Welcome to Ten for Ten – the segment I promised late last year where yours truly would write ten essays on ten films, and the only thing they have in common is that I love the films but have never written about them before. Additional rules are as follows: no more than two films from the same decade will be selected; no directors or lead actors will be repeated; and each film will be used in some ways to comment upon larger subjects of interest in addition to being about how good they are.
I hate reviewing comedies. Like I really, really hate reviewing them.
I love watching comedies, especially the ones that never stop joking, gagging, or satirizing. But ask me to write an essay on one and you’ll discover that I have a weakness. It’s like asking me to explain a joke. A comedy either works or it doesn’t. What am I supposed to add to it?
The other problem, and an ironic one at that considering how “low” the genre is thought to be, is that comedies are incredibly hard to make. It actually might be the most difficult genre of film. You need punchy writing, deft delivery, judicious editing, an attractive or relatable subject, and – most importantly – precise timing. Miss even one of those things, and you become your own laughing stock. And while there are basic formulas to use as a template, comedy is not something you can simply learn to do with the right instruction manual.
But the buddy cop genre is so obvious as a winning formula that I’m amazed it wasn’t a genre before the 1980s. Sure, In the Heat of the Night, Freebie and the Bean, and Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog had been around before playing with the basic elements. But those were also products of their era more than they were pioneers of their own. It was not until 1982 that Director Walter Hill and Producer Joel Silver gave birth to it with 48 Hrs.
I have a special affinity for this genre. It was my grandfather’s favorite type of movie. He took me to see Rush Hour 2 in theaters, and I hadn’t even seen the first one. It’s possible that I get my opinionated nature about movies from him. I remember him telling me in the car that he did not care for the use of the word “damn” in the last line of Gone with the Wind, even though he loved the movie. But he introduced me to Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop specifically because of how much he loved the swearing. I never found out if he had seen 48 Hrs.
This is the first movie in the series because it was the first movie I thought to write about without waiting for an anniversary, the first buddy cop genre movie, the first Eddie Murphy movie, and the first movie that made much of the culture of the 1980s “click” for me.
Music and movies have rarely connected throughout our recent history. With notable exceptions, the prevailing genres and hits of each medium expressed largely different moods. The ‘60s was an era of swing music and rock & roll that became increasingly psychedelic and progressive as the decade intensified. But the ‘60s in film was almost the exact opposite. It saw the end of what many consider the golden age of cinema, and the landscape celebrated that with sober eyes looking ahead. The ‘70s in music was the era of disco, glam rock, and early metal. But as an era in film, it was paranoid and explosively genre based (all the car chases). The 1990s decade was an era of grunge and kiddy pop. But as a decade in film, it was a starving artist’s dream where the blockbuster went global.
In the 1980s, music and movies were joined at the hip. The music was electronic, heavy metal, and poppy. The film genres were sci-fi, high concept, kiddy, and futuristic all at the same time, which matched the music perfectly. It’s the only decade I can think of where the hit songs, and the movies that played those songs released at the same time. Each directly associated with the other: “The Power of Love” (Back to the Future), “Eye of the Tiger” (Rocky III), “You’re the Best” (The Karate Kid), “In Your Eyes” (Say Anything), “Hearts on Fire” (Rocky IV), “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (Real Genius) every song from Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, Purple Rain, Absolute Beginners, The Lost Boys, Top Gun, Streets of Fire, and every John Hughes and John Carpenter movie. Listen to almost any of these songs; the montage comes to life in your mind. And if you were growing up in that decade, there was a good chance the next movie you saw was going to give you your next favorite song.
The 1980s had a musical/cinematic synergy that so many films today are desperate to return to. It will never work as well because the two mediums have since long departed. You’re probably not going to see a comic book blockbuster that makes its soundtrack out of Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and BTS songs. And none of those artists need a movie to elevate their songs into the ether.
I say all this because 48 Hrs. has some of the best music I have ever heard out of any film, and it informs the landscape as effectively as music ever could. It is pure ‘80s even though none of the music actually sounds like the stereotypical decade.
As an action/comedy picture outside of the music and the chemistry between Murphy and Nick Nolte, 48 Hrs. isn’t much to note. The plot is disposable, as is the action, and most of everything else except for the opportunity to see a young Jonathan Banks, Annette O’Toole, Peter Jason, and Sonny Landham. You can feel how limited the budget was compared to how big they wanted to make it, and I can’t remember laughing very much during it either.
A pair of murderers are on the run, and the cop chasing them recruits their former gang partner to help him track them. So the first buddy cop genre movie is… actually not really a buddy cop movie because the team is of a cop and criminal. They spend the entire movie hating each other, and even when they no longer hate each other, they end the movie not quite as friends. Everything that proceeds from there is on and off. There’s a scene in the middle where they fight, and while it is obviously a positive turning point in their relationship, it looks like each of them is a midget who thinks the other is a giant. Not exactly the blockbuster moment.
But when it’s on, it’s really on. Torchy’s bar, the BusBoys at Vroman’s, getting screamed at by the Chief in the station, and the fact that every character can’t stop thinking about the women they’re about to disappoint all lend themselves to the whole of the picture as a city party. The perfect setting for a buddy cop film, as Ratner, Chan, and Tucker figured out in Rush Hour 2. While this film occasionally feels like amateur work (Walter Hill of Hard Times, The Driver, The Warriors, The Long Riders, and Southern Comfort was no amateur even then), it is definitive of an action-packed and musical decade to be shaped by nearly everyone involved. If it had featured Clint Eastwood and Richard Pryor – per the original plans – it would be a vintage film. Instead, it’s a generational prototype for one of the key genres of the decade for which everyone feels their nostalgia. I love it so.
Thanks, Walter, and happy 80th birthday.
V’s Ten for Ten (2022)
#2: “Battle Royale” (2000)
#3: “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949)
#4: “Rope” (1948)
#5: “Malcolm X” (1992)
#6: “6 Underground” (2019)
#7: “Broken Blossoms” (1919)
#8: “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011)
#9: “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935)
#10: “Escape From Alcatraz” (1979)