43 user 32 critic

The Laughing Policeman (1973)

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


Stuart Rosenberg


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




Cast overview, first billed only:
Walter Matthau ... Jake Martin
Bruce Dern ... Larsen
Louis Gossett Jr. ... Larrimore (as Lou Gossett)
Albert Paulsen ... Camerero
Anthony Zerbe ... Steiner
Val Avery ... Pappas
Cathy Lee Crosby ... Kay
Mario Gallo ... Bobby Mow
Joanna Cassidy ... Monica
Shirley Ballard Shirley Ballard ... Grace
William Hansen ... Schwermer
Don Borisenko Don Borisenko ... Collins (as Jonas Wolfe)
Paul Koslo ... Haygood
Louis Guss Louis Guss ... Gus Niles
Frances Lee McCain ... Prostitute (as Lee McCain)


A San Francisco city bus, with eight passengers and the driver, pulls out of a downtown bus station and moves through the city stopping once for a new passenger. The passenger, unseen above the chest, walks to the back of the bus pulls the pieces of a sub-machine gun from a tote bag, assembles them, and massacres the eight passenger and the driver. The bus crashes and the killer walks away. Driving onto the scene are homicide detectives Jake Martin (Walter Matthau), Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern) and James Larrinore (Lou Gosset). As they search the bus they find one of the bodies is that of Dave Evans (Anthony Costello), Martin's police partner. It is the search for the murderer and the reason for Evans' presence on the bus that pairs detective Martin and Larsen together. With the help of Evan's girlfriend Kay Butler (Cathy Lee Crosby), they determine that Evans was following leads to close a murder case which Martin, sixteen years on the force, was unable to solve two years previous. Thed ... Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The laughing policeman is never amused. See more »


Crime | Drama | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Though both men shared top billing, Matthau was paid $350,000 while Dern was only paid $35,000. In his autobiography Dern sarcastically stated his performance was apparently 10% that of Matthau's. See more »


In the morgue scene, early in the film, there are a few "corpses" breathing. On one corpse, the toes curl. See more »


Insp. Leo Larsen SFPD: [responding to his partner's one-word answers] Have you ever thought of having your own radio talk-show?
See more »


Referenced in My Erotic Fantasies (1976) See more »


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

User Reviews

Worth two looks
14 July 2008 | by brian-nestor-1See all my reviews

I just got back from San Francisco and decided to watch this again. To my surprise, I liked it much more the second time.

Make no mistake, this is not a great flick, but it is an interesting one. There are a ton of false leads in the beginning of the movie and we don't even get to the meat of the plot - the killer, for instance - until way into the running time. If you like logical and linear plots, this one will disappoint.

But there a couple of very good points. First, the ensemble cast is great. The range of characters keeps things interesting. Lou Gossett, Jr. gets a very meaty part before disappearing. Joanna Cassidy is also good in a brief role.

The highlight of the film is the relationship between Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern. Dern gets to play an early non-psycho but he is a total jerk. Yet by the end of the film you wind up liking him. Matthau is worse - he never smiles and is totally cut off from his fellow officers and his family. He can't even confront his teenage son. Watching these two make an uneasy truce and develop a relationship is what the movie really is about.

The bad news is that, except for the opening sequence, the action scenes are flat - not terrible, just flat. There are a lot of loose ends floating through the plot and characters disappear at random.

Perhaps most interesting is the parallel between this film's style and the Italian Giallo genre going on a the same time. The black gloved killer, the grim detective, even the plot holes would be right at place in an Argento movie from 1973, not a Hollywood film.

Worth two looks.

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Release Date:

23 January 1974 (Sweden) See more »

Also Known As:

The Laughing Policeman See more »


Box Office


$2,280,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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