Looking back at Beverly Hills Cop

Feature Rob Kemp 27 Nov 2012 - 08:32

It was a hit for Eddie Murphy, and contained an unforgettable 80s soundtrack. Rob looks back at Beverly Hills Cop...

Back in 1984, Eddie Murphy was big. To anyone, say, younger than their mid-20s, that might come as a surprise. Modern audiences who know Murphy from films such as Pluto Nash, Daddy Day Care, Norbit and Meet Dave may think his Oscar nominated role in Dreamgirls was a career highlight amongst the dross of his recent comedy efforts. However, it’s a reminder that his earlier work was something special, and that he represented a unique talent who was pure comedy gold.

Beverly Hills Cop had gone through various iterations before Murphy came into the role. The script by newcomer Danilo Bach had sat on the shelf for some years before being picked up and reworked by Dan Petrie. During that time both Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone were attached to star.

Sly reworked the script to incorporate his own idiosyncrasies, making it a more hard-edged, bloody thriller (although elements of this can still be seen in the final cut). His revisions and requirement for more action increased the budget to a point where Paramount was uncomfortable with the direction the film was headed. In a brave move for a studio at that time, (Eddie may have been big, but Sly was huge), they ditched Stallone and went in another direction.

At the same time, producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who at the time had seen significant success with Flashdance (in 1983 it was the third highest grossing film in the US), sought Martin Brest to direct. Despite their insistence that it would be an ideal match, Brest remained unconvinced. After several calls, Brest finally decided to make a decision - by flipping a coin. The result, the biggest movie of 1984, the first true starring vehicle for Murphy and a shift in a genre that had in the previous decade predominantly concentrated on hard boiled, vigilante cops (step forward Messrs Eastwood and Bronson).

Although the talent behind the camera was impressive, there is no doubt this was Murphy’s film. There’s hardly a moment when he isn’t on screen – but then nor would we want him to be anywhere else. We had already seen that his screen presence was electric – and roles in 48 Hrs and Trading Placed alongside his Saturday Night Live appearances only increased his popularity. Beverly Hills Cop took his career to the next natural level and made him a genuine film star.

The film’s tight plotting and simple story ensure the audience is catapulted along with Murphy through some great set pieces and classic dialogue (let’s not forget it was, after all, Oscar nominated for Best Screenplay). The film is also a good example of what happens when all the right elements come together, as can be seen in Judge Reinhold and John Ashton’s characters, Detective Billy Rosewood and Sergeant John Taggart. Paired by chance during auditions, the two actors took on an old married couple persona which the producers recognised as something that Murphy could effectively play against. 

Their relationship brought a different kind of comedy, more subtle than Murphy’s but just as funny. An example: the scene where they’re trying to get over a wall during the climatic shoot-out demonstrates that Murphy wasn’t the only one capable of improvising.  Let’s also not forget Gilbert R Hill’s foul-mouthed and abusive Inspector Todd; his performance was so good that even Murphy looked impressed. Amazingly, he wasn’t even an actor, but a real Detroit cop whom the producers met when scoping locations.

Likewise Bronson Pinchot, who gave an unforgettable performance as the Persian/French/Eastern European accented Serge. He wasn’t even going to make filming as he had pre-booked a holiday. An unforeseen reshuffle in production meant he was back in, and that accent was born.            

Perhaps the only weak element were the antagonists. Steven Berkoff’s Victor Maitland accompanied by the ever great ‘there’s not a TV series I haven’t starred in’ Jonathan Banks were certainly short-changed in the character development department. However, what they did have was a script that allowed them to be vicious and cold-blooded (a hallway execution being a particularly good example) in a style that seems missing from modern cop comedies. Which leads me to another point: Beverly Hills Cop is not for children. That may seem obvious, but the adult action/comedy cop film is a genre that has seen little love in the past decade. For every 21 Jump Street there’s a Cop Out, for every Hot Fuzz there’s a The Other Guys. Beverly Hills Cop proved that there was a significant audience who wanted their action and comedy at an adult level – studios, please take note.

There’s one other element that makes Beverly Hills Cop an iconic film: the music. The soundtrack is synonymous with the 80s, with Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F theme instantly recognisable  - and as leitmotifs go, it's the equal to any of John Williams’ or Jerry Goldsmith’s symphonic themes. Alongside Faltermeyer, classics such as Neutron Dance, Stir It Up and The Heat is On remain just as memorable as the action they score. Rightly, the soundtrack album went on to win a Grammy for Best Original Score and topped the Billboard 200 (spending an impressive 49 weeks in the chart). Simpson and Bruckheimer’s Flashdance proved that a good soundtrack can benefit a movie, but what they learned from Beverley Hills Cop is that it can also be immensely profitable – see Top Gun’s nine Platinum discs for further evidence.

In terms of box office, the film was made for $14 million (in 1984 dollars) and made its budget back in the first weekend. Its sits joint second (first is Titanic) for most weeks at  number one (14) and was the highest grossing film of the year. It was also the highest grossing R-rated comedy until The Hangover in 2009, although adjusted for inflation it is the third highest R-rated film ever (behind The Exorcist and The Godfather).

Apart from proving that Murphy was a bankable star, Beverley Hill Cop’s legacy is tough to pin down. You could argue that it re-envisaged and perhaps re-energised the action cop film. However, when looking at the box office for films directly influenced by that formula, none really shine; perhaps Stake Out and Jumpin' Jack Flash were moulded in a similar fashion, but reached nowhere near the success of Beverly Hills Cop. The Lethal Weapon franchise also mixed adult comedy with serious, hard-edged action (with additional, dark drama undertones) and was likely the most direct beneficiary, although that exploited more of the  buddy-cop formula than focusing on just one star.

Murphy himself went bigger, although not necessarily better. The Golden Child, Coming To America and Beverly Hills Cop 2 were all top ten hits in their respective years, but there was a growing feeling that his shtick was growing a little old. Once Boomerang hit in 1992, his star was already falling, although his second life as a more family orientated comedian was just around the corner.

Judge Reinhold and John Ashton had, surprisingly, limited success. Reinhold would make Vice Versa and then became a prolific B-movie actor, whilst Ashton went on to make the excellent Midnight Run but then, like Reinhold, largely found work in TV movies and series - a real shame, as both were eminently watchable. But who knows, if the ever rumoured Beverly Hills Cop 4 gets off the ground, then maybe they can be reintroduced to a mainstream audience once again.  

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Anyone remember when BBC showed this cut to bits in the late 8o's at 7pm..that was my introduction to this awesome film...

Also, I can't see a BHC4 happening now the TV show is moving forward - at least to Pilot status. Shame, as Murphy with the right R-Rated script could be great again.

Coincidentally enough, I watched all three this past weekend. The first is definitely the best and the third is terrible. There does seem to be enough potential with the character, though, if a canny writer and director (and Murphy) wanted to pick up on it...

Get the fun outta here!

It's a shame Eddie went the route of awful family films where he just seemed to dress up as the whole cast for each film.

He was SO great in the 80's. Not only are these classic films, but I loved, Coming to America, Trading Places and The Golden Child.

I feel that Boomerang was where his career started to veer off into crapness.

I was hoping Tower Heist would be his great come back, but that was one AWFUL film. He is due to be the voice of Hong Kong Phooey and then the 3rd brother in Triplets (Twins sequel), so I have my fingers crossed that him and Danny De Vito will make great comedy together and make Eddie great once again.

Ok. I admit it. I dont get it. I never did. I first saw this film years ago when Eddie Murphy was "cool and funny" and like my experiences with Skyfall, I just could not, for the life of me see what - A - the fuss was all about and B - I did not think it was even that funny. Now before everyone goes mental and threatens to roast my nuts on an open Christmas fire, I understood all the love for old Eddie, I loved him a lot in Trading Places and I saw a lot of his stand up stuff and laughed so hard I could not breathe. Coming to America also made me laugh. But Beverly Hills Cop? Nope..never did a damn thing for me. To me it felt too forced. Like everyone involved felt that because they were appearing in it, they were therefore funny. It just felt to me like it wanted to be Lethal Weapon, but without as much action, but with only Eddie Murphy...and I just thought he came across as a cocky arrogant prick. And that was not even when he was in character. All my mates thought I was mental and stupid because of this, and each time it was on Tv, or they were watching it on video, I would make sure I was not around to see it. I think its an 80s thing and popular culture, yes the music had a lot to do with it too. I was never that into or impressed with AXEL F, and the Heat is on? Its just a cheesy 80s pop song looking back at it ...And now Eddie Murphy is reduced to more and more desperate acts, and bad films in order to try to recapture this past glory. What went wrong? Do you think everyone has now realised he is not really that funny and a bit crude? But since when has being crude stopped other things being funny? Family Guy is pants wettingly funny, so is SouthPark etc..so I dont think crude has anything to do with it. Why is Eddie Murphy no longer popular and funny? Maybe its the same reason that Paul Hogan and Crocodile Dundee is no longer popular and funny...it seemed good at the time, but looking back on it now its not as funny as we remember... I wish Eddie Murphy all the best in the world..I love him as Donkey in Shrek....I just wish he could find something else to do thats as good...

This came out 3 years before Lethal Weapon.

I agree with Skyfall. What is all the fuss about? I found it funny, but not in the way I felt the director was going for!

Did it? Oh well. I never saw Lethal Weapon at the time at the cinema I was too young, it was not until a few years later that I got to see it on video. It was the same with Beverly Hills Cop. It was about 1989 I got to see it. So I had probably seen Lethal Weapon first. video and dates....how it messes with you memory of films. I was 18 when we got our first video recorder so I never got to see most of the 80s stuff on video until about 1989 - 1994. Mental.

Yes Skyfall ranks as one of the WORST Bond films of all time for me. It also sits up there with the most OVER HYPED, OVER GOOD REVIEWED disappointments of all time. I have never seen a film thats so bad, so boring so dull, so full of nothing and missed opertunities get so many rave reviews. Its one of those films that promises so much but delivers so little. The opening chase is the best bit of the film. The rest is a cure for insomnia. I saw the trailer & making of running in the SONY store the other day. I showed it to my Uncle who was with me at the time. It ran for about a minurte, showing the best bits of the film, then it looped. I said to him "Thats it, you have seen Skyfall. Those are the most exciting parts, the rest is all moody looks, misery , gloom and filler" For about 2.5 hours!


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