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The Laughing Policeman is anything but funny, although it does contain some very funny lines (like the title of this review) and some humorous situations. However, the eponymous Laughing Policeman is a grim, mirthless Walter Matthau who is investigating the death of his detective partner along with seven other people in a bus massacre. The movie unfolds as a police procedural unlike any other since, with extensive examination paid to the smallest detail. This may sound boring, but it's not. Under the steady direction of Stuart Rosenberg, the proceedings are both compelling and suspenseful.
This movie is one of the most realistic at depicting real gritty police work, which usually does comprise hitting the pavement and trying to shake out information from the demimonde on the streets. Bruce Dern is outstanding as Matthau's new hothead partner, and Lou Gosset is another standout. Matthau of course steals the movie with his hang-dog expression, laconic delivery, and the occasional violent outburst. When delivered, Matthau's angry brutality is shocking and unexpected from this actor we normally associate with comedies.
The 1970's saw the film violence floodgate open, thanks to Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, Dirty Harry, and Straw Dogs. As a product of the new visceral '70's, this movie is very graphic and very violent, especially the opening scene. There is also some strong language, which surprised me for an early '70's movie, as profanity would become more mainstream in mid-to-late '70's flicks.
With the above caveat, by all means see this movie. It is a fine example of the police procedural, a great performance by Walter Matthau, a slice of 1970's urban graphic violence and language, and an interesting flashback to a pessimistic era not unlike our current time. As time passes, it's striking to note how little has really changed.
P.S.: This movie has no extras whatsoever, and is priced accordingly, making it very affordable.
There is absolutely nothing funny about "The Laughing Policeman", director Stuart Rosenberg's ultra-serious, ultra-violent police procedural/character study from 1974. Actually, that it's a hard-boiled police thriller is apparent five minutes in, when a lone gunman machine guns an entire city bus full of passengers to death and disappears into thin air. Enter foul-tempered homicide detective Lt. Jake Martin (Walter Matthau), whose anger intensifies when he realizes one of the victims is his off-duty partner. He's in even less of a good mood when he's paired with affable, sympathetic new partner Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern, in a rare "straight" role). The rest of the film follows their search for the killer, which leads them into some pretty unsavory places in and around San Francisco.
"The Laughing Policeman" isn't so much a police thriller as a procedural, and a very good one at that. There is very little action, and most of the tension comes from Martin and Larsen's prickly relationship. And gay viewers may be offended by where the crime ends up, as the San Francisco gay scene is shown in an extremely negative light. That said, there's something special to be found in any movie that relies on sheer acting from its lead and supporting cast, which includes Lou Gossett and Anthony Zerbe as fellow cops and Cathy Lee Crosby and Joanna Cassidy as two women who may have clues to whodunnit. And the last fifteen minutes are absolutely hair-raisingly suspenseful.
I'll say no more about this excellent thriller except to say that the DVD is presented in an excellent color transfer and in the proper 1:85:1 aspect ratio format, unlike the unfortunately botched release of Matthau's other stellar 1974 crime thriller "Charley Varrick", which is dumped onto DVD in a fullscreen transfer.Read more ›
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Two men get on a bus in early morning San Francisco. It's still dark out. One seems to be following the other, and the first man appears to be aware of it but isn't concerned. There are five other passengers, among them an old man, a young woman going to work, a Chinese-American kid. The bus picks up another passenger. This man goes to the back of the bus, and while he's seated he quietly reaches into a bag and screws on a barrel to a machine gun. Then he stands and murders everyone on the bus. The bus crashes and he walks away. This is a taut, terrific opening to a police procedural that I wish I liked more than I do.
It turns out that the man on the bus who had been following the other is a policeman. Among the cops called to the scene is Jake Martin (Walter Matthau), who was the guy's partner. Martin is shocked at the discovery. He has no idea what his partner had been doing. With a massacre on his hands, the lieutenant in charge (Anthony Zerbe) tells Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern) to work with Jake. He makes it clear he wants all stops out to find the killer. What follows is a meticulous look at dogged police work, chasing down leads, searching for connections, trying to make sense of what appears to be a senseless act. Some of those killed had crime sheets or were drug users, and this sends Martin and Larsen into San Francisco's underbelly. Finally Martin realizes that there might be a connection to a two-year-old case that he had talked to his former partner about, a connection that may have triggered his partner's interest. If this turns out to be true, then Martin and Leo have a lead to a killer.
What is so good about this movie is, among other things, the set up. The machine gun shooting is a startling opening. It raises all kinds of questions.Read more ›
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