bean,” which is a cop buddy-movie from 1974. It is a funny film and headliners Alan Arkin and James Caan are OK here. Still, the words and stereotypes (especially about tacos) are jarring after having not seen the film in 30 years or so – it’s not just trash talk, it’s trashy talk.
OK, with that being written, I’ll say that Arkin and Caan do admirable work in “Freebie and the Bean” and both Loretta Swit and Valerie Harper do great work as the female leads. Swit gets billing over Harper, who is simply terrific, but the other actor’s work is pitch-perfect and deserving of higher credit. After these four, the supporting cast drops off quickly with only a few actors and their characters worth writing about.
What Oscar winner Arkin and Oscar nominee Caan (neither honor for this one) do and do well is the partner thing. You really believe they could be partners and both actors convey their relationship very well – it’s not an easy job for two actors in an action-fueled film to convey a true relationship, but Arkin and Caan manage it. The ending is sappy and stereotypical (Caan believes Arkin is dead, but he’s not) but this indiscretion doesn’t take away from their work here.
The core story of “Freebie and the Bean” is that two cops in San Francisco want to bring down a crime boss. The film opens as they get their evidence and thus begins a series of events over a weekend (with a big football game in town) where they have to keep the crook alive until their witness gets back in town to seal the case. All of this frames the two men’s bickering, bad marriage-like relationship stoked amid car chases, fights and assorted other scenarios that allow the two to continue their non-stop nitpicking of each other.
Of course everything works out in the end, although, surprisingly, not in any stereotypical fashion (except for Arkin’s supposed death).
I’ll cover some of the plotlines through my comments about the actors. Here’s a quick rundown of part of the primary cast:
- Arkin is “Bean” and he does a good job here of being the controlled fury portion of the buddy team. He’s on edge because of the relentless tension with his partner to the fear his wife is being unfaithful. You’d initially imagine he’d be the less physical of the duo, but Arkin does the directed violence thing well. Emotion? Well, it’s just not that kind of role – with the exception of the exceptional penultimate marital scene with Harper – and that limits the superlatives for him here. By the time of “Freebie and the Bean,” Arkin had twice been nominated for Oscars and has since won one and was nominated for “Argo” in 2012. I liked his small part in “Grosse Pointe Blank” (click here for my review), but best liked him with Peter Falk in the original version of “The In-Laws.”
- Caan is “Freebie” and he nearly manages the correct amount of insouciance necessary for his character’s maverick outlook and actions, but only manages to touch the level required. He looks like he mailed this one in and would bounce back nicely a year later with a much meatier role in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Killer Elite” (click here for my review). Don’t judge Caan harshly for this second-tier effort, though. He didn’t really have much to work with. Caan was nominated for his iconic character “Sonny Corleone” in “The Godfather.”
- Harper really gives a great performance in limited time here and manages to convey more in this small performance than the rest of the cast accomplishes together. She’s sincere, earnest and manages to convey strength in a character who didn’t find it in the script. Harper manages to immerse herself in the character “Conseulo” and you truly would have liked to have seen more of her. Harper, who won Primetime Emmys for both TV’s “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and her own “Rhoda,” was also in the very risqué (but nothing risqué by her) “Blame it on Rio.”
- Just as Harper was having success on TV at the time of “Freebie and the Bean,” so was Swit, who plays mobster wife “Midred Meyers.” Swit was on the megahit “M*A*S*H” and, just like Harper, she manages a neat turn in limited time. While Harper did better, Swit had the tough climb of taking a very minor character from doing basically nothing early to going off the deep end in just one scene at the end. Her emotional outburst works well and it must have been tough for her to accomplish. Outside of the iconic TV show, Swit didn’t do much – although I liked her in Blake Edwards’ “S.O.B.” where she plays a Hollywood columnist who watches Julie Andrews do a topless scene. Her other notable TV work (at least in my opinion) was four episodes of “The Love Boat” (click here for my overview of the series), including a two-parter.
Supporting actors Alex Rocco, Jack Kruschen, Christopher Morley and Paul Koslo do OK work as, respectively, the district attorney, mob boss, transvestite hitman and petty criminal, but don’t do a good enough job to warrant being noted separately.
In the end, “Freebie and the Bean” appears a bit dated and tired today – especially its cinematography that cannot overcome its 1970s origins and, like another film I recently reviewed (“Bobby Deerfield” with Al Pacino – click here for my review), turned out to be a disappointment from what I remembered of it back in the day.
With $30 million in ticket sales, “Freebie and the Bean” was just outside the top 10 films in 1974, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film was the outstandingly funny and iconic and legendary comedy “Blazing Saddles” with $119.5 million (here’s an example of a non-PC film done right – click here for my review) and the No. 2 film was “The Towering Inferno” with $116 million. Other films from the year that I’ve reviewed are “The Odessa File” (click here for my review), “Juggernaut” (click here for my review) and the Charles Bronson crime classic “Death Wish” (click here for my review).
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- From the “lucky it didn’t happen” department: Both Caan and Arkin’s “people” discussed a possible sequel with Arkin directing with the original studio, but it didn’t work out. Thank goodness.
- Koslo worked on several different eclectic films including “The Omega Man” with Charlton Heston; “Vanishing Point;” and “Joe Kidd” with Clint Eastwood (click here for my review).
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Executive producer Floyd Mutrux sold the original script for Freebie and the Bean to Warner Brothers for almost $200,000.” A much better movie from Mutrux was “The Hollywood Knights” (click here for my review). He wrote and directed that one.
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Arkin later commented in a 23 Dec 1974 People news item that he only acted in the film because he needed a paycheck, but felt that Freebie and the Bean was ‘absolute garbage.’”
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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