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Monday, August 10, 2015

Another One For The Banning Squad?

The Wild '74 Ride That Was Freebie and The Bean

Movies like Freebie and The Bean were appropriate to cinderblock cinemas during the 70's when what we saw was as ratty as places we'd see them. Seems wrong, in fact, to look at Freebie in a seat without ripped cloth or something rank adhering to it. Warner Archive has a DVD, thus the revisit, for a first time in proper scope ratio since tenth or so occasion Freebie played our shoebox back in the day, or I viewed bleary and cropped VHS like ones shown below. The thing was around our College Park Cinema enough to make me wonder if a print was hid among concession storage with Kit-Kats and Junior Mints. Freebie is of sort they'll not make again, that an observe by (many) others besides myself. All you need do is watch to realize how times have so changed in forty years. What pic illustrates that truth better?

Freebie and The Bean and ones like it are "precode" for freewheeling (not just car chasing) that such shows saw out. If pre-Jaws 70's was indeed a "last Golden Age" for movies, then I say it was for Freebies that didn't retreat in face of organized pressure to be "affirmative" in all social/cultural respects. Film study profs should lay this raw meat before enrollment and permit all to slip collars for a couple of hours, even if balance of class is spent apologizing for Freebie and Bean excesses. Selection could rest upon Richard Rush as auteur of the era, if misguided on this occasion. Most old movies are forgot eventually. Some, like Freebie and The Bean, disappear and go unsought, even by those who recall how lively it/they once seemed. Freebie falls into "You Had To Be There" category with Smoky and The Bandit, Billy Jack, the Trinity westerns, Vanishing Point, and others meant for ragtag venues like those I sat in.

We think of Vertigo and Bullitt as great "San Francisco" movies, but Freebie and The Bean was shot there too, only on dingier streets and in strict avoidance of pretty houses and hills the others visited. Freebie is gritty in so offhand way as to render of little consequence where action was shot. Any grubby 70's metro area would do. How they executed these car chases beats me. Onlookers barely avoid being run over, and one stricken auto slides right up to the camera lens, all done for real as CGI was no option in '74. Old stuntmen who gather likely talk of Freebie as acme of high-risk filming. The thing is by definition a comedy, overstated at times by rinky-dink music beneath frenzy of pursuits. Violence is sudden and not PG-sanitized as today, so there's tension to keep clowning in check.

I'm not sure when the "buddy cop" concept got started. Was it before Freebie and The Bean? Harry Callahan had partners, but wasn't chummy with them (most died on duty). James Caan and Alan Arkin fight with each other as much as the criminals. Dialogue flies with expletives and doesn't mind being unintelligible at times. Doubles are there to do motorcycle tricks and take falls for Caan/Arkin, but the pair do much of spills on their own. If Freebie and The Bean had come out a decade later, we'd have had six sequels to follow. As it is, Freebie was a one-off, but for a TV series adapt (at right). Chances are the feature got back negative cost at our College Park alone. So do I recommend? By all means, effusive yes. Freebie and The Bean is fun, as in fun as ever 70's precode, and my argument that indeed there was a Golden Age to come of that benighted decade.

UPDATE --- 1:30 PM: Mike Cline sent a neat ad prepared back in 1974 when he was a Salisbury, NC exhibitor, and Freebie and The Bean was new ...


Blogger Bill O said...

Didn't Kubrick tag this as his fav of the year?

7:02 AM  
Blogger KING OF JAZZ said...

I also suggest BUSTING (1974),with Elliott Gould and Robert Blake. It's what I call "gum under the sneaker" cinema. Y'know, grubby, with a '70s vibe that just bangs along until it stops.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

The idea of grubby films for grubby venues is morbidly fascinating and a little depressing. It seems to go against the whole idea of movies as escape. Even depression precodes served up glamour, albeit as soon-to-sour fruit of sin.

Did audiences want their M/GP/PG/R violence and implied sex "dirty", without studio gloss? Was a new, no-star spaghetti western a bigger draw than last year's Clint Eastwood or Lee Marvin?

For some reason I think of the shorts Buster Keaton made for Educational Pictures. The cheapness makes it impossible to imagine them being shown in a theater; I imagined a barn with a sheet nailed up.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I suspect the Keaton Educationals must have looked terrific at the time, in first-run 35mm nitrate prints. The current prints are old 16mm warhorses that have seen their share of service.

Any movie is improved, however slightly, if the print is fresh. I saw the trailer for the lower-than-low-budgeted THE LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS in a theater, and it looked like M-G-M.

12:07 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Scott --- Back when I collected 35mm during the 70's, I had nitrate prints of two Keaton Educationals, "The Chemist" and "One Run Elmer." They did indeed look spectacular.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

They're having an Alan Arkin day on TCM on October 21, where they're showing not only Freebie and the Bean but the rarely seen Little Murders, one of the truly underrated satirical films of its time.

11:11 PM  

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