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Laughing Policeman

Walter Matthau , Bruce Dern , Stuart Rosenberg    VHS Tape
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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4.0 out of 5 stars No Motive Necessary June 21 2004
Format:VHS Tape
this sullen, violent police drama is as detailed an investigation as you will find on film. the opening scene of the laughing policeman is extremely tense, and sets the tone for a dirty harry style flick that delivers one of matthau's moodiest performances. basically, a mass murder takes place on a san francisco bus and we find out that a policeman was one of the victims. he turns out to be matthau's late partner. bruce dern is assigned to the case to work with matthau to find out why this SFPD decetive was on the bus in the first place. Their subsequent relationship is a play the standard, portrayed in the laughing policeman as "mute cop/bad cop". so, teams of gritty cops (a young lou gossett) meander through the roughest neighbourhoods of san francisco bullying pimps, pushers, hip drag queens and sidewalking street-wheelers in an attempt uncover what turns out to be a very complex underworld fraternity. The purpose (seeing as this plays as a matthau character study), to quell Matthau's melancholic contribution to this Dirty Harry spin-off. It is more violent and much more precise than Dirty Hary but not as entertaining. A must see however for all matthau fans.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern Track A Killer May 21 2002
Format:VHS Tape
Walter Matthau's first truly dramatic role of the 1970s after his years in comedic fare, The Laughin Policemen, despite its title, is anything but humorous. Matthau and Bruce Dern are partners investigating a brutal murder on a bus. Dern, as Matthau's young partner, displays edginess in his doubts about his older partner's hunches, but he listens, and Matthau's hunches prove correct.
Their main suspect is a "fruiter" businessman, and Matthau knows how to get the suspect to reveal himself as the killer - but he'd better hope Dern can keep up, as Matthau maneuvers to get himself cornered with the killer on a city bus.
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  29 reviews
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Whatever You're Reaching For Better Be A Sandwich..." March 8 2005
By bdlion - Published on Amazon.com
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.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Matthau and Dern at their best April 9 2005
By James D. Leverton - Published on Amazon.com
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. Unfortunately, the only special feature is the original theatrical trailer, which is incredibly dated like most trailers of the era.

Thrill seekers may want to look elsewhere, but those in the mood for an intelligent, atmospheric thriller may find what they're looking for in "The Laughing Policeman".

**** (out of *****)
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Police Procedural, Very Much Of Its Time July 27 2005
By C. O. DeRiemer - Published on Amazon.com
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. The look into police methods keeps your attention; you see how Martin and others put the pieces together. Matthau does a fine job as Martin, close to being burned out, laconic and not too interested at first in working with Larsen, who's a bit of a wise guy. The tension between the two of them works, I think, because Matthau and Dern are both good actors. There are three excellent set pieces that are very well handled: in the morgue during the autopsies of the victims, in the emergency room where staff tries to save the one survivor, and the lead-up to the bus shooting.

Where I wish it had been better concerns the casting of the smaller parts and the direction. Too many of the actors look like actors. Much of the movie is spent turning over stones and looking at San Francisco's lowlife...pimps, prostitutes, sleazy bar managers, porno theater ticket sellers, burlesque dancers, gay bar denizens in leather or makeup. Most of them look like they're acting sleaze. If you want a taste of real life, check out Mona Lisa, where the underage prostitutes have pimples on their faces and backsides. There's none of that reality here. There also is a tendency to create emotion-charged scenes that are marred by "acting"...the kind of slightly false intensity you can see on some television cops-and-robbers series.

This is one of three crime movies Matthau made in a three year period. The others were Charley Varrick, also in 1973, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three in 1974. This one is interesting and worth a watch. Unless you really like Matthau, I'm not sure if you'd want to buy it. Varrick, if it had a better DVD presentation, and Pelham are both, in my view, keepers. The DVD presentation for this one is not great but not too bad. There are no extras.

If you want a treat, get a copy of the book this movie was made from. Same title, The Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo. The detective is Martin Beck, not Jake Martin, and the bus massacre takes place in Stockholm. It's an excellent police procedural mystery.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eight People Know Who The Killer Is - And They're All Dead Oct. 15 2005
By prisrob - Published on Amazon.com
Sgt. Jake Martin is speaking to his new partner, Insp. Leo Larsen; trying to convince him how important this investigation is. Inspector Leo Larsen is leery:

"Sgt. Jake Martin SFPD: Evans was working the Teresa thing on his own time. He's killed on the same bus with Gus Niles who's looking for a grease gun that happens to be the weapon used.

Insp. Leo Larsen SFPD: And then his girlfriend winds up dead on the floor with the needle... Jake, you realize what you just did? You do it to me all the time, now you heard what the man said upstairs.

Sgt. Jake Martin SFPD: I heard him, I was up there, he's a nice man, he shoots in the low 80s, but he plays too close to the vest.

Insp. Leo Larsen SFPD: Then what are you laying all that crap on ME FOR? WHY DON'T YOU STOP IT FOR ONCE? That's YOUR personal hang-up, it does NOT happen to be mine!

Sgt. Jake Martin SFPD: Can't you see it?

Insp. Leo Larsen SFPD: I see one thing, I see why you're such a good cop, and one reason only, because you're so screwed up otherwise. You're beyond human belief, you understand that? You've got nothing else, no personal life, nothing!

Sgt. Jake Martin SFPD: All I'm asking you to do is help me tail a guy for a few days, its routine!


Nine people in San Francisco get on a bus, one leaves alive. The

living one takes with him a "greaser", some sort of sub-machine gun that he used to kill the other eight. Why? What is this all about? That is what Sgt. Martin wants to know. One of the eight is his dead partner, who was supposed to be on vacation. Jake Martin( Walter Matthau) is obsessed with this case, and will not rest until he finds the answer. Enters (Bruce Dern)Insp. Leo Larsen, his new partner. This is Leo's break, up into the big time, but his partner doesn't talk much, and it drives him crazy.

Sgt. Jack Martin is "melancholy, bordering on depression, overwhelming him because he suspects he may have lost his partner as the result of the two-year-old case he failed to resolve." Thus "The Laughing Policeman" is a play on words. This case takes us into the underground of San Francisco in the 1970's. Fuzzy, high hair, hippies, bright suits and a tamer life than we know now. The investigation is "right on", and the clues and lack of clues bring them to many stops along the way. All of the clues are looked at carefully, and all of the leads followed up. The criminal elements are all interviewed. The loves and the outlaws are interplayed with junkies and the motorcycle mamas. These detectives are real and play the part, they are depressed and worried and sometimes hate their job. Sgt.Martin has been in this business for a long time, and the unsolved case of a few years ago has now come full tilt. There is the requisite car chase in San Francisco up the hills and around the sharp corners. Walter Matthau has stepped into his second detective role, and at times it seems as if he is reaching for this character. Bruce Dern plays his character with charm and determination. The scenery is magnificent and the city comes alive. This is the beginning of the detective series that we have seen so many times on TV. "The Streets Of San Francisco" it is not, but almost as good.. Recommended. Prisrob
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT DVD! March 14 2005
By Michael J. Black - Published on Amazon.com
If you're a fan of this movie or just a fan of old crime movies, pick this one up! With a great price and incredible picture quality; it's a must for your collection!
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