35 user 21 critic

The Laughing Policeman (1973)

In San Francisco, one victim in a mass murder is a police detective. His partner and a new partner investigate in the city's seamy side.



(screenplay), (novel) (as Per Wahlhoo) | 1 more credit »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Insp. Leo Larsen SFPD
Insp. James Larrimore SFPD (as Lou Gossett)
Albert Paulsen ...
Henry Camerero
Lt. Nat Styner (Steiner on End Credits) SFPD
Insp. John Pappas SFPD
Kay Butler
Bobby Mow, Snitch
Nurse Monica, Beth's Roomate
Shirley Ballard ...
Grace Martin
William Hansen ...
Mr. Schwermer, Bus Vicitm
Don Borisenko ...
Det. Mike Collins (as Jonas Wolfe)
Duane Haygood, Drug Pusher
Louis Guss ...
Gus Niles / Andrew Medford - Bus Victim
Prostitute (as Lee McCain)


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 <davidc@atom.ansto.gov.au>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Race against time and a killer in See more »


Crime | Drama | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

23 January 1974 (Sweden)  »

Also Known As:

An Investigation of a Murder  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The same distinctive green station wagon with wood panels was used in multiple scenes as an "automobile extra" and appears throughout the film in background shots. See more »


When Larsen follows Henry Camerero into the back door of a gay bar, the sign outside it says "The Ramrod". However, when Camerero exits the bar through the front door a few minutes later, the sign above the door says "The Frolic Room". See more »


[repeated line]
Insp. Leo Larsen SFPD: Know what I mean?
See more »


Referenced in A Hard Day for Archie (1974) See more »


Serenade in Blue
Music by Harry Warren
Played on the radio in the car
See more »

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User Reviews

Long-time San Franciscan looks at the city in this movie.
30 July 2001 | by (Bellingham, WA) – See all my reviews

I saw this movie today for the Xth time. As usual, I liked it a lot. So I looked this movie up on imdb.com, to see what they had to say, and was surprised at their Summary for this movie: `Dreary, Empty-Headed Crime Drama.'

I beg to differ. I have always loved this movie. It was released in 1973. It is a perfect picture of San Francisco in the mid-70's. I was there and I recognize everything in it--people, places, and attitudes. This is the pre-AIDS, pre-Yuppie, free-wheeling, getting-used-to-it San Francisco that I loved.

The director (Jack Sommersby) has taken the usual poetic license with the locations, so that the No. 14 Mission bus miraculously goes to Chinatown, and the Transamerica Pyramid is a good view from the Transbay Bus Terminal, but never mind. Any long-time San Franciscan will recognize the sights.

Further, and even better, this is a movie of subtleties--perhaps that is why the IMDB reviewer found it dreary. We are not hit in the face with expository material. The dialogue is not used to describe what can be shown. Early in the movie, the police are confronted with a bus of dead people. Getting on the bus, nobody says `It stinks in here.' Instead, one of the policemen says to the medical examiner, who is smoking a cigar, `Blow some of that smoke over here.' And, without comment, the ME does so. That is how we know it stinks in the bus.

As the policemen look closely at the dead people on the bus, they find that one of them is a policeman. It is, in fact, Matthau's partner. But they never say to each other (and therefore to us) that this victim is a policeman. They show it only in their reactions. Someone says, `My God! It's Hansen!' or words to that effect. `What is he doing on a bus?' and other dialogue let us know that this man is a policeman.

This is a happy change from the tedious obviousness of movies that are full of lines like, `You know, Jack, you are a happy-go-lucky person. Your face shows it.' Jack sits there like the lump he is, looking neither happy nor unhappy. We have to believe the speaker, because the acting isn't going to give us this information. A good director would eliminate this line, and get some happy-face acting from Jack.

It is good to see a movie directed by someone who thinks we are smart enough to get the point without being hit over the head with it. The advice usually given to beginning writers is also good for experienced directors: Don't tell us. Show us.

The laughing policeman is Bruce Dern--new to homicide investigations, and without subtleties. He laughs a lot. Matthau is the old-timer, who never laughs. He is also not a subtle person, but he is at least cautious. They are the beagle puppy and experienced retriever of the world of murder. They are oil and water, definitely not blending.

The plot is absurd, but it hardly matters. It is the chase. It is the location. It is the ambience (dreadful, overused word, but there it is; it is the right word) that counts in this movie.

Finding it on TV is hard these days. I found it recently on Black Starz TV. Fortunately for us all, Lou Gossett, Jr. is in it, so it will show up on channels catering to African Americans. Hunt for it. It's worth it.

IMDB.com uses the 10-star rating system. Following their lead, I give it 5 stars for plot, and 9 stars for faithful depiction of a time and place.

39 of 42 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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