Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why So Serious?

The Laughing Policeman  (20th Century Fox, 1973)

Before the Camera:

Walter Matthau  (House Calls)
Bruce Dern  (Silent Running)
Louis Gossett Jr.  (Enemy Mine)
Anthony Zerbe  (Licence to Kill)
Val Avery  (The Legend of Hillbilly John)
Cathy Lee Crosby  (TV's That's Incredible)
Mario Gallo  (Revenge of the Ninja)
Joanna Cassidy  (Blade Runner)
Paul Koslo  (Mr. Majestyk)
Frances Lee McCain  (Gremlins)
Albert Paulsen  (Five time Mission: Impossible villain!)

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg

Produced by Stuart Rosenberg

Written by Thomas Rickman    based on the novel by Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall

In San Francisco one evening, eight bus passengers are slaughtered by someone wielding a submachine gun (or grease gun as it is called here a lot), and we suspect one of the victims was a police officer who was tailing a suspect onto the bus. Sure enough, when Sergeant Jake Martin (Matthau) turns up at the scene, he finds out it was his partner among the victims on the bus. Martin's boss, Lieutenant Steiner (Zerbe), assigns him new partner Leo (Dern) and along with detectives Larrimore (Gossett) and Pappas (Avery) they set out to solve the mystery of who killed one of their own. Their investigation takes them all over the city, and eventually Martin begins to believe the bus massacre is tied to a two year old case he never solved involving the murder of the wife of a prominent businessman (Paulsen). But his chronic secretive nature keeps him from bringing partner Leo in on all the details, and friction develops between the two men which gets them taken off the case. But the obsessive Martin is not going to let it go that easily...

Maybe they're laughing on the inside?
Before he became one of the Grumpy Old Men, Walter Matthau was a fine dramatic actor, and scored a hat trick of serious crime thrillers with this film the meat in a sandwich with the bread of Charley Varrick and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three on either side. Here he plays a man consumed by both his job and guilt over the death of his partner, and he's terrific. He's matched by the rest of the cast (it's especially cool to see Gossett here, and he gets the best line in the movie - you'll know it when you hear it), but special praise goes to Dern, having a field day not playing the psycho he was so often cast as even by this time. He also gets to rock a great 70's porn star 'stache. And a special shout out must go as well to Anthony Zerbe, another "bad guy" actor getting a rare "good guy" role here. The movie is a procedural precursor to the Law and Order franchise, but with fewer lawyers. If you like shows like that, this should be a safe bet for you. If you're only into cop shows where they are always either running or shooting, and if they're not running or shooting they're running and shooting, this may not be the movie for you. Everybody else should check this out!

Let's Get Out of Here ?
At around the 40:00 mark, Val Avery throws the line to Lou Gossett to indicate the conversation's sorta dried up.

Eye Candy ?

Joanna Cassidy is not in the movie a whole lot, which works against her getting this award; but she's in an old school nurse outfit part of the time. Bing! Bing! Bing! We got us a winna! Welcome aboard, Ms. Cassidy!

Bling Monkey's Capsule Review

Bling Monkey says "The Laughing Policeman serves to protect the viewer
from seeing a bad movie!"


Til next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. So is the movie Americanized? Set in this country, then?

    I read the novel in the early 90s. I don't usually go for police procedurals, but this one is really well done. I recommend it.

    Oddly enough, I can remember a lot of scenes from the book--including a bit near the end, where one line leads you to believe THIS is going to happen, and there's a lovely turn and THAT happens. Nicely executed, that. Thanks for putting the film on my radar. We're doing the netflix thing next month, and I'll keep an eye out for it.

  2. It is Americanized, set in San Francisco - what a police department they had in the early 70's - the real guys who chased Zodiac; plus Dirty Harry, this movie's Jake Martin, and Karl Malden! Yow!