To Live and Die in L.A.: TCM Pays Tribute To William Friedkin

John Pankow and William Petersen in To Live and Die in L.A. Courtesy of MGM.

To Live and Die in L.A. features one of the most thrilling car chases in cinematic history and looks amazing in 4K Ultra HD.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics released the film on 4K UHD back in July, a few weeks before William Friedkin’s passing. The 4K UHD release includes every bonus feature contained on Shout’s sold-out 2016 Collector’s Edition. The only difference is that this release contains a brand new HDR/Dolby Vision master made from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. It’s certainly worth bringing home for the upgrade. If you’re not sure, feel free to watch the TCM airing of the film on September 14.

In showing the gritty side of Los Angeles, Friedkin shows a side of the city that had never been seen on screen prior to 1985. In the filmmaker’s mind, he felt the film was about “counterfeit relations.” Where The French Connection was a studio film, Friedkin makes To Live and Die in L.A. as an independent film. There is so much care that goes into the end result. I mean, we have another thrilling car case and it’s an independent film! In fairness, Friedkin was the type of filmmaker that knows what shots he wants. There’s limited rehearsal, if any rehearsal at all–Friedkin just lets the actors act while rolling camera. Meanwhile, Friedkin brought on a consultant to help them with the counterfeiting depicted in the film. In fact, that’s the consultant doing the hard work rather than Willem Dafoe.

While the United States Secret Service protects the president, the office also works outside of Washington, DC. Because of falling under the Department of the Treasury through 2003, we find the Secret Service investigating a case involving counterfeit money in the film. Shortly after the attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life, Secret Service agents Richard Chance (William Petersen) and Jimmy Hart (Michael Greene) are assigned to the LA office. It’s here where counterfeiter Eric “Rick” Masters (Willem Dafoe) kills Hart during a stakeout. Chance, who is corrupt, makes it his mission to bring Masters down. Chance’s new partner, John Vukovich (John Pankow), plays things by the law whereas Chance is rather reckless. All in all, it’s a cat and mouse thriller.

Everything looks real in the film because that’s what Friedkin wanted. It’s the sort of realism that could possibly make an actor uncomfortable. How many filmmakers would shoot some of these scenes with actors thinking they were rehearsing? What’s certainly hard to believe is that William Petersen is actually driving the car during a number of chase sequences. John Pankow’s reactions are also real. The stunts are just incredible and the chase holds up against The French Connection, if not better. Could filmmakers get away with that today? I think it depends on the situation. In any event, it’s this realism that helps the film stand the test of time. Regardless, the realism is certainly a credit to Friedkin’s filmmaking style and this includes the iconic car chase, which wasn’t even planned for the film prior to production.

Interestingly, Friedkin makes the decision to kill Chance off with ten minutes left. I personally disagree with this decision. I mean, he’s the fricking star of the film! You should have seen my face when I saw it happen on the screen. The studio didn’t like the seen and made Friedkin film an alternate ending. This alternate ending sees Chance and Vukovich working in Alaska. Friedkin kept the original ending while the alternate ending lives on as a bonus feature.

What’s amazing is how many actors were unknown in the mid-1980s. You look at the film today and go, whoa, what a cast! William Petersen would go onto star in the original CSI. Of course, Willem Dafoe would become an Oscar-winning actor. John Turturro is also an Emmy-winning actor.

Fun fact: novelist and co-writer Gerald Petievich was a Secret Service agent for 15 years.

William Friedkin shows why he was one of the best action filmmakers with cat and mouse thriller To Live and Die in L.A. Friedkin will be missed.

Special Features

DISC 1 (4KUHD): 

  • Brand New HDR/Dolby Vision Master – From a 4K Scan of the Original Camera Negative
  • Audio Commentary by Director William Friedkin
  • 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Lossless Audio
  • Triple-Layered UHD100 Disc
  • Optional English Subtitles
  • Brand New HD Master – From a 4K Scan of the Original Camera Negative
  • Audio Commentary by Director William Friedkin
  • TAKING A CHANCE: Interview with Actor William Petersen (20:41)
  • RENAISSANCE WOMAN IN L.A.: Interview with Actress Debra Feuer (14:55)
  • DOCTOR FOR A DAY: Interview with Actor Dwier Brown (8:52)
  • SO IN PHASE – SCORING TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.: Interview with Composers Wang Chung (12:43)
  • WRONG WAY – THE STUNTS OF TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.: Interview with Stunt Coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker (35:38)
  • Deleted Scene and Alternate Ending with Introductions (13:06)
  • Radio Spot
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Lossless Audio
  • Dual-Layered BD50 Disc
  • Optional English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: William Friedkin
SCREENWRITERS: William Friedkin and Gerald Petievich
CAST: William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Darlanne Fluegel, and Dean Stockwell

MGM/UA released To Live and Die in L.A. in theaters on November 1, 1985. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.