To Live and Die in L.A., 1985.
Directed by William Friedkin.
Starring William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Darlanne Fluegel, and Dean Stockwell.
To Live and Die in L.A. has been issued on Blu-ray a few times, but this new edition accompanies its debut on 4K Ultra HD, and both versions sport a new high-def master from a 4K scan. Bonus features from prior DVD and Blu-ray editions have been ported over, but I don’t know if every extra is accounted for, since this is my first time with this film on disc.
To Live and Die in L.A. was director William Friedkin’s opportunity to bring his hard-nosed filmmaking sensibility to Los Angeles and introduce moviegoers to a version of the city that hadn’t been seen much before that. Sure, plenty of movies have put the grit and grime of cities like New York and Chicago on display, but L.A. was often depicted as the land of sunshine, celebrities, and palm trees before this film came along.
William Petersen stars as Richard Chance, a Secret Service agent whose partner is killed by men working for counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe). The murder pushes him over the edge, and he’s determined to take down Masters any way he can. He’s also going to drag his new partner, by-the-book agent John Vukovich (John Pankow), along for the ride, whether he likes it or not.
The story is a journey through the seedy side of L.A., one full of people desperate to survive among criminals and shady characters. Chance’s main connection to that world is parolee Ruth Lanier (Darlanne Fluegel), who gives him information under threat of going back to prison, and he manages to bust low-level mule Carl Cody (John Turturro) as another way to get close to Masters. The main question is whether Chance’s reckless ways will work out in his favor by the end.
Kino Lorber has brought this film to 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray with a new high-def master from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. This isn’t To Live and Die in L.A.’s first time on the Blu-ray format, and I don’t own any of the former editions, but my understanding is that this version is the pinnacle of the movie’s presentation on home video. It certainly looks nice on the Blu-ray that was sent to me for this review, and I’d imagine that fans will definitely want the 4K Ultra HD disc.
The bonus features are a mix of content created for a 2003 DVD release and new extras commissioned by Shout! Factory when they issued the film as part of their Shout! Select series in 2016. Here’s what you’ll find on Kino Lorber’s disc:
• Audio Commentary: Friedkin is the sole participant here, and he takes this opportunity to discuss the film in general, rather than go with a scene-specific approach, which is fine by me. He’s never been one to shy away from talking about how he makes his films, so this is a worthwhile listen.
• Deleted Scene and Alternate Ending (13 minutes): Friedkin introduces both of these, admitting that he would like to put the deleted scene with Vukovich and his estranged wife back in the film, although I’m not sure that would really be necessary. Of greater interest is an alternate ending that the studio asked him to shoot; I’m sure fans of the film will agree with me that it would have ruined the story if it had been used.
• Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die in L.A. (30 minutes): This making-of probably could have been longer, especially since the novel on which it was based doesn’t get discussed much, but it’s still full of interesting stories from the production. Of particular amusement are the stories about the “consultants” who came aboard to give the counterfeiting scene a veneer of reality, which created a gray area in which maybe the filmmakers were breaking the law by filming the whole process.
• Taking a Chance (21 minutes): Petersen has many interesting stories to tell, starting with the very unassuming way Friedkin auditioned him and his co-star John Pankow and decided on the spot that they were right for the roles.
• Wrong Way: The Stunts of To Live and Die in L.A. (35 minutes): I didn’t mention this movie’s amazing car chase in my review, so I’ll just sum it up here: wow. Friedkin has always been skilled at that kind of thing, going back to The French Connection, but this chase is a great example of throwing your characters into a boiling pot of water and repeatedly pushing them back in. Buddy Joe Hooker, the movie’s Stunt Coordinator, takes us through the incredible amount of work that went into that sequence.
• So in Phase: Scoring To Live and Die in L.A. (13 minutes): Gen Xers like me will certainly remember the band Wang Chung, whose star burned bright during the 80s but faded as the 90s arrived. They created much of this film’s soundtrack, and this is a chance for Wang Chung’s two main musicians to talk about their experience.
• Doctor for a Day (9 minutes): This is an amusing interview with actor Dwier Brown, who has a very small role in the film but has a funny story to tell about encountering Friedkin again several years later.
• Renaissance Woman in L.A. (15 minutes): A chat with actress Debra Feuer, who plays Masters’ love interest. She joins the chorus of folks noting some of Friedkin’s unconventional attitudes about directing; thankfully, none of them were abusive.
A radio ad, the trailer, and a stills gallery round out the platter.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★