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30 years later, critics still hot and cold on 'To Live and Die in L.A.'



Say the words "To Live and Die in L.A.," and '80s fans typically have two responses: "Oh, I love the song." Or, "Oh, I love the movie." In 1985, either answer was correct as the movie and Wang Chung title tune were released on Nov. 1.

The tale of two Secret Service agents (William Petersen, John Pankow) tracking a ruthless counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe) was directed by directed by William Friedkin and is considered the director's comeback film after his '70s hits The French Connection and The Exorcist.

Equally noteworthy, the film's soundtrack was provided by Wang Chung, the British duo then best known in the U.S. for 1984's Dance Hall Days and Don't Let Go. Interesting enough, Friedkin specifically instructed the group not to compose a title song for the movie, but the band thought otherwise.

"He didn't want a song," Wang Chung frontman Jack Hues told Stuck in the '80s in a 2009 interview. "But having seen the movie, I went back to London and it really made such a big impact on me, the title track just sorta came out. We sent it over, and he loved the song and completely altered the beginning of the movie to include the song."

While the song won over fans immediately, critics were divided on the movie itself. Roger Ebert raved, giving it four stars and writing: "I like movies that teach me about something, movies that have researched their subject and contain a lot of information, casually contained in between the big dramatic scenes."

Variety was less impressed, dismissing it as a "rich man's Miami Vice." Other critics made similar comparisons. Today, To Live and Die in L.A. still manages an impressive 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Here are five things you probably didn't know about To Live and Die in L.A., according to

1. The counterfeit money that the crew produced for the movie was so realistic that some of it made it into general circulation after filming wrapped.

2. For the prison scenes, actual inmates at San Luis Obispo Penitentiary were used as extras.

3. The car scene is considered by critics to be right up there with the iconic car chase in The French Connection. No wonder: William Friedken directed that too.

4. The movie is based on a novel by U.S. Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

5. William Petersen and William Friedken would work together again when Friedken directed an episode of TV's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

[Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 9:05am]


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