WTF Happened to To Live and Die In L.A?

William Friedkin’s 1985 classic, To Live and Die in L.A. is considered a classic, but originally was a flop with a lot of behind the scenes drama.

Last Updated on October 27, 2023

When he died this summer, a lot of director William Friedkin’s movies got new life as film fans dug into this filmography. Looking over his body of work, one of the interesting things to note is that he directed four films that could justifiably be called masterpieces, but only two of them were successful. There was The French Connection and The Exorcist, both of which raked in huge box office and are considered classics. But, there were also two flops that he made that are just as good as those films, one of which is 1977’s Sorcerer, and the other is 1985’s Secret Service thriller To Live and Die in L.A., which we’re digging into in this episode of WTF Happened to This Movie.

The film stars William Petersen (long before CSI) as a Secret Service agent after the counterfeiter who killed his partner. While that premise sounds old hat, Friedkin’s execution is anything but. Despite being our “hero,” Friedkin’s cop character is anything but heroic, while Willem Dafoe, as the cop-killing bad guy, is shown to be somewhat sympathetic. In his pursuit of his prey, Petersen’s character becomes a full-on criminal, dragging his young partner (John Pankow pre-Mad About You) into the abyss.

To Live and Die in L.A. contains the most realistic counterfeit bill-making ever put to screen, as well as a car chase that arguably beats Friedkin’s hair-raising pursuit in The French Connection. Plus, it’s all scored by an evocative score by New Wave band Wang Chung. It’s a masterpiece, but the making of the film was fraught for Friedkin, and after it came out, he’d never be given carte blanche in the same way again. So, WTF Happened to To Live and Die in L.A.? Let’s find out!

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.