The Laughing Policeman (1973)

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Police Detective Film  |   Run Time - 111 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Donald Guarisco

In many ways, The Laughing Policeman is the antithesis of the kind of cop-movie action thriller Clint Eastwood was perfecting with his Dirty Harry film series during the 1970s. This film is an entirely different ball of wax, downplaying action sequences and escapist thrills in favor of a realistic portrayal of police work. The storyline presents an unusually plausible detective scenario that is filled with dead ends, unexpected strokes of luck, and plenty of sleazy individuals trying to make a tragedy work in their favor. Screenwriter Tom Rickman presents the episodic scenario with skill, peppering it with plenty of profanely witty dialogue and believable street-level characters. Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern do an excellent job of creating flawed but humane policemen who often sacrifice the quality of their personal lives in their quest to solve crimes. Louis Gossett also turns in strong work an especially streetwise fellow cop. Stuart Rosenberg directs the film with a non-obtrusive sense of style, keeping the overall story low-key and gritty but bringing some flair to standout sequences like the opening machine-gun mass murder. All in all, The Laughing Policeman might be a bit too grim and languid for viewers who prefer action-oriented police dramas, but genre aficionados are likely to appreciate the film's no-nonsense portrayal of police work.