Monday, December 18, 2023

The Laughing Policeman and Warning Shot

The Laughing Policeman (1973). Walter Matthau starred in two of the finest crime dramas of the 1970s: Charley Varrick (1973) and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). Sandwiched between those classics, he made The Laughing Policeman, a solid crime picture steeped in urban grittiness. Matthau plays Jake Martin, a San Francisco police detective investigating the brutal murders of a bus driver and his passengers. The case becomes personal quickly when one of the victims turns out to be Jake's partner, who was looking into one of Jake’s old unsolved cases on his own. While the police department mounts a large scale effort to find the killer, Jake follows his own leads--while also dealing with his meddling new partner Larsen (Bruce Dern). The Laughing Policeman differs from most Matthau movies in that its protagonist is something of an enigma. He ignores his wife and teenage son, sleeps in a separate room in his home, and has no close friends at work. He wasn't even close to his dead partner. He definitely doesn't want a bigoted, violent, loud-mouthed new partner--but his evolving relationship with Larsen is the best part of The Laughing Policeman. Bruce Dern injects life into every frame and counterbalances Matthau's low-key performance. Director Stuart Rosenberg, perhaps best known for Cool Hand Luke, effectively contrasts the colorful neon lights of the city with its dour underside. The Laughing Policeman was based on a 1968 Swedish novel written by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. It was one of ten books featuring detective police detective Martin Beck, who was renamed for the film adaptation. 

Warning Shot 
Released during the final season of The Fugitive, Warning Shot features David Jansen as L.A. police detective Tom Valens, who kills a burglar in self-defense outside an apartment complex. The problem is that the “thief” was actually a prominent physician and no one can find the gun that Valens claims he saw. When a politically ambitious D.A. charges Valens with manslaughter, the veteran detective sets out to clear his name. Although released theatrically, Warning Shot looks and feels like an above-average made-for-TV movie. Many of the supporting players were working mostly in television at the time. Some of their appearances amount to little more than cameos, such as Walter Pidgeon as a lawyer, Eleanor Parker as the victim’s non-grieving widow, and Joan Collins as Valens’ estranged wife. Janssen is fine as the world-weary detective, but it's the kind of the role he played often in his career. George Grizzard nearly steals the film as a self-proclaimed ladies man who may be involved in shady dealings and Stefanie Powers has some good scenes with Janssen. At its best, Warning Shot has a late 1960s L.A. vibe reminiscent of Harper. It's reasonably engrossing, but the cast is the best reason to see it. 


Paul Dionne said...

Rick, my wife and I just watched Earthquake (1974) over the weekend, and Matthau as the plaidly unmatched extremely inebriated dancer in thebackground at the earthquake is, well, something else -

Mike Doran said...

Fun Fact (sort of):
The Laughing Policeman was based on one of a long series of Swedish police novels, written by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, who were married in real life (my keyboard here doesn't do diacritical marks; if you can correct me here, by all means do so).
Matthau's character in the books was named Martin Beck, and all the characters in the film were Americanized.
There were ten Martin Beck novels all told; the series came to a premature end with Per Wahloo's death in 1975, at age 49 (his widow stopped writing fiction at that point).

Rick29 said...

Mike, I mentioned most of that in that review above :)

Rick29 said...

Matthau was billed as Walter Matuschanskayasky in Earthquake.

The Metzinger Sisters said...

Both of these sound interesting, although I admit that having not seen Walter Matthau in a crime film before (not counting Charade) it is hard to imagine him in a gritty drama! He has such a comical face.