Released by: Kino Studio Classics
Released on: October 18th, 2016.
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Cast: Walter Matthau, Bruce Dern, Louis Gossett Jr., Cathy Lee Crosby, Joanna Cassidy
Year: 1973 Purchase From Amazon
Based on the 1968 Martin Beck novel of the same name written by Swedish authors Maj Sjöwalland Per Wahlöö, 1973’s The Laughing Policeman takes place in San Francisco. The city is being terrorized by a man in an overcoat shooting people down at random on city buses. When his latest attack leaves eight people dead Detective Sergeant Jake Martin (Walter Matthau) is sent to investigate the crime scene where he learns that his partner Evans (Anthony Costello) is among the dead. Oddly enough, a man from Jake’s past - Gus Niles (Louis Guss) – who has ties to an unsolved case was also on the bus when this happened.
The SFPD assigns Jake a new partner in the form of a young man named Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern). Together they start putting together the pieces of the puzzle and learn that Evan was working on a case of his own, off the books, one that ties into the identity of the gunman.
Gritty and grounded in some fairly bleak realism, The Laughing Policemen is a solid seventies cop thriller that is tightly directed and really well acted. Stuart Rosenberg keeps the pacing on track, going quick enough so that we don’t lose interest but offering us enough character development along the way so that the people that populate the story seem real enough to matter. The best example of this is Matthau as our lead. As the case plays out we learn that he’s got trouble at home to deal with – he and his wife seem to have intimacy issues, his kids don’t seem to want much to do with him. This affects him on the job, at least indirectly. He seems like a beaten man and who better than Matthau, with that haggard face and that almost indifferent demeanor, to play a character like this? He plays the role straight, this isn’t a comedic picture, and he does very well in the part. Likewise, Bruce Dern as the young upstart at his side is also really solid here, with supporting work from Louis Gossett Jr., Val Avery, Don Borisenko, and Anthony Zerbe as their fellow cops filling in the blanks quite nicely.
The movie does deal in gay stereotypes, which is typical of movies like this from this era, but never seems to be intentionally nasty about it, merely dated and a product of its time. That said, as a time capsule of sorts the film is pretty remarkable. It serves not only as a taut thriller but also as a tour of San Francisco’s underbelly, showing off gay and straight strip clubs, dive bars, grubby diners and illegal gambling halls – all of which seem to be crawling with crooks, street walkers, pimps and crazy people. As far as locations for semi-seedy crime movies go, seventies San Francisco looks like it could have given seventies New York City a serious run for its money.
The Laughing Policemen is a little longer than it needs to be, but otherwise this picture comes together really nicely. It’s a tough and violent film, but it is gripping and well made.
Kino's AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.85.1 widescreen transfer of The Laughing Policeman offers a solid picture on this 25GB disc. The transfer has good color reproduction and is frequently quite impressive with its detail, although occasional fluctuations in contrast sometimes leave things looking just a tad blown out. At the same time, the image retains an appropriately gritty, grainy feel to it that works really well in the context of the story. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and black levels are usually fine if occasionally a little grey. There's virtually no print damage here to note and aside from some minor compression artifacts that do pop up in some of the night scenes, things look really solid on this disc.
The English soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono format, is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. The musical bits sound very good here and pack some welcome punch, while dialogue stays well balanced and easy to follow. There's good depth here and the sound effects have good weight behind them, gun shots in particular. Again, this is an improvement over the previous release. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided here.
The main extra on the disc is a commentary track with film historians Lou Pfeiffer, Eddy Friedfeld, and Paul Scrabo. For the most part, this is a solid dissection of the picture and those who made it, even if it does sort of run out of steam a bit towards the end. There are some interesting observations here about the characters, the locations and some of the plot devices employed as well as Stuart Rosenberg’s skills behind the camera. There’s a lot of focus here on the performances, particularly Bruce Dern and Walter Matthau, but it covers a good bit of ground and is worth listening to.
The disc also includes an eight minute interview with one the film’s stars, Paul Koslo, who speaks about what it was like working with his different co-stars on the film, how he got along with the different players and what it was like working on the picture.
Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature (as well as bonus trailers for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Report To The Commissioner, Busting and Fuzz), a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
The Laughing Policeman is a product of its time and as such it maybe isn’t so politically correct but the film is pretty tense and quite well made. The cast here is great, there are some pretty memorable and exciting set pieces and Kino has done a great job bringing this underrated thriller to Blu-ray in nice shape and with some good extras too. Recommended for fans of gritty seventies cop thrillers!
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!