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The Laughing Policeman
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Laughing Policeman More at IMDbPro »

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38 out of 41 people found the following review useful:

Long-time San Franciscan looks at the city in this movie.

Author: emp from Bellingham, WA
30 July 2001

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.

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21 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Unjustly obscure police depiction

Author: Poseidon-3 from Cincinnati, OH
5 November 2003

For some reason, this crime drama is almost completely overlooked. Even though it has it's faults, it is mostly a terrific examination of a police investigation. (In fact, in Australia, it was titled "Investigation of a Murder" which is far more apt a title than what it is here.) Matthau plays a police detective whose partner has been gunned down in a mass murder aboard a city bus. He is paired with Dern to find out if there's a connection between the massacre and the policeman's presence on the bus. They form an uneasy alliance (due to their clashing personalities and styles of working) and attempt to solve the baffling case. Gossett makes a strong impression as a fellow detective, though his character sort of drifts out of the picture at some point. Crosby and Cassidy have small, early roles as women who were affected by the murders. What's brilliant about the film is the wondrous verisimilitude and almost complete authenticity of the settings and performances. Only occasionally, can someone be caught "acting". Most of the time, the camera acts in an almost documentary fashion, eavesdropping on the various events and conversations. This type of gritty, realistic, matter-of-fact film is simply not made anymore today. The comparatively simple bus massacre is more striking and vivid than any of the overdone action scenes that litter all of today's films. There's a stark quality to the production that fits it well. Where the film strays is in it's endless cop vignettes which don't always have anything to do with the plot and which distract from, rather than enhance, the story. It's as if the writers tried to include too much from the source novel and wound up muddying the waters of the primary story. This also makes the film hard to follow at times. What's priceless is the display of the unmistakably tacky clothes and furnishings of the 1970's. There are also amusing glimpses into the San Francisco gay bar scene with real patrons displaying their faces (sometimes made up in drag) before the camera. Matthau says little in the film, but holds the attention with his various personal demons and conflicts. He chews gum incessantly and listens to standards on his radio to keep his emotions in check. Dern, as a more lively sort, is a great counterpoint and holds his own nicely. The mystery winds up being not all that big a mystery at all, but there's still a decent payoff with a "French Connection-esquire" car chase through San Francisco.

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12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Worth seeing

Author: Trent333 (j_overbeck@hotmail.com) from California, US
7 July 2001

Not as bad as the other comments would suggest, "The Laughing Policeman" is a police procedural mystery that lacks the spark of great thriller genre films. What this does have is some very good acting, especially from the lead players, and a decent script with interesting characters. The plot does get a little convoluted near the end and the action is inspired by better films, but it is worth a watch. I'd give it a mild recomendation.

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14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

The Laughing Policeman

8/10
Author: ashleyallinson from Toronto
8 February 2005

This sullen, violent police drama is as detailed an investigation as you will find on film. The opening scene of The Laughing Policeman is extremely tense and sets the tone for a Dirty-Harry-style flick that delivers one of Matthau's moodiest performances. Basically, a mass murder takes place on a San Francisco bus, and we find out that a policeman was one of the victims. He turns out to be Matthau's late partner. Bruce Dern is assigned to be his new partner, working with Matthau, a conflict of interest, to find out why this SFPD detective was on the bus in the first place. Their subsequent relationship is a play the standard, portrayed in the Laughing Policeman as "mute cop/bad cop". So, teams of gritty cops (a young Lou Gossett) meander through the roughest neighborhoods of San Francisco bullying pimps, pushers, hip drag queens and sidewalking street-wheelers in an attempt uncover what turns out to be a very complex underworld fraternity. The purpose (seeing as this plays as a Matthau character study), to quell Matthau's melancholic contribution to this Dirty Harry spin-off. It is more violent and much more precise than Dirty Hary but not as entertaining. A must see, however, for all Matthau fans.

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14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

From the golden age of urban American film

Author: Harry Nagle from New York
23 June 2002

From a period before marketing departments and focus groups took over the movie industry and began pumping out formulaic happy-ended regurgitated baby food, The Laughing Policeman offers gritty urban drama, acted by the great character actors of the day, actors that filled out such classics as The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon...

It's shortcomings are there, to be sure, but as a stylistic gem - as a sample of the type of movies they just don't or can't make anymore, it's worth watching. Matthau is as angry and as serious as you've ever seen him - a performance sterner that even the MTA traffic official in The Taking of Pelham 123.

There is no formula here - no overbearing Sargent hanging over the detectives, no goofing off in the office downtown to lighten things up. No romantic interest or hot sex scene crammed in between bullets.This is reality, harsh and complicated - if you can handle it, that is.

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

I wish more cop movies were like this.

8/10
Author: kelberto from New York
10 January 2002

I happened upon this movie the other night by accident, and I loved it. I got hooked early on by the way the police in this film are portrayed as real human beings, with real foibles and weaknesses and prejudices. Definitely worth a viewing for anyone who knows anything about movies.

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15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

I was there

9/10
Author: chiefehrman from United States
6 March 2006

I was in the navy at the time and I had just came back from Treasure Island and was coming through the bus terminal and I watched them make this movie. I was there for the when the opening scene where the Chinese guy was playing the pinball machine and ran to catch the bus. I also saw the SWAT scene be filmed. But on top of that it was a good movie and Bruce Dern was excellent. I would recommend this movie to anyone who just wants a good fun movie to watch. I did find it funny where the Mission St Bus finally ended up too. I loved San Francisco and still do to this day. Hollywood just don't make them like this anymore. It brings back good memories.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Slow thriller but still a good movie!

6/10
Author: henrydeluca from United States
22 December 2011

Jake Martin (Walter Mattau) investigates massacre that took the lives of eight people on a city bus. One of those victims was Jake's partner, Detective Evans, who was supposed to be called in sick. The question is: what was Detective Evans doing on the bus when the shooting occurred? Jake's colleagues: Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern), James Larrimore (Lou Goessett Jr.) help him on the cast leading to various places throughout San Francisco

"The Laughing Policeman" is a police procedural film that runs at a slow pace, which made it difficult to follow sometimes especially with the leads the characters have on the case. This bothered me a bit - maybe it has something to do with my generation's attention span? But the slow pace allowed us as viewers to see police procedural of the early 70s. While today's police procedural films (and TV shows) rely on technology to aid on a case, back then it seem that the police will take anything necessary to get the bad guy in; relying on gut feeling. We also get to know about the characters' lives in their police work - how they hate their job while going after the killer.

"The Laughing Policeman" is worth watching despite of the slow pacing. The actors who play their roles have done a great job getting the audiences' attention to the scene. The plot will keep you guessing until the end.

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9 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Not even close

4/10
Author: birck from Philly
19 September 2008

On the strength of Walter Matthau's ability with a character, the strong cast list, and the original Swedish crime novel-which was excellent-I watched the whole thing, unfortunately. As someone else on this forum noted, it works well for about the first 15-20 minutes, then decays into pointlessness. The main character's partner, played by Bruce Dern, is brought up short repeatedly when he makes wrong moves with witnesses, or says the wrong thing, so often that I expected an explosion. Which never came, and that thread finally went nowhere. A meeting with a group of Hell's Angels went nowhere, at least for the story. I could handle the dated costumes and social norms, but after an hour or so, it seemed as if that's all the film had to offer-a tour of SF's colorful corners in the Haight-Ashbury era, with a tacked-on murder mystery that came to no satisfying conclusion. It isn't necessary for every film-made-from-a-novel to stick exactly to the original, word-for-word, but the only good part of this film was that first 15-20 minutes, which is transported fairly closely from Stockholm, where the original was set, to San Francisco. Once the bus has crashed, and the dead passengers have been identified, It goes rolling straight down Potrero Hill and into the Bay.

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

No Laughing Matter

7/10
Author: sol from Brooklyn NY USA
19 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(Some Spoilers) Parking his car just before the #14 bus reached the bus stop the killer calmly walks in takes a seat and assembles his semi-automatic "grease gun". Then without saying a word opens fire on the passengers and bus driver killing all but one of them, an elderly survivor later died at the hospital, on the spot as the bus crashed into a small Chinatown park. On the scene of the massacre is SFPD Let. Jake Martin, Walter Matthau, who after inspecting the victims of the "Death Bus" is shocked to find that one of them is Det. Dave Evens, Anthony Costello, is his partner! What was Evens doing on that bus?

Going to see his live-in girlfriend Kay Butler, Cathy Lee Crosby, Let. Martin finds that Evens who was out sick for the entire week. Telling her that he was on the Teresa Camerero case a case that was adjudicated almost two years ago? Teresa was murdered and her husband Henry, Albert Paulsen, who was tried for her murder but was found innocent in a court of law. What's even more ironic is that the star witness who got Henry off with the alibi that he was with him at the time of Teresa's murder was Gus Niles, Louis Guss! Who just happened to be one of those who were killed like Evens on bus #14!

Let. Martin and his new partner SFPD inspector Leo Larsen, Bruce Dern, are put on the "Death Bus" case and they painstakingly tie the Teresa Camerero murder to it. Not only that but that Det. Evens had a very personal relationship with Teresa and was on his own, without the go ahead from his police superiors, out to solve her murder and it was that very reason that lead to his death.

Slow moving but effective police/crime/drama with Let. Martin and Inspector Larsen as the oddest of odd partners with Martin not saying a word unless he absolutely has to. and Larsen never keeping his mouth shut for even a second. Going through the sleazy sex parlors and seedy bars nightclubs of San Francisco the two track down the killer but are unable to arrest him until he breaks the law again.

It turned that the killer was acting in concert with Niles to get Evens on the bus in order to murder him. We even see Niles acknowledged the killer as he entered the bus. What did happen was that Niles was double-crossed by the killer as he opened fire on everyone on board including him. Thus having Niles not around to finger him in case he later wanted to make a deal with the police in order to save his neck from ending up in the San Quinten gas chamber.

The ending of "The Laughing Policeman" is a bit overdone with a totally unnecessary car chase sequence as well as a repeat of the bus massacre that began the film. But this time around it was the killer, not the innocent passengers and bus driver, who got massacred.

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