Wednesday, January 04, 2017
The Laughing Policeman
Eight people are slaughtered on a San Francisco city bus by a black-gloved individual using a “grease gun.” Leading the investigation is Lieutenant Jake Martin (Matthau), who is nonplussed to discover one of the victims is his partner, Dave Evans, who was supposed to have been on vacation. A visit to Dave’s girlfriend Kay (Cathy Lee Crosby) reveals that Evans was secretly working one of Jake’s cold cases. Jake, who’s having problems at home (he and his wife sleep in separate rooms, and his 15-year-old son goes to porn theaters), is teamed up with a loquacious new partner, Leo Larsen, played charismatically by Bruce Dern (THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS).
Also in the cast are Lou Gossett Jr. (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN), Val Avery (BLACK CAESAR), Anthony Zerbe (HARRY O), Joanna Cassidy (BLADE RUNNER), Albert Paulsen (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE), Matt Clark (WHITE LIGHTNING), Gregory Sierra (BARNEY MILLER), Clifton James (Sgt. Pepper in the 007 films), Paul Koslo (MR. MAJESTYK), and Leigh French (THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR). The performances are quite good, particularly Gossett’s black sharpie, cool as a cucumber on the streets. Matthau’s taciturn mumbling and Dern’s motormouth charm is a winning combination.
Tom Rickman, later to write COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER and DEAD POETS SOCIETY, adapted one of Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall’s Swedish police procedurals about detective Martin Beck. Rickman’s dialogue is very good, and he and Rosenberg do a decent job constructing a complicated plot without over-explaining it to the audience. The bus massacre that opens the picture is marvelously suspenseful, and Rosenberg’s handling of the other action sequences is equally tactful.