“Hey Man. He Put A Banana In My Tailpipe”. A 35th anniversary celebration of “Beverly Hills Cop”. In his first leading man role Eddie Murphy stars as Axel Foley, a mouthy police officer with cheap sneakers and a crappy car. Still beloved by fans, “Beverly Hills Cop” was the highest grossing film of 1984. Directed by Martin Brest and produced by mega action producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. It’s the perfect action comedy cop flick, a hilarious fish out of water tale, and a knockout action picture with mayhem, hilarious comedy and violence galore.
35 years ago the biggest box-office hit of the year featured no special effects or world-threatening stakes just a mouthy police officer with cheap sneakers and a crappy car. Beating “Ghostbusters”, “Gremlins” and “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” at the US box office, “Beverly Hills Cop” became a surprise phenomenon, transforming Eddie Murphy from a big star to an enormous one, while inspiring all manner of cop-comedy rip-offs.
Mega producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson have been producing movies since 1972. The duo hit it big, producing 1980’s “American Gigolo” with Richard Gere. They have produced everything from action films (“Bad Boys” and “The Rock”) to dramas (“Days Of Thunder”, “Top Gun”, “Flashdance”) to even comedies (“The Ref”) which they hadn’t dabbled much in.
One half of the producing team Don Simpson passed away in 1996 during the filming of the Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery actioner “The Rock”. Jerry Bruckheimer has continued their legacy till this day by producing mega blockbusters such as: “Armageddon”, “Pearl Harbor”, “The Pirates Of The Caribbean” series, “National Treasure”, “Con Air”, “Black Hawk Down”. The list goes on and on.
In his third big screen film following 1982’s “48 Hrs” and 1983’s “Trading Places”. Movie star and stand up comedian Eddie Murphy who got his career start in 1980 on “Saturday Night Live”, as Murphy became known for such memorable characters as Buckwheat, Gumby and an inner-city Mr. Rogers, as well as for his impersonations of celebrities, including Stevie Wonder. Murphy starred in his first solo leading man role in 1984’s action comedy “Beverly Hills Cop”, for the wunderkind producers. “Beverly Hills Cop” was their first full high-tech production that film goers have now come to expect.
In 1975, long before he would become the CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner was driving a beat-up station wagon around Hollywood, despite his impressive title of president at Paramount Studios. After he got a speeding ticket he came up with the germ of an idea to make a movie about a Hollywood police officer. Paramount executive Don Simpson allegedly claims Eisner was wrong, and that Simpson himself came up with the idea himself.
The idea for “Beverly Hills Cop” started to surface again in 1977, when Paramount Pictures executive Don Simpson had come up with the idea about a cop from East L.A. who transfers to Beverly Hills. Screenwriter Danilo Bach was called in to write the screenplay. Bach pitched his idea to Simpson and Paramount in 1981 under the name “Beverly Drive”, about a cop from Pittsburgh named Elly Axel. However, his script was structured as a straight action film and Bach was forced to make changes to the script, but after a few attempted re-writes the project went stale.
With the success of 1983’s “Flashdance”, Simpson saw the Beverly Hills film to be his next big project. Screenwriter Daniel Petrie, Jr (“Toy Soldiers”, “Turner and Hooch”) was brought in to rewrite the script and Paramount loved Petrie’s humorous approach to the project, as he had changed the lead character to Axel Elly, a cop from Detroit. Petrie’s script was nominated for an Oscar as best original screenplay. The original role of Axel Foley was first offered to Mickey Rourke, who signed a $400,000 holding contract to do the film. When revisions and other preparations took longer than expected, Rourke left the project to pursue another film.
Action star Sylvester Stallone was considered for the part of Foley after Mickey Rourke. With Stallone signed up to play the lead, Martin Scorsese was offered the director’s chair. Scorsese was said to be bewildered, and dismissed the concept as too similar to the movie “Coogan’s Bluff”. In that film, Clint Eastwood was a deputy sheriff from Arizona who travels to New York City to hand over a fugitive.
Stallone gave the script a dramatic rewrite and made it into a straight action film. In one of the previous drafts written for Stallone, the character of Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) was actually called “Siddons” and was killed off half-way through the script during one of the action scenes. Stallone had renamed the lead character to Axel Cobretti. Stallone has said that his script for “Beverly Hills Cop”would have “looked like the opening scene from “Saving Private Ryan” on the beaches of Normandy.
Stallone had choreographed some extensive action scenes. However, Stallone’s ideas were deemed “too expensive” for Paramount to produce and Stallone ultimately pulled out two weeks before filming was to start. Two days later, the film’s producers, Simpson and Bruckheimer, convinced “Saturday Night Live” star Eddie Murphy to replace Stallone in the film, prompting more rewrites. If Murphy hadn’t declined the role in 1984’s “Ghostbusters”, he wouldn’t have gotten to be Axel Foley. Besides Stallone and Rourke, other actors who were considered for the role of Axel Foley included Richard Pryor, Al Pacino and James Caan.
Director Martin Brest (“Midnight Run”, “Scent Of A Woman” and “Meet Joe Black”) was fired from his second directing job, “WarGames” starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, after being fired the industry thought he was damaged goods. Producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer both disagreed, and the two Paramount executives continually called Brest and asked him to direct “Beverly Hills Cop”. He kept declining, before eventually taking his phone off the hook. Simpson accepted it as a no, but Bruckheimer kept trying and to end the harassment, Brest decided to flip a coin to make his decision. The coin flip told him to take the job.
Murphy’s first scene was a tense exchange that led to the films opening car chase taking place after an undercover assignment of hijacked cigarettes exchange in the back of a truck. Fun fact: The climactic shootout, meanwhile, was filmed at a stately mansion once owned by gangster Bugsy Siegel. Director Martin Brest’s nerves quickly melted away as he realized Murphy was capable of fizzing up even the most generic of lines.
Brest said “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”. Martin Brest even kept a VHS tape of “48 Hrs” on hand and on-set, so he could watch snippets of it for inspiration. But Murphy consistently delivered footage funnier than he’d imagined. One of the most reported memories on set was a day they were filming and Murphy, who had never touched coffee before, drank a strong cappuccino before improvising a monologue. The resulting caffeine fueled riff made Martin Brest laugh so much he had to retreat to a nearby room and listen through headphones, covering himself with blankets to soundproof his giggles.
Murphy has said “Of all the characters I’ve played, Axel is the most like me. He walks like me, he talks like me, he reacts to situations the same way that I do”. Backed up onscreen by a Laurel and Hardy type double-act of John Ashton and Judge Reinhold, as the well-meaning but dozy cops Taggart and Rosewood. What was new for Murphy was the action. On “48 Hrs”, he’d been scripted to wave a gun around and channel a comedic Bruce Lee, but here he got to do a bit more stunts.
Murphy rejected the initial outfit that Martin Brest, Don Simpson, and Jerry Bruckheimer picked out: Murphy said that it was “too slick”. Instead, he opted for a pair of squeaky sneakers, a faded T-shirt marked Mumford Phys Ed Dept, and a shabby hoodie jacket; his outfit would match the character’s car, a blue Chevy Nova that was dented and covered in rust. “Everything he had was the cheapest, most lowdown possible”, said Brest. “The only thing he had going for himself was his wits”. He even had a style of rather than keeping his gun in a holster, Axel would tuck it into his jeans, which was something Brest saw being done by real detective Gilbert Hill (whom he’d cast in the film as Foley’s foulmouthed superior, Inspector Todd) during a research field trip to a Detroit cop shop.
Foley’s shabby t-shirt became a must buy merchandise. The Samuel C. Mumford High School Physical Education Department t-shirt, was picked as the source of Foley’s signature garment because producer Bruckheimer was a graduate there. He got a flood of phone calls, asking where the sweatshirt could be bought. The school eventually commissioned Kansas company Artex Manufacturing to make up 24,000 that sold for $10 a pop.
Harold Faltermeyer, used 80’s synth to create the films soundtrack on a Roland JX-3P and Yamaha DX-7. Faltermeyer’s theme known as “Axel F”, became a number-three hit on the Billboard chart. Faltermeyer also co-wrote the Glenn Frey song written for the film, “The Heat is On”.
According to Frey, he was invited to an early screening of the film, and about two months later was sent a demo of a song written by Keith Forsey and Harold Faltermeyer to be used in the film to see if he was interested in singing the song. Frey agreed, and recorded the vocal part in one day. The following day he played the guitar and recorded the background vocals, and was paid $15,000 for his work.
The mid-to-up-tempo recording featured a steady drumbeat, synthesizer, and guitar, with a repeated saxophone riff framing the lyrical message. The guitar solo is played by Frey himself. The song became a major hit single, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in March of 1985, behind “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by Reo Speedwagon. In the United States, it is the highest charting solo single by any member of the Eagles. The music video for the song received heavy MTV airplay.
When rough footage was screened to a test audience, it elicited such rapturous reactions that Murphy, sitting at the back with Brest, exclaimed, “It’s hot!”. Paramount was so confident that they decided to open it in the middle of the week on a Wednesday, rather than the planned Friday and wider than usual release. They also front-loaded their advertising campaign, splashing out $5 million pre-release rather than the standard $3 million.
Half of those polled test audience coming out of it said they wanted to see it again. It became the first Eddie Murphy film to do gangbusters and across the globe. Having cost just $15 million to make, its eventually surpassed $316 million worldwide, which was $20 million more than “Ghostbusters” had made.
The film spawned a franchise with two sequels, “Beverly Hills Cop II” directed by Tony Scott (“The Last Boy Scout”, “Top Gun” and “Days Of Thunder”) and “Beverly Hills Cop III” directed by Jon Landis (“Coming To America”, “The Blues Brothers” and “American Werewolf In London”). Both starred Eddie Murphy and released in 1987 and 1994. The second film met with mixed reviews but was a box office success, while the third film was unsuccessful both critically and commercially.
In 2013, a television series was reported to be in the works for CBS. The pilot was written by Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men In Black”). Brandon T Jackson (“Tropic Thunder”) was cast as Axel Foley’s son. The series was not picked up, but Ryan reported that it tested well enough for Paramount to put a fourth film into production. Paramount has made a one-time license deal with an option for a sequel that will enable streaming service Netflix to make the fourth installment of the film with Eddie Murphy and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
There’s very little not to love about “Beverly Hills Cop”. It’s the perfect action comedy cop flick, a hilarious fish out of water tale, and a knockout action picture with mayhem, hilarious comedy and violence galore.