Walter Matthau looks mighty dour throughout this grim, convoluted, exasperating crime-file nonsense. A public bus massacre in San Francisco, which included a cop among its victims, is investigated by the force, and Matthau is saddled with new partner Bruce Dern (he hates him on sight, how's that for originality?). The details of the case make little sense and, although the dead-ends these cops follow might reflect real-life police business, they don't do much for a plot already messy with loose ends and too many characters (all of them sordid). This picture looks as bad as it plays, with muddy cinematography and pasty-faced actors. The ignorant plot is jammed with clichés, while Thomas Rickman's screenplay, adapted from a Swedish novel by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlööthe, never offers up a sardonic side to the madness. It's just violent TV made more violent for the movies. *1/2 from ****
The Laughing Policeman
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
The Laughing Policeman
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
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A San Francisco city bus, with eight passengers and the driver, pulls out of a downtown bus station and moves through the city stopping once for a new passenger. The passenger, unseen above the chest, walks to the back of the bus pulls the pieces of a sub-machine gun from a tote bag, assembles them, and massacres the eight passenger and the driver. The bus crashes and the killer walks away. Driving onto the scene are homicide detectives Jake Martin (Walter Matthau),Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern) and James Larrinore (Lou Gosset). As they search the bus they find one of the bodies is that of Dave Evans (Anthony Costello),Martin's police partner. It is the search for the murderer and the reason for Evans' presence on the bus that pairs detective Martin and Larsen together. With the help of Evan's girlfriend Kay Butler (Cathy Lee Crosby),they determine that Evans was following leads to close a murder case which Martin, sixteen years on the force, was unable to solve two years previous. Thed search takes the two detectives to most of the seamy sides of San Francisco, with its hustlers, porno theatres, topless and gay bars, boarding houses and restaurants, from the rankest to the plushest. Aware that he has been forced upon Martin, that Larsen, a veteran detective in his early 30's , tough, mischievous, blunt and slightly crass, does his best to make his replacement of Evans as subtle as possible. Martin, withdrawing into himself, ignores Larsen. In the pursuit of Evans' leads, Mratin discovers a bizarre possible solution linking the unsolved murder and the bus massacre. Unable, by the lack of evidence to explain his theory to Larsen, he attempts to convince him to pursue his theory and deviate from the the instructions of their superiors. At first, Larsen refuses, but as his respect for Martim and his unorthodox police procedure increases, Larsen agrees and the two policemen set out to trap the mass murderer.
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If the title is supposed to be ironic, it's the best joke in the picture...
Shooting Up A Bus
One terrible night in San Francisco in the mid seventies, a man who had a terrible secret to hide and a high position from which to tumble from took a machine gun and massacred everyone on a city bus. Of course this gets all the SFPD Homicide Squad working on it.
Partnered together for convenience are Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern. Matthau's partner is one of the dead passengers and he's single minded in his pursuit. Dern and he don't really get along. I've a feeling they wouldn't have under normal circumstances, but they do manage to work together.
The Laughing Policeman is as one reviewer said is a nice view of San Francisco in the early seventies. All that seemed to be missing was Candlestick Park. I was in San Francisco in 2000 and I recognized a lot of it myself.
Matthau and Dern fill their roles well. Matthau is somewhat against type, a lot of the laconic humor that characterized him on screen is missing here. Dern is not the most admirable character in the world. He's a harbinger of what we later got on NYPD Blue with Andy Sipowicz. One would hope he might have grown in character over the years as Sipowicz did.
Anthony Zerbe heads the Homicide Squad and Lou Gossett, Jr. and Val Avery are also detectives working on this. They fit the police roles well.
Funny how life does imitate art. In just a few years Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone would be assassinated, there would be riots with verdict of that trial, and Jim Jones who had his operation in San Francisco before moving to Guiana and mass suicide. The real happenings for San Francisco made this bus shooting seem like nothing.
70's crime drama that's one of a kind, Matthau style
I've seen this movie only a few times, 4-5 throughout, I'd say. I loved how Matthau played serious in this. It's probably the only unfunny Matthau film I've seen, and this is definitely no comedy. This 70's film, with it's hard feel and vibe, is uniquely intriguing. Some nutter boards a bus, shoots down 8 people, one a police detective friend of cop, Matthau's. At the start this then alive detective was tailing some old guy, as I can remember, where obviously this has a bearing on his demise, otherwise the scene wouldn't be included in the film. What I loved, in this film, where about every exterior shot was shot in sunny weather, was the pairing of Matthau, and his new partner Dern, where he proves looks aren't everything, if you can act. Dern, playing tough here, who tends to infer violence if his suspects don't co-operate almost stole the show. One scene, has him getting into a confrontational scene with other cop, Lou Gossett Jnr, and he ever so smoothly backs down, provided a cool moment. We take the journey with Dern (who almost shared Matthau's dead partner's build, though the dead guy was better looking) and the gum chewing Matthau to find the cause of this slaughter. When questioning a pimp, as Matthau leaves, we hear a ho mumble "Pig". Matthau stops, looks around with angry intent. There's a couple of these unnerving moments from this actor's character, and it's not just in his work, though Dern came off better acting wise in this good solid crime flick, that will having you guessing why, where it's answer, will kind of thrown you into a one eighty, where you the viewer, have been really duped. We learn things about the dead cop, like how he was a bit of a creep, into things, other cops didn't know about, where some realizations start to surface. That's what makes a good crime thriller, though it doesn't have the logical of motives for the slaughter. Near it's end, if losing more faith as we do through the film to finding the killer and his reasons, our two hot shots resort to setting up this suspected killer in the same scenario as in the start. Another exhausting scene has Matthau and Dern climbing flights of steps to interrogate someone, where they stop mid flight to take a breather. Paul Koslo, again plays another loser character, who provides some info, who when questioned, has a tendency to smile all the time, and is not big on straight talk.