Crime, Drama, Police, Thriller

The Laughing Policeman (1973)

Comments Off on The Laughing Policeman (1973) 05 July 2017

The Laughing Policeman

Studio: Kino

Theatrical Release: December 20, 1973

Blu Ray Release: October 18, 2016

Director: Stuart Rosenberg 

Review by James Klein

When Dirty Harry hit theaters back in 1971, there was a flood of gritty, police thrillers that overran theaters during the 70’s. Films like The Seven-Ups, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Fuzz, Shaft, Serpico, and McQ were all semi-hits and heavily influenced by the Clint Eastwood classic. The Laughing Policeman was one of those films, even taking on the same city landscape as Dirty Harry; San Francisco. 

The Laughing Policeman opens up with one hell of a beginning; a man is followed from subway to bus by what appears to be a police officer until another, unseen stranger with a machine gun annihilates everyone on the bus until it crashes where the unseen murderer escapes and runs away. Walter Matthau stars as Jake Martin, a police lieutenant whose called on to the scene to find out his partner was one of the eight people murdered on the bus. His captain puts Larson (a young Bruce Dern) on the case with Jake and forces the two men to work together. Despite their differences, these two must figure out who killed one of their own while tracking down the villain on the seedy side of San Francisco. 

The Laughing Policeman is different than the other police thrillers that were released at the time in that the film shows police procedures such as cleaning up crime scenes, interrogating suspects, going over clues with their other fellow officers, all trying to figure out who the killer is. While it may not be action oriented, it was a breathe of fresh air to see a more realistic film in detailing what detectives go through. 

But one of the biggest flaws in The Laughing Policeman is that the film’s plot quickly turns convoluted and confusing as the case gets mixed in with an older case Jake worked on two years prior that he was never able to solve. There are also several subplots that go nowhere or just suddenly end such as Jake’s troubled family life and mistress, Hell’s Angels who may be helping the police, and his murdered partner’s personal life. I couldn’t help but think about the overrated Michael Mann film Heat in that the movie has several subplots that mean absolutely nothing, serving no purpose to move the film’s plot line along. The film is based on a novel so I can only assume the screenplay by Thomas Rickman (Everybody’s All-American) was just too literal and he tried to fit everything from the novel into the film. 

Under the direction of Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke and The Amityville Horror) he was able to shoot on location in San Francisco showing all the seedy parts such as porn theaters, gay clubs, and shady hotels. Rosenberg also fills his film with some great character actors such as Louis Gusset Jr, Anthony Zerbe, Joanna Cassidy, Val Avery , Paul Koslo and Mario Gallo. While I wasn’t entirely certain what was going on with the film’s often confusing plot, I wasn’t bored thanks to the performances. If I was going to criticize any of the performances it would shockingly be Matthau who comes off as bored and tired. 

Kino Lorber’s blu ray presentation looks decent but is nothing special. Skin tones look natural and the dull colors actual work for the film however the picture never seemed as sharp as it should look. There is some noticeable print damage and scratches (notably the opening) that take away from the picture quality. The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix is fine and I never had an issue hearing dialog. There isn’t a whole lot of action so while there isn’t a 5.1 sound remix, it wasn’t missed. This sound mix does it’s job, no complaints.  

Film Historians Lou Pfeiffer, Eddy, Friedfeld, and Paul Scrabo provide an audio commentary track regarding the production and history of the film. There is a short interview with actor Paul Koslo who provides an amusing story about when he first met the two stars of the film. There is an unnecessary animated image montage with pictures and publicity material and finally the theatrical trailer that makes the film all the more interesting and thrilling than it actually is. 

The Laughing Policeman is a missed opportunity that had potential in being a classic but falls short. It’s not terrible and can be a somewhat above average time waster but I expected better given the stars and director involved in the film. 

Movie and Blu Ray Rating: ★★½☆☆ 


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