Culture clash and buddy-cop movies were a staple of 80s cinema, and this week in #80sMC Paul Childs looks at a film which successfully melded the two – 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop.
“Where did Eddie Murphy do his policing as Axel Foley?” That was the question posed by Rylan Clark in the Couch Potatoes section of his Saturday afternoon show three weeks ago. “Beverly Hills,” answered the contestant, confidently. Rylan then declared that he was correct.
Except he wasn’t.
Not at all. Had he seen the film? Possibly, but the title is such an iconic one that even if you’ve not seen it you know that Axel Foley is a Beverly Hills Cop.
EXCEPT HE ISN’T!!
We start the movie with the unmistakable opening bars of former Eagle, Glenn Frey’s hit single The Heat Is On. Then for two or so minutes, we’re treated to a tour of the city where Axel Foley ACTUALLY does his policing – Detroit. In fact, the first scene after that opening sequence is said Detective Foley doing said policing – a sting operation in which he tries to sell a truckload of stolen cigarettes to a pair of hoodlums. Cue one of cinema’s (at that point) most destructive and crazy car chases as several police cruisers, and many civilian vehicles are battered out of the truck’s way.
A year earlier Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer made Flashdance, their first film together as production partners. One of the driving forces of that film had been that it was intended as a musical, but instead of the characters breaking into song, it would be pop tunes in the background to provide the musical interludes – an ethos that would carry over to Beverly Hills Cop and again with their next movie, last week’s entry, Top Gun. It’s through the clever use of music that the movie’s tone is set – the truck chase mentioned above plays out to the Hi-Energy disco of The Pointer Sisters’ Neutron Dance. It’s a great introduction as it not only tells us almost everything we need to know about the character of Foley (Eddie Murphy) but also gives us a good sense of what’s to come.
A brief exchange between Foley and his captain lets us know that as a detective, he’s a pretty good one (no crisis of confidence though, that was last week’s film) but he doesn’t play by the rules. And that is the conflict that creates much of the film’s tension and humour. When Foley’s old schoolfriend Mikey, who visits from California, is murdered for embezzling his drug dealer boss, Axel is put on leave and ordered to stay out of the case. Of course, he takes it upon himself to unofficially follow the trail of clues left by Mikey all the way to Beverly Hills – where they do things quite differently to Detroit! Of course, they don’t take kindly to his interfering out of his jurisdiction and treat him with as much – or even more – suspicion as they do the prime suspect Victor Maitland (in what must have been one of the very early “Brits as villains” roles in American action cinema). So there it is – Foley, although technically a cop, is not in Beverly Hills to do any policing – he spends almost the entirety of the movie as a civilian.
In some of these 80s look-backs I’ve mentioned my friend Mez as being instrumental in my own journey as a film fan – and Beverly Hills Cop is no exception. He raved about this film over and over – but the idea of it never really appealed to me. That is until the day we hired Lethal Weapon and Aliens from Anne’s Videos. What a night that was – two great films, seen for the first time (and two which I’ll return to later in the year as part of this series). Having particularly enjoyed them, Mez implored me to try BHC one more time, so I relented – and taped it the next time it came on TV. That was Boxing Day 1988 when Beverly Hills Cop had its UK TV premiere.
And of course, I enjoyed it and kept that tape for a long time. However, another time I happened to catch the film at Mez’s house from a rental copy – and it turned out to be quite a different film to the one I was used to! It was more action-packed, gorier, contained nudity and, perhaps most surprising of all, the language was a good amount bluer! I had no idea this film was so much more… adult! Then it dawned on me – the version I had seen was the cut for TV version. It started before the 9pm watershed, so of course, it was! Suddenly my beloved VHS wasn’t so beloved anymore, because the theatrical version of the film was FAR better!
But Beverly Hills Cop almost turned out to be even more explicit. Conceived by Don Simpson in the late 70s, the role of Axel Foley in Beverly Drive (as it was called in 1981) was offered to Mickey Rourke first. He turned it down, and while actors like Al Pacino, James Kaan and even Richard Pryor were considered, it was finally settled on as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone. Sly came on board, took one look at the comedic overtones and insisted on overseeing a rewrite to make it a much more hardened, gritty thriller. Part of this rewrite also included the renaming of the hero’s surname from Foley to Cobretti. The studio responded to these rewrites with concerns over the budget needed for the stunt work and special effects required to fulfil the script’s requirements.
With only two weeks to shoot, and unable to reach a compromise, Stallone departed the project. Using the action-oriented ideas he’d inserted into Beverly Hills Cop he instead developed his own original crime thriller Cobra. Stallone also suggested that audiences would struggle to accept him a fish-out-of-water, which is ironic given that much of 1993’s Demolition Man relies on exactly that kind of humour! With just two days to production, the role of Axel Foley was offered to Eddie Murphy, who was still riding high after the success of Trading Places. More rewrites ordered to put back in humour to suit Murphy’s quick-fire delivery. As he was very much in demand, Murphy’s fee of $4m made up almost a quarter of the film’s entire spending allowance, but the film still came in $1m under budget.
As with any good buddy movie though, the hero’s partner is just as integral to the movie. And Beverly Hills Cop teams Foley up with two – John Taggart (John Ashton) and Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold). As well as their chemistry with Murphy, they had to have a good rapport with each other and auditionees were asked to improvise with one another to get a feel for their interactions. It was while paired with Ashton that Reinhold picked up a magazine and made up the “red meat” routine, which producers felt was so good it was included in the finished film.
With the core trio of heroes in place, filming began and Murphy, Ashton and Reinhold were encouraged to continue improvising and bouncing off of each other. They worked so well together that hundreds of takes were ruined by cast and crew members breaking into fits of laughter. During Foley’s “Super Cops” monologue, Taggart is seen to be rubbing the bridge of his nose in frustration – this was not acting. Ashton was doing whatever he could to stop himself laughing and ruining ANOTHER take. Similarly, Reinhold was pinching his leg inside his pocket for the same reason.
So viewing again in 2020 Beverly Hills Cop is a slightly confused watch. On the whole, it’s still a fun, culture clash cop buddy movie but – and this has been true for many of the films on this rewatch marathon this far – it’s somewhat overshadowed by attitudes which seemed acceptable back then, are really not appropriate anymore. Specifically, Beverly Hills Cop presents a small number of rather offensive gay stereotypes, which while not really a major part of the movie, do stick in the memory afterwards. Murphy himself has expressed regret at some of the homophobic content of his stand-up comedy of the 80s which he has now referred to as “cringey” and “ignorant”.
A shame really, because other than that it still stands up and really does show why Eddie Murphy was once the biggest movie star on the planet.
Join us next week as our newest team member Chris Lupton, who doesn’t have time to bleed, gets to the chopper! You guessed it – it’s 1987’s Predator!