The Laughing Policeman (1973) Poster

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Long-time San Franciscan looks at the city in this movie.
emp30 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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Unjustly obscure police depiction
Poseidon-35 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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From the golden age of urban American film
harry-15023 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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8/10
The Laughing Policeman
ashleyallinson8 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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Worth seeing
Trent3337 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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8/10
I wish more cop movies were like this.
kelberto10 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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9/10
I was there
chiefehrman6 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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8/10
70's crime drama that's one of a kind, Matthau style
PeterMitchell-506-56436418 February 2013
I've seen this movie only a few times, 4-5 throughout, I'd say. I loved how Matthau played serious in this. It's probably the only unfunny Matthau film I've seen, and this is definitely no comedy. This 70's film, with it's hard feel and vibe, is uniquely intriguing. Some nutter boards a bus, shoots down 8 people, one a police detective friend of cop, Matthau's. At the start this then alive detective was tailing some old guy, as I can remember, where obviously this has a bearing on his demise, otherwise the scene wouldn't be included in the film. What I loved, in this film, where about every exterior shot was shot in sunny weather, was the pairing of Matthau, and his new partner Dern, where he proves looks aren't everything, if you can act. Dern, playing tough here, who tends to infer violence if his suspects don't co-operate almost stole the show. One scene, has him getting into a confrontational scene with other cop, Lou Gossett Jnr, and he ever so smoothly backs down, provided a cool moment. We take the journey with Dern (who almost shared Matthau's dead partner's build, though the dead guy was better looking) and the gum chewing Matthau to find the cause of this slaughter. When questioning a pimp, as Matthau leaves, we hear a ho mumble "Pig". Matthau stops, looks around with angry intent. There's a couple of these unnerving moments from this actor's character, and it's not just in his work, though Dern came off better acting wise in this good solid crime flick, that will having you guessing why, where it's answer, will kind of thrown you into a one eighty, where you the viewer, have been really duped. We learn things about the dead cop, like how he was a bit of a creep, into things, other cops didn't know about, where some realizations start to surface. That's what makes a good crime thriller, though it doesn't have the logical of motives for the slaughter. Near it's end, if losing more faith as we do through the film to finding the killer and his reasons, our two hot shots resort to setting up this suspected killer in the same scenario as in the start. Another exhausting scene has Matthau and Dern climbing flights of steps to interrogate someone, where they stop mid flight to take a breather. Paul Koslo, again plays another loser character, who provides some info, who when questioned, has a tendency to smile all the time, and is not big on straight talk.
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7/10
An absorbing 70s crime drama.
Scott LeBrun5 May 2014
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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4/10
Not even close
birck19 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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7/10
No Laughing Matter
sol19 April 2005
Warning: 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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7/10
Worth two looks
brian-nestor-114 July 2008
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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7/10
Shooting Up A Bus
bkoganbing15 July 2006
One terrible night in San Francisco in the mid seventies, a man who had a terrible secret to hide and a high position from which to tumble from took a machine gun and massacred everyone on a city bus. Of course this gets all the SFPD Homicide Squad working on it.

Partnered together for convenience are Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern. Matthau's partner is one of the dead passengers and he's single minded in his pursuit. Dern and he don't really get along. I've a feeling they wouldn't have under normal circumstances, but they do manage to work together.

The Laughing Policeman is as one reviewer said is a nice view of San Francisco in the early seventies. All that seemed to be missing was Candlestick Park. I was in San Francisco in 2000 and I recognized a lot of it myself.

Matthau and Dern fill their roles well. Matthau is somewhat against type, a lot of the laconic humor that characterized him on screen is missing here. Dern is not the most admirable character in the world. He's a harbinger of what we later got on NYPD Blue with Andy Sipowicz. One would hope he might have grown in character over the years as Sipowicz did.

Anthony Zerbe heads the Homicide Squad and Lou Gossett, Jr. and Val Avery are also detectives working on this. They fit the police roles well.

Funny how life does imitate art. In just a few years Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone would be assassinated, there would be riots with verdict of that trial, and Jim Jones who had his operation in San Francisco before moving to Guiana and mass suicide. The real happenings for San Francisco made this bus shooting seem like nothing.
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6/10
Slow thriller but still a good movie!
henrydeluca22 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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5/10
I tried, I really tried
Pamsanalyst12 May 2005
Of the books in the Martin Beck series, this and Roseanna are the best at describing a lengthy police investigation, one in which it seems as if no progress is being made. As I recall, the killer was an important businessman trying to cover up the long ago, extremely brutal murder of a young woman. The cop who was killed on the bus had taken up the case in what today we call 'a cold case file.' This version repeats a bit of this,but from there it veers off into San Francisco, homosexuals, a laughing Bruce Dern ~~in the book, 'The Laughing Policeman' is the title of an ancient phonograph record~~, and the bonding between two detectives, a theme worn to death in later movies.

Matthau is properly rumpled, grumpy and unsmiling, but he is not Beck, who is one of the finest characters created in modern detective fiction. As one reviewer notes, the film is a pale "Bullitt' and it is McQueen who could have given us the definitive Beck.

The solving of the case in the book was large part teamwork, which we don't see here, and a small part luck. The case hinged on the misidentification of a car....this would be too dull unless it were done on Law and Order....and the work it took to track down the owner years later.

The film is gritty and makes us work to connect the dots, but it does not hold a candle to the book. Oddly James Ellroy used the same massacre idea in LA Confidential and when time came to make the film version, Curtis Hanson got it right.
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6/10
Bruce Dern...to the rescue!!!
nomoons1118 October 2010
Every time I find a Matthau movie I've never seen I eagerly wait to find it on DVD or some way I can watch it. He usually carries the whole movie on his back but in this case, he was dead flat to say the least.

This one was slow as marbles on a flat board. I mean the whole setup was painfully slow and missing parts that could have made this more interesting. They didn't delve too much into the dead cop's background, but just enough for you to wanna know more. What Cathy Lee Crosby's role in this is a mystery to me. She meant nuthin to it except she may have been a lesbian, or not. Could have been the dead cop's kinky girlfriend, or not.

Bruce Dern turns this one into something watchable. He's usually the quirky smarta#* in most of his roles and he's no different in this one but his lines are far and away the best in this missed opportunity. It amazes me he never got bigger roles than he did. He's such a fun actor to watch. He was a gem in this one.
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3/10
If you like being confused and bored- This is your movie......
davendes15 January 2006
Eight people are killed on a San Francisco bus by a greasegun-toting maniac, and one of the victims happens to be a cop who was supposed to be somewhere else. The combination of mass murder and losing one of their own sends the SFPD scrambling for quick answers, so they send out Bruce Dern and the dead policeman's former partner (Walter Matthau) to piece it all together.

OK, that covers the first 10-15 minutes of film, and it's the only part of this 2 hour fiasco that makes any bit of sense.

From this point on, the film turns into a jumbled, boring mess, filled with endless red herrings involving deviant sex, pimps, hookers, drug addicts and weirdos in general. No matter how closely you follow things and everything appears to lead nowhere, somehow the two detectives pull clues (and not very good ones at that) seemingly out of the air. This cyclical nonsense keeps rolling almost to the end, when finally, the policemen kinda/sorta/maybe think they have their man. In following the tone of all that's come before, the suspect conveniently makes a quick succession of unbelievably stupid moves to bring this impossible-to-follow disaster to a shoehorned-in conclusion.

As if all that's not bad enough, we get to see what would normally be a solid cast looking pretty weak. Matthau seems as utterly bored as the rest of us, Dern's usual maniacal glee gets twisted into goofiness, and everybody else ends up stuck being colorless backdrop.

I normally enjoy just about any gritty 70's police flick, but "The Laughing Policeman" doesn't even come close to making the grade. Please- Don't waste your time.
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6/10
The Seamy Underbelly of a Great Western City
romanorum110 July 2013
A short and pudgy man, aware that he is being tailed, makes a telephone call at the San Francisco bus terminal late at night. He and about seven others board a bus just before its departure. The fat man's eyes are on a tall, dark-haired fellow. The latter, despite all of the empty seats, sits next to an attractive nurse. An auto speeds past the moving bus and comes to a stop at the next bus stop. Wearing a brown trench coat and carrying a piece of luggage, the car driver boards the bus just in time. We do not see his face. There seems to be a slight acknowledgment from Fatman as Trench Coat walks past him to the rear of the bus. After he sits down Trench Coat dons on a pair of black gloves, zippering them up. From his luggage he removes and assembles a submachine gun ("a greaser"). As he stands up and aims his weapon, Fatman gets up and exclaims, "Not yet!" Ignoring him, Trench Coat fires away at all of the passengers, including Fatman, and the bus driver, killing them all except one, who will die shortly after. The bus crashes to a stop in Chinatown. Trench Coat exits the vehicle calmly and escapes.

The police eventually arrive; SFPD Sgt. Jake Martin (Walter Mathau) is shocked when he discovers the body of the tall, dark-haired fellow. That was his partner Detective Dave Evans. But he was supposed to be on leave, unless he was on a special assignment. But was he? Fatman on the bus was Gus Niles. What was his relation to the killer? Why was Evans being set up? What about the other victims? We recognize that will be in a film that mostly deals with police work in tracking down each of the murdered passengers in order to find clues. Although many of the passengers have sordid pasts, most of the police work will lead to dead ends. Along the way we see emphasis placed on the hospital emergency room treatment of the wounded. Also, we will see a swat team in action and see what happens when street people are shaken up by the cops. Whether Haight/Ashbury or Laguna Street or Chinatown or the ghetto, the neighborhoods will tell us something about the people and their lifestyles. There will be prostitutes, petty criminals, hippies, and motorcycle gangs.

Main leads include Insp. Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern) and Insp. James Larrimore (Louis Gossett Jr.). Larsen will be Martin's new partner. Martin has made it perfectly clear early on that he has little use for Larsen. And the feeling is mutual. There will even be some tension between Larsen and Larrimore. The latter will disappear from the movie with three-quarters of an hour left. Despite lack of support from their immediate superior, Martin and Larsen will have to unravel it all out and confront the bad guy. The climax almost seems unnecessary, although Martin did say that the police have to spook him out. But were the killer's last actions really obligatory? See the movie and find out. Positives are good acting and nice on-location shooting!
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6/10
More of a documentary than an action film
trudylyn4 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Police procedurals have always been a staple of fiction, film and TV in the US and Europe. There are many stand outs in the genre and this isn't one of them. Having said that, I will say that this movie is full of surprises and interesting directing and cinematography. The technical assistance provided by the San Francisco police department seems to have been tremendous, particularly in the scenes demonstrating evidence collection and the then-unfamiliar SWAT team. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some of the stunts and extra work were performed by serving officers. The original novel took place in Sweden and only two items in the film reference that origin, one submachine gun and one Volvo. The title refers to an antique novelty record that has a bit part in the novel but doesn't appear anywhere in the movie, unless it was included in the Muzak that Matthau's detective seems addicted to throughout the movie. Predating Kojak by a few months, Matthau's character is chewing gum and sucking on suckers throughout the movie in an attempt to keep from smoking. He almost gives in at one point, but tosses the pack back on the table in the den. This movie is significant in that it features sex throughout. Prostitutes, live nude performers, gay go-go boys, rough trade and cross-dressers and a token lesbian in knee-length clown socks and sandals who works as a nurse and lost her partner to the crime, just as Matthau's partner died. His dead partner also used his girlfriend to enact murderous bondage scenes which he photographed as part of his crime fetish. Matthau's character apparently has a sexless marriage while his daughter is wandering around braless in thin sweaters and his son is hanging around with the sticky raincoat crowd in a nudie "burlesque" theater. One of the victims in the film is found dead in her apartment sans clothing and Dern's character trips and almost does a push up off her body, her face just inches from his. Matthau's character wanders through it all, chewing gum and viewing it all almost impassively, with only a few moments of verbal indignation and frustration. The scenery is magnificent and cars alone are worth the price of admission. The fashions are irritating, as they were at the time and it is simply amazing how few people use seat belts. The plot is thin, and the denouement is silly, but in the end you could do worse for a couple of hours.
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2/10
Very disappointing to a fan of the book
billposer24 January 2010
This film is based on one of an excellent series of detective stories set in the authors' native Sweden. Much of the interest of the books is their setting. Although they have the usual virtues of good detective stories, they are also a commentary on modern life in Sweden. I was therefore eager to see this film when it came out.

Unfortunately, for inexplicable reasons the setting has been changed to San Francisco. This completely spoils it. Sometimes such a change is interesting or has no real effect, but in this case it destroys much of the interest of the film. We are left with a rather dull American police story.
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7/10
I wasn't laughing....or even smiling
helpless_dancer10 February 2002
I had trouble following what exactly was going on in this mixed up crime caper. Lots of cursing, screaming, and angst by the police as they go about tracking down a mad shooter in the streets of San Francisco was mostly what went on. I never figured out why the psycho went on his rampage, why the policeman laughed so much, or why I sat through the whole confusing picture.
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5/10
Slow, Twisted Plot, Dull
Bruce McGee8 June 2000
Film has a promising beginning, then it slows down to a crawl. Bruce Dern is interesting as a know-it-all detective who is assigned to work with Matthau after the death of his partner. There are so many twists in this plot that after several viewings, I still do not understand how the killer is discovered exactly. Maybe if I see it again...
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4/10
If the title is supposed to be ironic, it's the best joke in the picture...
moonspinner5528 October 2005
Walter Matthau looks mighty dour throughout this grim, convoluted, exasperating crime-file nonsense. A public bus massacre in San Francisco, which included a cop among its victims, is investigated by the force, and Matthau is saddled with new partner Bruce Dern (he hates him on sight, how's that for originality?). The details of the case make little sense and, although the dead-ends these cops follow might reflect real-life police business, they don't do much for a plot already messy with loose ends and too many characters (all of them sordid). This picture looks as bad as it plays, with muddy cinematography and pasty-faced actors. The ignorant plot is jammed with clichés, while Thomas Rickman's screenplay, adapted from a Swedish novel by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlööthe, never offers up a sardonic side to the madness. It's just violent TV made more violent for the movies. *1/2 from ****
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8/10
a fine police caper
tek-serivo26 December 2005
I caught this on a movie channel a couple weeks ago and knew that it was supposed to be pretty good, Dern plays the new partner of the cop whose partner is killed, and as the plot reveals it is connected to an old case his old partner was reinvestagating. It has a few good and unexpected twist that was highly enjoyable and a climatic end that was well executed.

The very last scene had me cracking up when the cop brings the guy in that looks like the boxer and Walter Matthau tells him that's 'it's a bit too late for that' and walks off.

overall 8/10.
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6/10
Hey man ... Can you dig it?
howdymax9 April 2005
This movie starts out with a bang up massacre on a San Francisco bus. Blood and guts all over the place. With that kind of start, I had high hopes, even though this isn't normally my kind of movie. (What a bummer). It degenerates into some convoluted mess that wanders all over the screen. Pimps, Black Panthers, deranged Viet Nam vets, etc. No story, but it is somehow all tied up with an unsolved case involving a kinky ex-college student.

Walter Matthau plays the lead dick, haunted by the unsolved dead girls murder. Bruce Dern, in a standout role plays his cynical partner who always manages to tick everybody off. The rest of the cast is rounded out by folks who graduated from 2nd string support roles to guest appearances on TV crime dramas. Old pros like Val Avery, Paul Koslo, Anthony Zerbe.

San Francisco looks as good as ever, but this flick is really dated. Hari Krishnas, big Afros, big ties. (Can you dig it man?) This one aged somehow in a way that Dirty Harry never did.

If you can stand the wide lapels and the tight pants - the short shorts and the headbands - watch it. It's not (heavy), but I wouldn't call it lightweight either.
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