Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Kate Erbland heads to Los Angeles by way of Detroit and listens along the way to Martin Brest’s commentary for Beverly Hills Cop.
Brett Ratner. Tower Heist. The Oscar debacle. I think it’s time we gazed into our crystal balls – heh, heh, heh – to a much simpler point in Eddie Murphy’s career. He found success on Saturday Night Live, even brought out a few fans here and there with 48 Hours, but it wasn’t until 1984 and Beverly Hills Cop that he became an A-list movie star. It remains a classic, a pinnacle of Murphy’s career, and to this day remains one of the biggest comedies of all time.
And who directed it, you might ask. Why, it’s none other than Martin Brest, the guy who would go on to make that hilarious comedy where Brad Pitt bounces off two cars and Gigli. Yes, he made Gigli. You think there’s a reason the guy hasn’t been heard from since 2003? He didn’t die. Oh, right, back to Beverly Hills Cop. Here is what Martin Brest had to say about this comedy classic. I’m sure I’ll be stopping and rewinding this commentary an awful lot listening to Harold Faltermeyer’s theme and watching this over and over and over and over and over again. It never gets old.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Commentators: Martin Brest (director) and Harold Faltermeyer’s awesomely ’80s score.
- Brest starts over the Paramount logo saying it’s an early Saturday morning in Santa Monica. Oh, yeah, Martin? Well, it’s a cold, Thursday night here in Austin, so get to the movie talky, you braggart. I kid. I’m not even gonna count this as one of the “things learned”.
- The chase in Detroit was one of the last things shot on Beverly Hills Cop. The random shots around Detroit over the opening credits were also shot at this time. At one point, you see a man standing on a sidewalk describing something very animatedly to his friends. He’s actually describing to his friends the chase sequence in the film, which he had seen being filmed earlier.
- Brest and his crew had to get clearance from the people being filmed for the opening credits. He and his crew had an off-duty police officer accompanying them, but the cop would not go with them into the housing project for the shot of the kids spitting up milk. I don’t understand. I saw Real Steel. Detroit seems an affable, jovial place to me.
- The scene in the back of the truck at the opening of the film was the first scene shot. Brest knew right off the bat they were going to have a blast working with Murphy. He’s still fascinated by Murphy as indicated by the long stretches here where he just sits and watches the movie. The haggling between Murphy and Frank Pesce was inspired by dialogue said between Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets. The Faltermeyer theme was inspired by God.
- The truck used during the opening chase sequence was referred to on set as “The Train”. It’s front bumper was replaced with a steel i-beam so it could plow through anything it came into contact with. Murphy did many of the stunts needed during this sequence, and these shots were filmed in downtown L.A., not Detroit. The shot of Axel Foley flying out the back and hitting the side of the truck was obviously a stuntman, one who didn’t want to get back in the truck after.
- When Foley enters the department where he works, the words “INVESTIGATON OPERATIONS DIVISION” are written on the window. “Investigation” is misspelled. Brest mentions this, notes that it annoyed him at the time, but this being 1984, he didn’t worry about it too much. It was the day even before home video was very popular, so no one had the capability to really examine it. Now, we have Blu Ray. Now, we have columns like Commentary Commentary to analyze and point these things out.
- Brest wanted the Detroit office to be as different from the Beverly Hills office as possible. He didn’t think a Jewish person like Paul Reiser would be working at the Beverly Hills police department. Reiser’s character, Jeffrey, was named after Jeffrey Katzenberg, future President of Production at Paramount.
- Gilbert Hill who plays Inspector Todd was head of homicide in the Detroit Police Department. Brest met him while visiting Detroit to do research and scout locations for the film. “He almost seemed to me like he could be Eddie’s father,” says Brest. In fact, the idea of Axel Foley holding his gun in the back of his jeans with no holster was inspired by the way Hill carried his service revolver. At the time Brest recorded this commentary, Hill was running for mayor of Detroit. A quick glance on Wikipedia tells us he lost in 2001 to Kwame Kilpatrick. Kwame Kilpatrick was elected to the Michigan House of…oh, yeah. The movie. It’s easy to get lost on Wikipedia.
- Sylvester Stallone was originally cast as the lead. He left the project a few weeks before shooting began. This threw everything into disarray. That’s all Brest says about this, but evidently Stallone used a lot of what was in the script at that time to make Cobra. He left Beverly Hills Cop because of a disagreement in what kind of orange juice was to be kept in his trailer. Put this, too, in the “evidently” category. Also put it in the “Stallone is one crazy diva” category. Also put it in the “light pulp” category.
- The scene at the bar between Murphy and James Russo who plays Mikey Tandino brought out a mixed reaction from preview audiences. Some audiences laughed when the two character expressed love for one another. The studio wanted Brest to cut this scene out, but Brest resisted. Instead of cutting it out altogether, he and his editors trimmed it way down, even cutting out a few frames holding on Mikey after he says, “I love you.” This minor adjustment made all the difference in the world. Also, I love you. I don’t care what the editors think.
- In the scene where Mikey is killed, the production was rushed out of that location. They were unable to shoot a shot of Axel falling to the floor after he gets knocked out. Brest notes he regrets not getting this shot, as it confuses some people when Eddie Murphy just disappears. Kind of like how he just disappeared from the public conscious. Zing. Moving on.
- “You know, the movie is sort of this weird hybrid between In the Heat of the Night and The Beverly Hillbillies.” Brest says this before pointing out the obvious homage shot of palm trees he lifted from the Beverly Hillbillies opening. He also laughs and laughs about it. That Martin Brest. Always cracking himself up. This reminds me I have to do the Gigli commentary sometime. I’m sure he gets quite a kick out of that movie.
- During production, Brest wanted to shy away from the idea of race being brought up. As he noted earlier, Stallone was originally intended for the part, and the director didn’t want much mentioned about race when Murphy stepped into the role. However, Eddie Murphy, who was evidently allowed to improvise much of Axel Foley’s dialogue, brings it into his dialogue a few times, one being when he’s checking into the Beverly Palms Hotel. Brest felt it worked and left it in.
- Brest wanted to get a shot of Murphy walking down a Beverly Hills street. However, they could never work it into the schedule. The shot of Axel walking down the street and passing the two guys dressed in leather outfits was shot during a lunch break in a particularly crummy part of Los Angeles. Expensive cars and greenery were added in to make it appear to be Beverly Hills.
- 25:05 – Martin Brest turns the volume up on the film so he can listen to Bronson Pinchot’s performance. Funny, most of the time people are reaching for the Mute button when Pinchot shows up. I grew up on Perfect Strangers, okay? I know.
- Brest wanted a nice set with a good view of L.A. for the film’s villain, Victor Maitland’s, office. The office set was completely constructed on a floor of a tower that was under construction. Of course, as Brest notes and as we can see behind actor Steven Berkoff in the scene, the day they shot this scene the city was completely covered in smog. If you look really closely, you can see a Native American standing in the corner with a single tear running down his cheek. Okay, I totally made that part up, but you can imagine.
- Brest notes that the production was unable to gain access to the actual Beverly Hills Police Department. The set they constructed for this was a complete fantasy, one Brest mentions he knows looks nothing like the real department. They wanted to make it appear as different from the Detroit Police Department as possible. They wanted to make it look like private security for all rich people, one of the class issues Brest wanted to include in the film. So, in case you didn’t think Beverly Hills Cop had anything under its hood besides the banana in the tail pipe joke, you’re wrong. You’re just wrong.
- Brest also mentions later on the commentary that much of the Beverly Hills Police Department set was based off conceptual designs he and his crew had come up for for the NORAD scenes in WarGames, which Brest was fired off of. A lot of time was spent creating this set, and Brest didn’t want it to go to waste.
- A particularly drawn moment of exposition comes during the film, and Brest, after pointing this out, mentions a phone call he had with the late producer Don Simpson. The call was regarding how much story should be “jammed in” at this point of the movie and which story points should be hit. Since it was 1984, things like Skype and text messaging weren’t around to make such a call more convenient while Brest was attempting to shoot it. Yeah, they really need to remake this movie. Get Brett Ratner on the horn.
- Ah, the banana in the tail pipe scene. Brest mentions it was originally supposed to be a potato in the tail pipe, and a scene involving Axel sneaking into the kitchen of the hotel to get a potato was intended. Budget and scheduling issues stepped in, and the scene couldn’t be shot. Murphy had to grab something that was easily accessible in a location that was already lit and ready to be shot. The lobby became that location, and, since a potato in the lobby didn’t really work, they changed it up to Axel grabbing a banana off a buffet. It was Eddie Murphy’s idea to get Damon Wayans in as the guy working the buffet. Side note, Wayans is credited in the film as Banana Man. Just think, at one point that was on his resume.
- Brest likens Judge Reinhold and John Ashton to Laurel and Hardy on more than one occasion. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Reinhold and Ashton are funny in Beverly Hills Cop. The have excellent chemistry, one of the many many reasons why Beverly Hills Cop III was such a travesty. But Laurel and Hardy? Brest might be giving every aspect of his film a little too much credit here. Having said that, I could go for a series of films with Reinhold and Ashton. Hell, anything to get Judge Reinhold more work works for me.
- According to Brest, the stripper in the scene where Axel, Rosewood, and Taggart are at the club together was a dance named Mouse. She was evidently a legendary stripper, and the song playing in this scene, “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6, was the actual song Mouse danced to. You don’t get a lot of director’s commentary talking about the strippers they use in their movies. I felt it necessary to mention it here. Point Brest. Point breast. I’m five.
- For the scene at the strip club, Brest went back to his film school days in an effort to get all the shots he needed regarding who everyone in the scene is looking at even though they were long distances from one another. He also watched scenes from 48 Hours in preparation for this scene, because he liked how Walter Hill shot the bar scenes in that film. It should be noted that once the action starts, no one is looking at Mouse. Poor Mouse.
- In the scene where Axel is explaining to Lt. Bogomil, played by Ronny Cox, what went down at the strip club, Brest notes it was a completely closed set with no oxygen or central air being pumped in. Since it was the middle of August, the set was ridiculously hot and everyone was extremely sluggish. Brest mentions Murphy, who had hardly ever drank coffee in his life, had a cup of coffee before shooting the scene, and it sent him off the wall. If you look closely, you notice Murphy’s eyes twitching quite a bit in this scene. Also look closely, and you’ll notice John Ashton cracking up through the entire scene.
- Because the film’s production was on such a tight schedule, and because the screenplay was being reworked as production went on, oftentimes the actors would be given their dialogue less than an hour before shooting. When Stephen Elliott as the chief of police enters his first scene, you’ll notice he’s carrying rolled up papers in his hand. Brest notes these are actually script pages he was handed just before filming the scene. Holding these pages during rehearsals looked so official Brest felt it added to his character to be holding them during the actual shoot. Likewise, the chief referring to Rosewood as Rosemont was an accident during rehearsals that they decided to keep in the finished film.
- Producers wanted to cut out the scene between Victor and Jenny, played by Lisa Eilbacher, but Brest felt it was necessary to the plot and that it was the scene where Victor’s villainy became clear. Brest made a trade. In order to keep the scene in, he had to give in and include the freeze frame shot at the end of the film. Brest didn’t like this aesthetic idea, but acquiesced. In fact, every director should acquiesce to a freeze frame ending their film. Can you imagine Schindler’s List with a freeze frame at the end? No, you can’t, because Spielberg didn’t give in.
- In the scene where Jenny and Axel are being held at gunpoint, and Victor is confronting them, there is a moment where Victor looks at Axel and just scoffs and shakes his head. As Brest notes, this was originally a reaction to something Axel said, a line Eddie Murphy improvised on set. Brest loved the reaction shot, how it was a quirky but villainous moment for Victor, and left it in though the line Murphy said was cut out.
- Brest, who had never shot action before, was intimidated by shooting the climactic shoot-out at Victor Maitland’s mansion. The shot of Axel, Rosewood, and Taggart traveling along a hedge is about two seconds long and what remains of tons of footage of that same shot from different angles. Brest spent so much time on those few shots, because he was nervous to get into the heart of the action scene. The final scene of the film was also supposed to be shot at night, but budget constraints didn’t allow for this.
- 1:26:14 – Brest uses the word “bougainvillea”. You can look it up here, but no it’s now a word I’m adding to my everyday lexicon. “I got a wicked skin rash from this bougainvillea.” Yup. Feeling smarter already.
- For the shot where Axel jumps down steps and rolls into a gunshot, Murphy had to shoot some of this. He had to shoot the shot of Axel actually jumping off the steps, but Murphy didn’t want to do this. Brest convinced him by saying if he could do it, Eddie could do it. Brest did it, and Murphy gave in. Brest didn’t have to go through all that. He could have just said Stallone would have done it without issue. Of course, he’d be lying. As we’ve established, Sylvester Stallone is a major diva. Heh. Orange juice.
- The sound of Eddie Murphy’s sneakers squeaking through the final action scene unnerved the sound crew at first. However, Brest and the crew decided it added a nice motif for his character and left it in. In fact, according to Brest, they went back and added the sound to places in the film where it originally wasn’t.
- The scene after the gunfight, when Bogomil is explaining everything that went down to the chief of police, was a particularly nerve wracking day of shooting for Brest. Their time was very limited, and all the different shots required several camera movements and different lighting setups. He even called the studio during the day and said he wasn’t sure if they’d be able to get the entire scene finished that day. They told him to do the best he could. Brest, who was smoking at the time, notes he smoked literally seven packs of cigarettes that day. I’m sure Joe Camel was proud. He was around back then, right? Sometimes I really miss the ‘80s.
Best in Commentary
“What is it about villains and warehouse locations?”
“Once Eddie got on board to do the movie, and we kind of changed everything, this area was the sort of thing I was really aiming towards in the restructuring of the movie, this whole notion that the unorthodox policing techniques that Eddie’s character used wound up wearing off on the most orthodox Beverly Hills cops.”
All in all, not a bad commentary, especially one involving the director alone. There are long stretches of silence and several moments where Brest points something out without much insight. You can’t help but think what some of the cast might offer, especially Murphy or Reinhold and Ashton. Yeah, I’m always going to refer to them that way now. Just like Lauren and Hardy. I wouldn’t even mind listening to a commentary track from Harold Faltermeyer. The man is a God, you know. Nonetheless, Brest’s solo commentary track here is a solid one. I’m sure much more interesting than anything he has to say about Gigli.