To Live And Die In L.A. is one of of William Friedkin‘s greatest films, with an incredible soundtrack from the effervescent Wang Chung, now getting a Blu-ray release for the first time in the UK, and while only a DVD was available for review, the great memories of this movie are flooding back and I might just have to make that purchase.
US Secret Service agent Jimmy Hart (Michael Greene) is due for retirement, which means that he’s going to get offed – okay, it’s not the most original idea for a storyline, but it sets off a fabulous revenge thriller where his partner, base-jumping fan Richard Chance (CSI‘s William Petersen), goes running across town – sometimes driving, badly, even if there is a reason, in a bid to track down the main baddie, bank note counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe – with a look of evil menace about him, as always), who’s dealing with austerity in his own way by printing more dodgy money than you can shake a stick at.
Throw into this mix John Turturro as Cody, a baddie who ends up in the clink over fencing some of the cash; John Pankow as Chance’s new partner, John Vukovich, helping him crack the case; Darlanne Fluegel as stripper and occasional bed-partner Ruth, giving our lead important tip-offs, the brilliant Dean Stockwell as dodgy attorney for the defence Bob Grimes, stating that if he didn’t work for Masters then someone else would; and as Jeff, one of the heavies, the late Steve James, who sadly died of pancreatic cancer in 1993 aged just 41.
Another element which really should count as another cast member is the soundtrack, which is to die for. Rewatching this, every single song hit home as fresh as it was when I first saw this, particularly the title track and Wake Up, Stop Dreaming. We have Wang Chung to thank for this, and while their biggest hit in the UK came in 1984 at No.21 for Dance Hall Days, I would imagine most people remember them for 1986’s Everybody Have Fun Tonight, even if it only managed No.76. In addition, fans of The Breakfast Club will also recall the hallway-chasing tune of theirs, Fire In The Twilight.
With a superb car chase, across a railway and down into the viaduct – and one which clearly engrossed me so much that I ended up dreaming that night I was in the passenger seat of a friend who was driving like a madman around a town in Europe, somewhere, overall, this film heralds a superb cast with no-one turning in a bad performance, and in fact, everyone looks so young in this!
It’s also classed as an 18-certificate, but I think if it was re-rated today, it would be a 15-cert, despite it being fairly graphic at times.
Interestingly, DVDs normally suffer from 4% speed-up as they run at 25fps (like PAL VHS), compared to a Blu-rays (and film’s) 24fps, but this DVD runs the exact same length as the film should. That’s good news, for sure.
Note that the timings are taken from the DVD, so will come across as slightly longer on the Blu-ray as DVDs suffer from 4% speedup due to the frame rate.
Also interestingly, Dafoe’s character is always referred to as Rick Masters, yet he’s credited as Eric Masters, a version never brought up in the movie.
The film is presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition. The original print doesn’t come across as perfect, for a 30-year-old film, but that’s outside of Arrow’s control in the mastering, so it’s as good as it’s going to get. Compared to a Blu-ray, the DVD looks a bit soft, as you’d expect.
The audio is in DD5.1, and there’s great surround sound for ambience and gunshots, plus Wang Chung’s cracking score.
The extras are as follows:
- Taking A Chance (20:41): The first of five brand new interviews comes from William Petersen, aka Richard Chance, who talks about how director William Friedkin wanted relatively unknown actors for the movie, as he did previously for The French Connection, when neither Gene Hackman nor Roy Schneider were hugely well-known.
a fair number of the scenes were shot with improvisation, and also when the actors assumed they were just doing a rehearsal.
- Doctor For A Day (8:52): Actor Dwier Brown, who plays the doctor (not THAT Doctor 😉 ) This was his first feature film role, so he tells of how he loved Friedkin’s unconventional style.
- Renaissance Woman In L.A. (14:56): An interview with Debra Feuer, who plays Masters’ squeeze, Bianca Torres, and also talks about the director’s style, where he would let the camera run and pick up however the cast acted so nothing was missed, plus her character’s bisexual aspect.
- So In Phase: Scoring the film (12:44): Composers Wang Chung (aka Jack Hues and Nick Feldman) on how they got into creating the soundtrack for the movie, including the fact that Friedkin was using an existing track of theirs, Wait, as a temporary track for the film, which ended up being used for the closing credits.
- Wrong Way: The Stunts (35:37): with stunt co-ordinator Buddy Joe Hooker, and how this was the first of seven films on which they worked together.
- Counterfeit World (29:40): a 2003 featurette with chat from the director and many of the cast. It was shot in 4:3 with clips in letterboxed 1.85:1.
- Alternative Ending (2:20 + 6:00): The one Petersen refers to in his interview. No spoilers, but the studio wanted this and, thankfully, Friedkin ignored them. This extra gives you an intro plus the scene itself, hence two times.
- Deleted Scene (1:52 + 2:04): A short scene featuring John Pankow’s character, with a preceeding introduction from Friedkin.
- Stills and Photo Gallery: 93 images – on-set and posters.
- Trailers (3:33): Two of them, here.
- Radio spot (1:05): An audio trailer.
- Audio commentary: from director William Friedkin.
My review disc was the film and extras on DVD, but if you buy the finished release, there’s also a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil, and the first pressing includes a collector’s booklet containing new writing on the film by Anne Billson.
The main menu features a short piece of the music set to clips from the film. Chapters are the usual low, bog-standard 12, and subtitles are in English.
To Live And Die In L.A. is out now on Blu-ray/DVD Dual-format, and check out the full-size cover by clicking on the packshot.
Running time: 116 mins
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: November 21st 2016
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 1.85:1 (35mm)
Disc Format: DVD9
Director: William Friedkin
Producer: Irving H Levin
Screenplay: William Friedkin and Gerald Petievich (Based on the novel by Gerald Petievich)
Music: Wang Chung
Richard Chance: William Petersen
Eric Masters: Willem Dafoe
John Vukovich: John Pankow
Bianca Torres: Debra Feuer
Carl Cody: John Turturro
Ruth Lanier: Darlanne Fluegel
Bob Grimes: Dean Stockwell
Jeff Rice: Steve James
Thomas Bateman: Robert Downey Sr
Jimmt Hart: Michael Greene
Max Waxman: Christopher Allport
Jack: Jack Hoar
Judge Filo Cedillo: Valentin de Vargas
Doctor: Dwier Brown
Thomas Ling: Michael Chong
Claudia Leith: Jacqueline Giroux
Terrorist: Michael Zand
FBI Agent: Bobby Bass
FBI Agent: Dar Robinson