Friday, July 29, 2022

Neon Badges: BEVERLY HILLS COP, Part 2

 by Anthony King

“Like the film, this story mixes jiggers of luck and personal experience with perseverance and vision.” – New York Times

Coming into production on Beverly Hills Cop, things had essentially been up in the air the entire time. First there were script issues and dozens of rewrites. Then there was the whole Stallone debacle. And then after nagging, begging, pleading, and ultimately a literal coin flip, they nailed down a director. But by the time everything was set to go, Paramount had already delayed production by over a month. Since Stallone was no longer the star, everything had to be changed – more rewrites, new settings and props and decorations, new costumes. In an interview with the New York Times, producer Don Simpson said, “ We wanted Eddie [Murphy] to look like a kid, 23 years old, an athlete who never went to college or who went to college but got hurt.” This meant they had to find just the right sneakers, jeans, and sweatshirts. But Eddie gave a thumbs down to all the options presented to him. It looked “too slick,” he said. Director Martin Brest and Eddie were on the same page, though. “It was important that Foley was totally unassisted by anything material. That's why he has a junky gun, a junky car. He's almost a zen character. All he has are his wit, intelligence, humor, guts and street smarts.”
As for the script, the pages they started shooting with were literally pasted together from half a dozen scripts writer Daniel Petrie had written and rewritten over the past six years. And those pages weren't even compiled until the morning of the first shot. Brest was clear on one thing, though: this movie was going to echo his and so many others' experience of coming out to Los Angeles in an old junker, wondering how they were going to survive. The other thing Brest was clear on was he wanted to avoid issues of race; it was a story of class and the differences between those of higher class and those of a lower. Whether they were ready or not, the first day of shooting was here. They would be filming the opening scene of the movie in the back of the cigarette truck, inspired by the relationship and many tense exchanges between Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets. Cameras rolled, Eddie and Frank Pesce did their scene, and everybody let out a collective sigh of relief. After seeing what Eddie could do in front of the camera, they knew they were going to have a blast making this movie.

While production had a “shooting script” per se, with the brilliant mind of Eddie Murphy on set, the script became more of an outline. It was changed day to day; scene to scene, even. With the blessing of Petrie, Simpson, and Jerry Bruckheimer, Brest didn't see any good coming from forcing Eddie to conform to the words in front of him. Instead, the director encouraged Eddie to improvise as much as he wanted and write his own dialogue. When they'd get to a scene where nothing was working and the words coming out just didn't sound natural, Eddie would create something on the spot and voila, they'd have new dialogue or an entirely new scene. “It's spooky,” remembers Brest, “But every time we got into a jam, I'd turn to Eddie and say, 'Can you come up with something?' And every time, he came up with something that knocked me to the floor. He's a director's dream. He magnifies every bit of work you do by a thousandfold.” For instance, the scene where Murphy's Foley works his way up to meet Victor Maitland for the first time, Brest had six different drafts of the scene laying in front of him and he didn't like any of them. He called his star over to show him what he was working with. “[Eddie] closed his eyes and six seconds later he said, 'I've got it.' He then went through the entire spiel in character. I turned to him and said, 'God bless you.' We shot it in 15 minutes. It's one of the funniest scenes in the movie.”
Eddie wasn't the only one jumping into the improvisation game, though. John Ashton and Judge Reinhold (Taggart and Rosewood, respectively) also improvised many of their lines. Brest is a huge fan of Laurel and Hardy and The Honeymooners, so with Ashton and Reinhold he was able to put together his own comedy duo. And they did not disappoint. Hundreds of takes were ruined by cast and crew members laughing during a scene. When Taggart and Rosewood bring Foley into the station after the strip club and Bogomill asks what's going on, Foley says, “I don't know what you teach these fellows. But they're not just cops. They're... supercops.” Taggart is rubbing his face, pinching the bridge of his nose, and looking down to the floor. While this comes off like a very frustrated and annoyed police officer, John Ashton is actually trying as hard as he can to not break character and fall to the floor in laughter. You can also see Rosewood put his hand in his pocket about the same time. This is because Reinhold had to pinch his thigh as hard as he could to keep from laughing.

While the cast and crew had a tough job in keeping it together during these moments, no one had a harder time than Martin Brest. The director eventually had to leave the set because he would burst out in laughter and keep ruining takes. Since the real Beverly Hills Police Department wouldn't permit production to even tour one of their stations let alone allow these scenes to be shot on location, Brest and his team had to do a little improvising themselves. Since he was fired from WarGames, Brest never had the opportunity to shoot on the set they designed for that film. And since he brought over his production designer from WarGames, Angelo Graham, they basically built the exact same set for the Beverly Hills Police Department because Brest loved the design so much. One of the scenes shot on that set happened towards the very end of production. Everyone was exhausted, there was no oxygen flow on the set, and it was very hot. Now, Murphy is famously sober, having never done drugs or consumed much alcohol in his long career – a miracle in and of itself. He also never drank caffeinated beverages. But on this day of shooting, even Eddie himself had no energy. So he decided to drink his first ever cup of coffee. “He brought an insane amount of energy,” Brest says on the Blu-ray commentary. This was another instance where the director had to excuse himself from the set and move to another room where he watched on a monitor with headphones. Eddie was so on fire that day that even in another room, Brest was laughing so hard and loud they had to cover him with padded blankets to mask the sound.
As if our three main actors weren't funny enough, Brest threw Bronson Pinchot into the mix. Pinchot first declined the role because he thought it was too small. “But,” he told Brest in a meeting, “I have an idea.” His idea was to parody the people who lived in Beverly Hills that had an “undistinguishable background.” Brest says, “He launched into character and I fell on the ground laughing. But he wouldn't stop. I interrupted him and said, 'Bronson, you're the American Peter Sellers. I beg you, beg you to be in this movie.'” While still in character, Pinchot said, “A director on his knees begging me? I love it! I love it!” “Mind-bogglingly delicious” is what Brest calls him on the commentary. Pinchot got his accent and mannerisms for Serge from a crew member he knew from an earlier project he worked on. That crew member would always say, “Don't be stupid.” The character of Serge, of course, and his catchphrase of “Don't be stupid” would go on to inspire the role Pinchot is probably best known for, Balki Bartokomous and his catchphrase “Don't be ridiculous” on Perfect Strangers. Petrie says of Pinchot, “He did some marvelous extemporaneous things. He'd take a line and expand it, make it special. He'd put it into the comic persona that he invented for the moment.” The production wasn't all laughs, though. For instance, “The opening car-semi chase was hairy,” remembers Brest. “I woke up the day of shooting that narrow street with a heavy heart because I was so worried.” Parts were shot in Los Angeles and Detroit, and half of the scenes with Foley hanging and swinging out the back of the truck are stuntmen and the other half are Eddie. Not unlike William Friedkin shooting the chase scene in The French Connection (although a little more controlled), a cop car would be leading the semi through streets and intersections to make sure everything was clear, followed by Brest in the camera car with a megaphone screaming his lungs off to warn Eddie to hang on for dear life during turns. The front bumper of the semi was replaced with a steel I beam allowing the truck to plow through absolutely anything that stood in its way. Miraculously nobody was injured.
By the time it came to shoot the final scene at Maitland's mansion, the budget was all but exhausted. The final shootout was supposed to happen at night, but there wasn't enough money to light a night time shoot. There wasn't even enough money for set decorations inside the house so they ended up shooting with whatever was already hanging on the walls and sitting on the shelves. They were out of time and out of money. The day came to film the scene where the van crashes through the property and smashes into the fountain, but they still needed to shoot the scene with Ronnie Cox's monologue to the chief of police with everyone gathered around. Brest and his producers decided it all had to happen in one day. For Cox's final monologue Brest used every single camera they had and shot from every angle possible. Anyone standing around that had two legs and two arms was temporarily promoted to camera operator. They had no choice but to make sure they got what they needed at all (non-fiduciary) costs. Brest says he was so stressed out that day he smoked seven packs of cigarettes.

And the final shot – that freeze frame that has haunted Martin Brest ever since. The studio was insistent on cutting the scene where Maitland meets with Jenny at the art gallery. The executives didn't see the point. Brest argued, though, that it was the impetus for Axel breaking into the mansion at the end to save her. That scene at the gallery showed Maitland's true villainy. The studio had a compromise, then. They'd always wanted the movie to end on a freeze frame, which Brest detested. Brest could keep his art gallery scene if the movie ended on the freeze frame of Eddie. Brest made a deal with a devil and his groaning can still be heard at night.
Beverly Hills Cop opened on December 5th, 1984 on over 1,500 screens, going on to show on over 2,000 screens, the first movie to ever do so. That opening weekend it brought in $15.2 million, knocking Cannon Films' Chuck Norris-actioner Missing in Action out of the top spot. It opened alongside 2010: The Year We Make Contact and City Heat, staying in theaters for 56 weeks. In its first five days, Beverly Hills Cop earned $19.8 million, becoming the highest grossing winter release ever for Paramount.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave it 2.5 stars, calling it "a movie with an enormously appealing idea,” but also saying, “The filmmakers apparently expected Murphy to carry this idea entirely by himself... Murphy is one of the smartest and quickest young comic actors in the movies. But he is not an action hero, despite his success in 48 Hrs., and by plugging him into an action movie, the producers of Beverly Hills Cop reveal a lack of confidence in their original story inspiration.” Janet Maslin of the New York Times was more generous with her take on Eddie. “Although Beverly Hills Cop is less strictly a comedy than Trading Places was, it loses nothing by allowing Mr. Murphy a broader role; his brashness is as well suited to detective work as to sweet-talking his way out of trouble. He comes closer than ever to being able to carry a film single-handedly, although this one surrounds him with an excellent supporting cast...” The Hollywood Reporter also gave the film high praise. “Larcenously full of the high-tech production values one has come to expect from wunderkind producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, this lickety-split action comedy is distinguished by the wry, character-conscious direction of Martin Brest, who coaxes a silver-bullet performance from star Eddie Murphy that’s practically criminal in its accuracy.”

Beverly Hills Cop would gain several awards nominations, including an Oscar nomination for best screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for best picture comedy or musical, and best actor. It would also garner two wins: a People's Choice Award for favorite motion picture, and a Grammy for Harold Faltermeyer's iconic score. Beverly Hills Cop also held the honor of highest grossing R-rated film in the United States for almost 20 years until The Matrix Reloaded took the top spot. And, lest we forget, Beverly Hills Cop was such a hit it would go on to create a franchise with two sequels.

Whether the idea came from Don Simpson or Michael Eisner, the synchronization of the Hollywood gods gave birth to one of the greatest action-comedies in history. So many things, as is the case in most creative endeavors, had to come together at exactly the right time. We could've had an '80s cop movie starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by David Cronenberg. We could've gotten nothing at all. Instead, we got Eddie Murphy and Martin Brest, an unlikely match, but a perfect match nevertheless.

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