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A policeman is among the victims when the passengers of a late-night bus are machine-gunned. With only one semi- conscious survivor and no other witnesses, the detectives try to learn from the identities of the dead why this happened and who the killer could be. Climax includes excellent chase. Written by
David Carroll <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to Bruce Dern's autobiography, it was Walter Matthau's idea to have Dern, known mainly as a character actor, share top billing with him for this film--a gesture Dern was most grateful for. See more »
The Anthony Zerbe character is Lieutenant "Styner" according
to his desk nameplate, but "Steiner" in the closing credits. See more »
Admittedly, the pace of "The Laughing Policeman" is pretty slow, but this is a well plotted murder mystery that gets a lot of juice from the marvelous chemistry between investigating detectives Walter Matthau (as Jake Martin) and Bruce Dern (as Leo Larsen). The supporting cast is likewise excellent and full of familiar faces. Producer / director / uncredited screenwriter Stuart Rosenberg makes great use of San Francisco locations, and keeps viewers intrigued with the police procedural aspect to the tale. The violence is pretty potent, and there's a certain amusement in seeing detectives Martin and Larsen work their way through the seedier environments of SF.
As the movie opens, a cop named Evans (Anthony Costello) follows a man named Niles (Louis Guss) onto a city bus; soon, a character known to Niles gets on board and pumps several passengers full of holes, including Evans and Niles. Martin, who happened to be Evans' partner, gets newly paired up with Larsen to work the case as their superior (Anthony Zerbe) demands results.
What's a joy here is seeing this cast at work. Matthau and Dern contrast nicely; what we come to know about Martin is that despite having a home and family, he's pretty much devoted to his job. Louis Gossett Jr. is fun as one of their colleagues; also making appearances are Val Avery, Cathy Lee Crosby, Mario Gallo, Joanna Cassidy, Paul Koslo, Frances Lee McCain, Clifton James, Gregory Sierra, Warren Finnerty, Matt Clark, and Wayne Grace. Albert Paulsen ("The Manchurian Candidate") has the most interesting role seeing that he actually has next to nothing in the way of dialogue.
The movie may get a little repetitive as it comes full circle at the end, but taking everything into consideration it's a good and solid example of its genre.
Based on the novel "Den Skrattande Polisen" by authors Per Wahloo & Maj Sjowall.
Seven out of 10.
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