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Friday, October 14, 2011

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN (1973)

Long before the current craze for Scandinavian murder mystery novels, this Swedish police procedural was transplanted to San Francisco where its serial killer found a home among the changing social fabric of the day. Crudely megged by Stuart Rosenberg who seems to be aiming for frank realism, the story never comes together in a manner we can follow, and the little character vignettes don't add enough to the mix. (The film trots out youth, porn & gay subcultures as if they were circus oddities.) It’s left to the actors to gain our interest, but everyone seems slightly miscast. Walter Matthau lowers his considerable brow, chews gum & works hard to stay in a dour mood (the pic’s title is, er, ironic) while his new cagey partner (Bruce Dern) tries for seedy charm, but can’t get past the alarming hair color he’s been given. Lou Gossett has a bit of life to him, but he gets little screen time, and the baddies are an unpromising lot. If only Rosenberg was able to get some pace & excitement going on in the action set pieces he might have jump-started things. No such luck.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Matthau book-ended this tepid number with Don Siegel's twisty revenge masterpiece, CHARLIE VARRICK/’73 and Joseph Sargent’s solidly-crafted, audience-pleasing THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE/’74, another police procedural that gives off just the sort of tangy NYC vibe & suspense, thanks to Peter Stone’s winning script, we don’t get from San Fran in LAUGHING.

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