Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, cheeky and streetwise Detroit detective
Beverly Hills, Spring 1984
Like many of the action-comedy cop films of the ’80s (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, etc.), Beverly Hills Cop turned out much better than it should have. The original premise, developed seven years earlier by Paramount exec Don Simpson, was a cop from East Los Angeles transferring to Beverly Hills. By 1981, screenwriter Danilo Bach had fleshed this out into an action-oriented fish-out-of-water story titled Beverly Drive about Pittsburgh cop Elly Axel’s misadventures in 90210. Despite the excellent choice of Pittsburgh as Axel’s hometown (go Stillers!), the film flatlined.
It was resuscitated two years later after the success of Flashdance when Simpson revisited his idea and hired screenwriter Daniel Petrie, Jr. to add a more humorous flourish. Elly Axel of Pittsburgh became Axel Elly of Detroit. The lead role went through a few actors – Mickey Rourke, Al Pacino, James Caan – before Sylvester Stallone was finally brought in to “act” in the film.
Bringing his Rocky and Rambo approach to the film, Stallone went back to Bach’s original serious action concept. Axel Elly was renamed Axel Cobretti (a name which Stallone must have been dying to use in a film), Jenny became Axel’s love interest, and the finale became “a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train”; Stallone himself later remarked during an impressive display of self-awareness that his removal from the project was well-deserved. (Although Steven Berkoff mentioned that the ultimate factor in Stallone’s removal was the type of orange juice placed in his trailer.)
Stallone left the project two weeks before filming began, and producers Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer needed their lead character. Two days later, Eddie Murphy was convinced to come on board. The serious tone was dropped mercifully in favor of lighter comedy that solidified the film as one of the funniest of the decade. Already famous due to his comic chops on Saturday Night Live and in films like 48 Hrs. and Trading Places, Eddie Murphy became an international star after Beverly Hills Cop was released in December 1984. It was the biggest hit of the year, earning more than $230 million in North America alone and racking up award nominations both at the Oscars and the Golden Globes, a heavy feat for a cop comedy.
TIME‘s Richard Schickel summed up best what made the film work: “Eddie Murphy exuded the kind of cheeky, cocky charm that has been missing from the screen since Cagney was a pup, snarling his way out of the ghetto.”
While Murphy is certainly a driving force of the film’s success, each of the supporting cast throws in their weight to keep the film tight across the board. Judge Reinhold and John Ashton knock it out of the park as the two Beverly Hills cops babysitting Foley, Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) is awesome as the stereotypically dickish ’80s henchman, and even Paul Reiser gets a few great moments as one of Axel’s fellow Detroit cops.
What’d He Wear?
For an example of just how popular Beverly Hills Cop was after its release, we can look to a t-shirt worn by Murphy in the film. The shirt is light heathered gray cotton with long sleeves and a crew neck with “MUMFORD PHYS. ED. DEPT” ink-printed and fading away on the chest.
Though Murphy himself didn’t attend the school, Samuel C. Mumford High School – located in northwest Detroit – was the alma mater of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who honored his school by featuring a Mumford shirt in the film. Almost immediately after the film’s release, the school began receiving orders for the shirts from all over the world. Though the school had its fair share of notable graduates (Gilda Radner and Ivan Boesky, to name a few), it had never achieved this sort of notoriety and fame until Eddie Murphy celebrated it across his chest in Beverly Hills Cop.
Axel wears the Mumford t-shirt during his first day in Beverly Hills underneath a charcoal blue zip-up hoodie. Axel’s hoodie is a very simple and comfortable garment, with half sleeves cut off at the elbow and slash front pockets on either side of the front.
Although its origins can be traced to cold weather laborers during the Depression, the hooded sweatshirt shot to popularity throughout the 1970s through both the development of hip hop culture and its iconic appearance in Rocky. Axel’s streetwise abilities and disregard for decorum make the hoodie – as it became known in the ’90s (aka the Buzzfeed Decade) – a very reasonable garment in his closet. (Stallone’s involvement with both this film and Rocky is merely coincidental when discussing Axel’s hoodie.)
The zipper and the drawstring grommets on Axel’s hoodie are silver metal.
Throughout the film, Axel wears a pair of blue straight leg denim jeans with the standard five pocket layout – two rear patch pockets, two front pockets, and right-side coin pocket. Although the high rise and straight fit were very popular in the ’80s, the jeans avoid many of the decade’s horrible sartorial decisions like acid-washing, ripped denim, additional pockets, or – Jesus Christ – elastic waistbands.
The ’80s fit may be disregarded as “dad jeans” now, but Axel’s choice of denim could have been far, far worse. In fact, they appear to be a pair of classic Levi’s 501s, evident by the small red tag on the right rear pocket. In addition to their high rise, the jeans also have a short inseam and break above the top of Axel’s shoes.
Axel wears a plain black canvas belt with his jeans. The belt fastens in the front with a black square metal buckle.
Axel’s dirty Adidas Samba sneakers had already taken on an iconic status before he stepped into them, but their appearance in the film helped solidify them in cultural history. The Samba is Adidas’ second-best selling shoe ever with 35 million sold across the world. The Samba was first developed in 1950 as a cold weather training shoe for association football players
The particular model of Adidas Sambas worn in the film are white “Classic 0″ sneakers with the famous dark green triple side stripes, flat white laces, and tan gumsole. Axel wears his with a pair of white tube socks.
Axel’s wardrobe has a very athletic theme throughout, from his sneakers to his shirts. Other than the Mumford shirt, he has a habit of wearing half-sleeved crew neck sweatshirts, similar to the blue shirt worn by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
In Detroit, Axel wears a red half-sleeved sweatshirt that appears to have been manufactured that way. Later, for the final scenes in Beverly Hills, he wears a light gray heathered version where the sleeves look like they have actually been cut off.
Both half-sleeved sweatshirts have elasticized waistbands that create a blouson effect, puffing out the center of the shirt and making them appear to be tucked into his jeans.
Axel’s watch is an all-black analog model with a square dial. It is worn on a black hard rubber strap with a squared silver clasp.
I’ve heard suggestions that the watch is a Casio, but I have been unable to find a certain model.
Undercover in Detroit
The opening scenes of the film find Axel working undercover in Detroit, investigating a cigarette hijacking ring. He “thugs up” his outfit more than usual, now wearing a black sleeveless t-shirt and olive drab military-style pants. He wears the same Adidas sneakers, white tube socks, and black watch as he wears throughout the film, though.
Axel is clearly wearing the black sleeveless t-shirt inside out, with a round yellow logo faintly visible through the front and a tag seen on the middle of the back.
His pants are a pair of vintage olive drab parachute fatigues with cargo pockets, drawstring cuffs (which he ties), and adjustable waist tabs. Despite the tabs, he still wears his black belt with the fatigue pants. A similar pair can be found here or at any military surplus retailer.
Go Big or Go Home
Sure, Beverly Hills Cop is an entertaining film. Good premise, good actors, and solid action. Eddie Murphy, however, is what makes the film so memorable. Beverly Hills Cop marks a fine collaboration between director and actor where director Martin Brest (auteur of such films as Gigli… oh god) managed to keep the essence of the plot intact while a comedian influenced many scenes and ad-libbed much of his dialogue. Typically, one hears horror stories about a diva comedian – or any actor, really – taking over production for the worse. With Beverly Hills Cop, Brest and Murphy forged a terrific working relationship with Murphy’s smart comic instincts merging with Brest’s plot-driven direction to put together a much better film that it could have ever been on paper.
Reportedly, hundreds of takes were ruined by cast members unable to control their laughter as Murphy would improvise. Normally, this is when the director gets frustrated and heads start rolling, but Brest admitted that he was one of the worst culprits, laughing himself silly during many of Murphy’s takes. The most notable example is when Axel is defending his – and Rosewood and Taggart’s – actions during the foiled strip club holdup. Supposedly, the police station sequences made Murphy very tired, but he refused to drink coffee as part of his anti-drug regime. Eventually, Murphy decided he needed something so he took a few sips of coffee to stay awake. This blast of caffeine to Murphy’s system led to the energetic “super-cops” monologue… all of which as ad-libbed.
John Ashton, who plays Sgt. Taggart, eventually spends much of the scene rubbing his eyes. In fat, he was pinching his face to try and stop from laughing. Reinhold kept his face stoic only because he was pinching his own thigh through his pocket to contain his own laughter.
Axel: Before I go, I just want you two to know something, alright? The supercop story… was working. Okay? It was working, and you guys just messed it up. Okay? I’m trying to figure you guys out, but I haven’t yet. But it’s cool. You fuck up a perfectly good lie.
Murphy’s casting was the greatest thing that could have happened to the once troubled production. His improvisation even led to some ribbing of his own career; Axel’s harangue to the Beverly Palms Hotel clerk includes a fictional Rolling Stone article he is writing called “Michael Jackson: Sitting on Top of the World”. In real life, Playboy once featured an profile of Murphy himself called “Eddie Murphy: Sitting on Top of the World”.
And then, of course, there’s the song. Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” was a theme song that could’ve only worked in the ’80s. Created from four synthesizers (a Roland Jupiter 8, a Roland JX-3P, a Yamaha DX-7, and a Moog modular synthetizer 15 for the bass), the electronic song went straight to the top of the international charts and was a #1 hit in 1985.
Jenny: I remember you used to drive that crappy blue Chevy Nova. What are you driving now?
Axel: Same crappy blue Chevy Nova.
Like all great movie badasses (with the exception of James Bond), Axel Foley doesn’t need some flashy, brand new car. Instead he’s got a powder blue 1970 Chevy Nova 2-door with a white roof and enough Miller Lite in the trunk to keep any stakeout wet. (Axel doesn’t imbibe himself, though; we learn earlier that his drink of choice is a Scotch and soda.)
How to Get the Look
Axel Foley is his own man, dressing for total comfort without regard to what’s fashionable or accepted. Surrounded by suit-and-tie cops, he stands out for better or worse.
- Heathered light gray long-sleeve crew neck “MUMFORD PHYS. ED. DEPT” t-shirt
- Charcoal blue zip-front hooded sweatshirt with slash pockets, silver zipper, and silver drawstring grommets
- Medium blue denim Levi’s 501 straight leg jeans
- Black canvas belt with black metal buckle
- Adidas Samba “Country 0″ sneakers in white with dark green triple side stripes, white laces, and tan gumsole
- White tube socks
- Black analog watch with a square face, hard rubber strap, and silver clasp
While some may dismiss Axel’s method of carrying his service pistol in the rear of his jeans without a holster as unprofessional and non-police-like, it was actually inspired by a real policeman. Gilbert Hill, the Detroit Police Department’s chief of homicide, met with Beverly Hills Cop‘s director Martin Brest for research and location scouting prior to production.
Brest noticed that Hill carried his service revolver tucked into his trouser waistband with no holster, and this trait was incorporated into the Axel Foley character. Brest was so impressed by Hill (“He almost seemed to me like he could be Eddie’s father,” Brest says in the film’s DVD commentary) that Hill was hired in the film as Foley’s austere boss, Inspector Todd.
Many may recognize Axel’s sidearm, a post-World War II Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol. The Hi-Power was introduced in 1935 after thirteen years of development inspired by master firearms inventor John Browning’s design. It was first produced by the Belgian company Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal (FN) and was immediately adopted into Belgian military service as the P-35. France, who had commissioned the initial design, rejected the pistol and instead went with the similar, but ultimately lesser, Modèle (Mle.) 1935 A.
The Hi-Power was the first of the “Wonder Nines”, a group of semi-automatic pistols with high capacity magazines – typically for 9×19 mm Parabellum ammunition. At the time, service pistols typically held no more than seven or eight rounds in the magazine. The Hi-Power’s revolutionary double stack magazine held 13 rounds of 9×19 mm, adding up to a total of 14 available rounds when one is chambered.
Despite its high capacity, reputation for reliability, and constant refinement from FN, the Hi-Power didn’t gain widespread attention until it became known as the preferred sidearm of officer Frank Serpico when taking on the NYPD’s “crooked cops” in the 1960s and 1970s. The Hi-Power received even greater exposure when it appeared in Al Pacino’s hands for Serpico, the 1973 film chronicling the real life officer.
By the time Beverly Hills Cop was filmed and released in 1984, the Hi-Power would have been enjoying its last hurrah with a monopoly on the “Wonder Nine” segment. Glock had rolled out its first pistol, the Glock 17, which carried 17 rounds of 9 mm in a single magazine. The introduction of similarly high-capacity pistols like the Beretta 92FS, the SIG-Sauer P226, and the Para-Ordnance series was just around the corner. Despite all of these recent developments, the Hi-Power remains unique for its original design, smooth single action trigger, and enduring reputation as a reliable and accurate service pistol.
I own a Browning Hi-Power manufactured in 1975, and it is one of my favorites to shoot. The trigger pull is light even for a 9 mm, and it carries comfortably and obtrusively for an all-metal full-size semi-auto.
Axel’s particular pistol in the film has an external extractor, which FN incorporated into the design in the early 1960s. The film depicts semi-automatic pistols as the sidearm of choice for the Detroit Police Department, even though standard issue at the time was a Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver with both the Model 10-5 and the Model 64-5 issued up through 1992. The uniformed officers at the beginning carry Model 10s (and one stainless Model 67), but Axel and his fellow detectives all have semi-autos, including Jeffrey (Paul Reiser) with his Smith & Wesson 639 and Insp. Todd with his nickel Colt Mk IV Series 70.
Loyal and sharp-eyed blog readers may recall that the S&W 639 was also Mr. White‘s sidearm of choice in Reservoir Dogs.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie. I’ve never seen either of the sequels, so I can’t testify to their quality. I can say that I haven’t heard many good things about Beverly Hills Cop III, though.
Disturbing the peace? I got thrown out of a window! What’s the fuckin’ charge for getting pushed out of a moving car, huh? Jaywalking?
We’re sneaking up on Halloween season, and Axel’s outfit would be a very easy, comfortable, and recognizable (as long as you use the Mumford High School t-shirt!) costume.