Maverick San Francisco plainclothes police detectives Freebie (Caan) and Bean (Arkin) are nearing the end of their 14-month investigation of racketeer Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen) when they learn there's a contract out on the gangster, scheduled for Super Bowl weekend, which the city is hosting that year.
On orders from their superiors, Lt. Rosen (Mike Kellin) and the District Attorney (Alex Rocco), Freebie and Bean are ordered to protect Meyers, to keep him alive until the grand jury scheduled for the following Monday.
The plot is both simple and needlessly confusing; I never did figure out all the hows and whys of the story. Doesn't matter, though. The main appeal of Freebie and the Bean is the interaction of Arkin and Caan, and the car chases, the latter perhaps the most extravagant of their kind until John Landis's even more over-the-top The Blues Brothers (1980). Supervised by stunt and second unit director Chuck Bail (who also plays the car salesman in one scene, and later had a sizeable role in The Stunt Man), the stunt driving and pedestrian-dodging through the crowded streets of San Francisco is extremely impressive, in some ways even more so compared to CGI-dominated cinema today. These scenes may have been carefully coordinated and choreographed but they're real, messy, and at times very dangerous looking.
Robert Kaufman, an undistinguished writer, is credited with the script, but the movie certainly plays as if Arkin and Caan were encouraged by director Rush to improvise a la Robert Altman. Despite digressive action set pieces and flashes of R-rated violence the movie is nearly unbroken patter between the two actors, which flows so naturally they create a real sense of longtime partners, of the type that finishes each other's sentences.
Unfortunately, their conversation is embarassingly banal, dominated by Caan's racist, sexist, and homophobic insults. The picture's political incorrectness is by itself not a bad thing, except that in Freebie and the Bean Caan's ravings are merely pointless, neither funny nor interesting, and seem to exist for shock value alone. Same goes for Freebie and Bean's investigative methodology, which in today's climate would be regarded as appallingly racist, fascist, and any other ist you can think of. The filmmakers, obviously, aren't condoning such behavior, which almost makes it more offensive. Rather, they clearly are using it as a springboard for action and cheap laughs in the most crass, exploitative manner imaginable.
Arkin and Caan clashed with Rush throughout the filming and both hated the movie that resulted, Arkin going so far as to call it "absolute garbage" in an interview just Freebie and the Bean was going into release. It was nonetheless successful and the two stars even considered doing a sequel (with Arkin directing this time). It's not quite that bad, for reasons described above, as well as for Dominic Frontiere's spritely music (later aped a bit by John Morris for The In-Laws), and for the movie's pleasant supporting performance by Valerie Harper, who has one good scene as Arkin's wife. It's the kind of movie audiences desperately want to like, and many do, yet for very good reasons it's divisive and ultimately not good.
Video & Audio
Filmed in anamorphic Panavision by Laszlo Kovacs, Freebie and the Bean looks very good in this Warner Archive release, albeit with some extreme graininess so common to many ‘70s titles. The 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio is very clean and clear, and optional English subtitles are provided.
The lone supplement is a trailer.
Worth seeing for Alan Arkin and for its still-impressive stunt work, Freebie and the Bean otherwise is dated if well-crafted nascent high concept Hollywood filmmaking. Rent it.