Thursday, April 10, 2008

Movie: The Laughing Policeman (1974)

Flipping channels the other day, I stumbled onto the middle of The Laughing Policeman. After three minutes I thought, “It’s been too long since I’ve seen this. Time to watch it again from the beginning.”

Policeman is one of the great underrated procedurals, a movie with an unerring eye and ear for detail. Screenwriter Tom Rickman skillfully transfers the action of the award-winning Sjöwall/Wahlöö novel from Sweden to San Francisco. Walter Matthau leads the investigation into a massacre on a public bus, a task complicated by the fact that his own partner is one of the victims. Bruce Dern is the callous detective new to the detail who slowly breaks through Matthau’s shell.

Three random observations:

1. It was filmed in a San Francisco still in the shadow of the Zodiac killings. Tremendous location work. Every aspect of the city’s life at the time – hippies, political revolutionaries, Mitchell Brothers-style sleaze – is on display. For crime drama, nothing beats the city by the bay.

2. In 1973 and ’74, Matthau consecutively appeared in Charley Varrick, Policeman, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, which as some of you know is the Official Vince Greatest Movie Ever Made™. That’s a stupendous streak of winners. Especially since Matthau’s acting wasn’t stylized. No matter what side of the law his characters were on, Matthau played guys who worked for a living.

3. I think the title was meant ironically.