I was tooling around on the internet the other night, and unexpectedly came across this masterpiece, a monument to the 80s culture of buddy cop TV shows featuring perhaps the most perfect execution of the “buddy cops standing back to back in front of a car with their arms crossed” pose, a pose parodied as much as it is worshipped worldwide. Sometimes the arms are not crossed, sometimes they are holding guns, sometimes they are standing in front of other things. But it’s the “I got your back, buddy!” pose that says these partners are going to solve crimes together no matter what the dangers.
Which got me thinking. Buddy cop TV shows and movies aren’t quite as common as they once were, but where did this pose come from? And where is it going? While it might take a lifetime to truly answer this question, I can perhaps provide a roadpost or two.
The earliest example of this I could find was this poster from 1974’s Freebie and the Bean, starring James Caan and Alan Arkin. The duo star as free sprited cops who couldn’t be more different. BUT THEY ARE PARTNERS and thus it began. The image above is the cover to the novelization of the film and it appears that it might be by former EC cartoonist and ultimate movie poster artist Jack Davis, giving this post a comics tie-in but…I’m not sure it’s really by Jack Davis, but perhaps a Davis look-a-like. UPDATE: A Jack Rickard theory has been advanced in the comments.
For the actual movie poster, a more humorous direction was used.
Now I know what you are thinking, “What about Starsky and Hutch? They must have posed back-to-back. If they didn’t everything I believe is a lie.” And yes, they did it…
…although they don’t look too happy about it. While they don’t have their guns drawn, they are standing front of what looks like the exact same car that Hardcastle and McCormick have posed with. Call it the ür-buddy cop car. It was the 70s and cars were scarlet to reflect a tortured nation with a lot to prove.
While Crockett and Tubbs didn’t pose for a DVD cover in this fashion, they did use the Buddyback for this classic Miami Vice pr still, substituting a black car and a vibrant sunset as background. In another classic trope, one cop has his gun pointed down, the other up, because tangents.
The 80s were the heyday of the buddy cops in all media and thus we uncover a rich, satisfying bounty of classics.
RedHeat even uses the actual “but they’re partners” copy.
Not buddy cops, but a great use of the pose.
The Harts substitute a yacht for a car because that’s how they roll. Also not quite back-to-back.
And by now you must be thinking “What about Riggs and Murtaugh? They must have done the Buddyback?” And yes indeed they did, for Lethal Weapon 3.
Troublingly, instead of the heroes posing in front of a car, they are now posing in front of Joe Pesci, and that is where the sorrows begin. Also dad jeans alert!!!
One famous cop duo of the small screen never managed to get into the back-to-back pose, at least as far as my Google image search went. Cagney and Lacey were more front facers…
…until their later years when they finally achieved true equilibrium.
And Simon and Simon also got cut off mid-chest although they appear to have their arms crossed.
But they still looked winsome. BTW, the themes of Simon & Simon were very mature indeed.
Sometimes a gun was not even necessary.
One intriguing subset of the buddy cop genre was the “human teamed with canine” off-shoot. Everyone remembers Turner and Hooch but there are actual THREE human/canine team up films. And none of them use Buddyback, perhaps because getting a man and a dog to stand back to back is physically impossible.
Not even a year after teaming with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Belushi was back at it with a German shepherd, making him perhaps the MVP of this particular roundup.
Top Dog actually came out in 1995, but spiritually, it was still the 80s. The sharp eyed may have noticed that two of these films use almost the exact same tagline. Hollywood, a fountain of endless creativity.
As the 90s began some of the air had begun to come out of this particularly genre, and the pairings got more and more outre. The pose was often approached but not quite achieved.
1989 saw this epic pairing.
But by far the weirdest team up of all times was belgian kickboxer Jean Claude Van Damme and weird basketball star Dennis Rodman in Double Team. Sadly, we don’t get the full effect of the back-to-back solidarity in this poster, but for sure they got along really great.
As the Aughts and Teens arrived, so did the age of irony, and the back-to-back pose started being used again for its evocative nostalgic properties, particularly on comedies.
The Other Guys, an actual parody of the buddy cop genre, used the Hong Kong action pose instead of the back-to-back, which I think worked well.
But Mark Wahlberg was back to back-to-back in the throwback 2 Guns, which added a nice action spin to the scene, as well as very aggressive type cropping.
The 21 Jump Street update of the 80s show had no choice but to go back to the well with the one gun up, one gun down, pastel suited vibe reminiscent of Miami Vice so long ago.
RIPD also tried to go classic Buddyback, but the film was more RIP.
I’m not sure now many buddy cop shows are actually on TV now as the Law and Order/NCIS type ensemble is the preferred style. There is one team-up title show on, TNT’s Rizzolli and Isles, starring Angie Harmon as a cop and Sasha Alexander as a medical examiner. Despite the possibilities, all of the key art I found was them looking fashionable and holding purses. Ladies do it different. This show has been on for five years and I have never met a living human who has watched it.
So there you go, a brief survey of the back to back buddy cop genre. Did I miss your favorites? Post it in the comments!
VITAL UPDATE: In the comments Torsten has proposed dubbing this the “Buddyback pose’ and I think he’s right! Long live the Buddyback!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.