single person who visits this site fancies themselves a film
fan. From the nameless readers who don’t interact to
the regular Chewers on the Boards to every single person on the staff –
we love film. We live for it. We watch as much of
it as we can. But, sadly, we’ll never be able to see
everything. We’ve missed a lot over the years and
sometimes we’ll miss one of the big ones. One of the
classics or cult favorites that has had everyone talking and
proclaiming their love for years. That’s what this
column is all about – the big ones that we‘ve
missed. Every week a different member of the CHUD Crew is
gonna play their own little game of catch-up and tell you about it
here. Maybe it’ll get you to rewatch an old favorite
you haven’t seen in years, maybe it’ll get you to
catch up on your own list of shamefully neglected films.
Either way, we hope you enjoy it.
To be fair, I haven’t ignored this film. It’s just one I had always been meaning to catch one day but never found the time or didn’t have access to it. When it was released in ’85 I was 8, so I completely missed its theatrical run. And by the time it showed up on VHS it wasn’t readily available to me: living in a small village in England in the late 80’s – early 90’s the films my store had were older fare or bigger titles, Star Wars, Flesh Gordon (yes, Flesh) or Home Alone.
So here I am 25 years after its release, and I finally got the chance to watch the film belonging to the movie poster I had on my wall all those years ago (along with some other, less fortunate titles).
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) – Buy it from CHUD
Upon its release, a contemporary reviewer called it “a rich man’s Miami Vice“, and I can see what they were talking about. I don’t agree with it but I understand the point. A cop drama with some young-ish guys, car chases and gunfights, all to the tune of a $6 million budget – it’s a thin comparison but not a completely outlandish one. The music, which is deliciously 80’s in the good way (a very rare thing), certainly helps place the movie squarely around the same area as Miami Vice, but that TV show was a vacant (although at times fun) bit of work. That is not the case with To Live and Die in L.A..
Let me cut to the chase: I loved it. Granted I’m a sucker for gritty cop dramas so this didn’t surprise me, I just loved how well it was shot and was surprised by how violent it was. All I had ever seen of this film was a trailer, so I wasn’t prepared for people getting shot in the face, shot in the man parts, or even the proud display of William Petersen’s man parts! Nudity, violence and language… pretty much sums up the entire cop genre from that time, but with L.A. I felt it all worked instead of being a detriment.
Friedkin’s handling of the actors and his action sequences needs to be applauded. While Petersen and Willem Dafoe are great, the supporting players surprised me with how well-defined they were. John Turturro, Dean Stockwell and Steve James (I couldn’t believe he was in it, a great surprise) all were fantastic. John Pankow as Petersen’s partner was equally good, playing the “more” straight cop to Petersen’s on-the-edge rogue, and Darlanne Fluegel was as cute as all clothes off. I loved it.
The wrong-way car chase managed to live up to the hype. Friedkin said he had fallen asleep at the wheel once and wound up in oncoming traffic. That memory was etched in his mind and ever since he had been wanting to use it in a film, so when L.A. came along he had the perfect conduit for it – plus he wanted to top his own French Connection chase. It’s frantic and well edited, and the car-mounted camerawork adds to the tenseness of the scene. Too often those kinds of shots are simply to show off the filmmakers’ ability to use that type of apparatus, with little regard to how it will actually play out in the movie. Here Friedkin used it well by not relying too much on it, and I thought the entire sequence was well paced.
Overall To Live and Die in L.A. was a great ride and I ended up loving the movie. If I had seen it all those years ago I still would have liked it, but I don’t know if the effect would have been as strong. The further away from the 80’s film era we get the better some things look when you revisit them. Some age horribly or weren’t good to begin with, but I don’t think that’s the case with To Live and Die in L.A.. I felt the fact it was so heavily rooted in that decadent era was a main attraction that really worked for the film, and I’m overjoyed to have finally seen the film after having it hang on my wall for so long.
I may have been late to the party with this one, but I still ended up loving it.