Archive for the ‘Walter Matthau’ Tag

The Laughing Policeman (1973)   Leave a comment

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An unknown man wielding an automatic weapon massacres the passengers on a city bus. San Francisco detectives Walter Matthau, Bruce Dern, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Val Avery must use their expertise and the crime scene evidence to find the killer. Complicating the investigation is the fact that one of the victims is Walter Matthau’s partner. The detectives, led by Matthau hit strip clubs, stoolies, and drug dealers in search of the elusive spree killer. Along the way they butt heads with their lieutenant, the always impressive Anthony Zerbe, and the criminal low-lifes they see every day. The film focuses on Matthau and his new partner, Dern, who has a talent for rubbing people the wrong way. From the beginning the two clash as Matthau refuses to communicate and Dern, new to the unit, wants to jump into the fray.

We see the differences in the styles of the two men as the story progresses. Matthau’s ranking officer leads and instructs naturally while Dern’s aggressive nature puts him at odds with the rest of the squad. They find common ground in their desire to close the case and even though they have different reasons for doing so, it works. Dern wants to solve the murders to prove himself to his new partner and squad and check another case off the list. Matthau has a gut feeling these murders relate to an old unsolved case and feels guilty because his obsession with it may have led his partner to risk his life to solve it. Never close to his partner, Matthau’s feelings made me think of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade toward Miles Archer in The Maltese Falcon.
“When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”

Since they’re cops and this is the 70s, Matthau and Dern disobey orders and follow their own instincts. While the case serves as the central point of the film, it’s the people we want to watch. Chock full of talented character actors, The Laughing Policeman has that cool 70s vibe that says these actors look like they do because of DNA, not teeth whitening and plastic surgery. Along with those I’ve mentioned the cast includes Cathy Lee Crosby, Albert Paulsen, Joanna Cassidy, Clifton James, and Gregory Sierra. The seedy joints and their back room denizens give the film a realistic look and the acting let’s you relax and ease into the story.

Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Pope of Greenwich Village) directed The Laughing Policeman by standing back and letting his stellar cast go to work. As American as the story seems, it comes from the Swedish novel Den skrattande polisen by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. The Laughing Policeman made me smile. It starred Bruce Dern and Walter Matthau, had a compelling story, complex characters, and some great lines. At one point Bruce Dern comments on a suspect’s influence by saying “…probably got enough juice to get a sodomy beef reduced to following too close.”

How can you not like a movie like that?

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Charley Varrick (1973)   Leave a comment

Small-time cropduster, Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau), his wife, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott), and his partner, Harmon (Andy Robinson) figure they’ve been working for scraps long enough, so they decide to rob a small, local bank. Things don’t go as planned. When the robbery turns violent, Varrick has to devise a plan to extricate himself from a deadly situation.

Varrick and fellow thief Harmon (Andy Robinson) return to his trailer home after their getaway to discover the simple bank they’ve robbed is not so simple. What happens next pits Varrick’s smart amateur against a cadre of professionals led by baddies Joe Don Baker and John Vernon. Of course the police want Varrick too, but the law, led by sheriff, William Schallert and detective, Norman Fell don’t concern him. John Vernon’s oily organized crime honcho and Joe Don Baker’s nasty hit man do.

Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry) directs Charley Varrick without flourish. His spare style suits the material and we watch as Varrick maneuvers deftly and makes it up as he goes along. He’s not a martial arts expert or a master of disguise, but he makes some cunning moves. You can see the wheels turning in a couple of scenes when Varrick has to think on his feet. He’s the self-taught version of Robert Redford’s character in Three Days of the Condor. Both men are thrown into dangerous positions and both maneuver using brains instead of brawn. Stalwart character actors abound in Charley Varrick. Sheree North and Woody Parfrey round out the cast of usual suspects and the entire film has that cool and gritty 70s feel. Varrick’s motto, ‘the last of the independents’ rings true. Charley Varrick, Lonely Are the Brave, and Absence of Malice belong in the ‘little guy goes it alone’ film hall of fame. All feature men caught, for entirely different reasons, in tight spots and let us watch as they try to escape. The results differ, but you can’t help but root for them to come out on top. The quirky characters, complex plot, and solid acting in Charley Varrick make me wish they still made 70s films.

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