In 1982, Eddie Murphy was a rising star on the entertainment landscape due to his hilarious and brilliant work on Saturday Night Live, almost singlehandedly reviving the then struggling show.
Before he was a Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy’s silver screen debut role as loquacious prison inmate Reggie Hammond was given a time of 48 Hours in the custody of Nick Nolte’s Detective Jack Cates. The role propelled him to comic legend status and established him as a force in Hollywood.
If this was his watershed role, then the redneck bar interrogation scene should be framed as the flashpoint when Hollywood’s A-List bouncer pulled Murphy out of line, informed him of his VIP status and pulled back the velvet rope.
When Cates accepts a wager with Hammonds allowing the inmate to test his theory that the only thing giving Cates superiority is a gun and a badge, they check his hypothesis in a honky-tonk bar.
Hammond’s sheer bluntness as he stops, frisks and verbally strips down an entire bar full of flannel and cowboy bootwearing drunkards was more than just a side-splitting moment. They should have locked Hammond back up for stealing the show because following this scene, 48 Hrs. was all about Eddie.
I wasn’t born until closing time in the ‘80s, however, I can imagine how the image of Hammond using the power and influence of a badge to turn the tables in a bigoted white establishment had a certain revenge gratification to it.
You see it all too often in films. Some cop with bravado pulls out the shield, commences the ruffling of collars in an attempt to get information from individuals of the darker persuasion and nobody touches him. Hammond’s flipped the roles by parodying a classic film trope with a steely glare and a comedic intensity.
Not many comics could walk the highwire between intimidating and slapstick. Kevin Hart’s getting there, but he doesn’t have that type of screen authority and I’m not sure Chris Rock has the range to captivate a scene with that much grit.
Donning a black gallon hat he plucked off the head of the bartender, Murphy turns to the attentive bar patrons, who are staring in stunned silence, and seemingly breaks the fourth wall proclaiming, “There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Reggie Hammond.”
Paramount Studios head Michael Eisner was worried that the film wasnt funny enough and told Walter Hill and screenwriter Larry Gross to add more jokes in which the personality clash between Nolte and Murphy’s characters were exploited. Though its impossible to say, Eisners concern likely led to more jokes that played off racial stereotypes of black and white males. According to Hill, Murphys character was rewritten right up until the last day of shooting.
48 Hours grossed $4,369,868 in its opening week, eventually garnering $78,868,508 at the domestic box office. It is considered by many as one of the best films of 1982 and one of the greatest buddy cop films of all-time.
From Trading Places and to the Beverly Hills Cop franchise and Harlem Nights, Eddie Murphy would go on to dominate the ’80s and ’90s cinematically. So much so that he is one of those rare black actors who can make as many bad movies as he wants these days, with a rep so large that Hollywood execs will still offer a wheel barrel full of cash for his services.