In the early 1960s — specifically between June 14, 1962 and January 4, 1964 — thirteen women in Boston, Massachusetts, were found dead, presumably murdered by a vicious serial killer. All of these women were murdered in their own residences, and were strangled with articles of clothing that belonged to the victims. This is a detailed reenactment of the killings and subsequent investigation.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Although nobody was ever officially convicted for any of these sadistic murders, the authorities firmly believed that Albert DeSalvo, who confessed to all strangler murders, was the killer. However, at the time of De Salvo’s confession most of his friends and family members did not believe him capable of the vicious crimes, and more than thirty years after the crimes were committed, many insist in his innocence. Even though some people doubt the veracity of De Salvo’s confession (many think he was just looking for publicity), the truth is that the killing spree stopped with DeSalvo’s apprehension, and he will always be referred to as the infamous Boston Strangler.
As soon as Gerold Frank’s book The Boston Strangler — a vivid account of the investigation led by the Boston police department in their pursuit of the psychopathic killer — was published, 20th Fox purchased the film rights to the book.
Edward Anhalt (Becket and Jeremiah Johnson) was hired to write the screenplay. Anhalt stayed pretty close to the events that occurred during a two-year period, in which the police desperately looked for the person responsible for the series of murders that sent the American public into collective hysteria on the East coast during the 1960s. Anhalt didn’t mince any words either. It’s one of the first Hollywood productions that contains frank conversations about rape, homosexuality, etc., and that makes the film feel very modern.
Richard Fleischer (Fantastic Voyage and Soylent Green) directed the film with almost clinical precision, using an innovative (for the time) split-screen technique (the cinematography is by Richard H. Kline, Camelot, The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture); an effect achieved by an especially designed matte process and multiple exposures.
This visually arresting technique truly enhances the overall suspenseful atmosphere that the filmmakers attempt to convey, allowing the viewer to watch a particular sequence from different points of view. The split-screen technique used for the film is essential for the overall impact of many important scenes. Some people find the technique distracting, but I love it!
The film employs the split-screen technique
Although The Boston Strangler is an expertly directed and visually stimulating film, most of its effectiveness is due to Tony Curtis’s (The Defiant Ones and Some Like it Hot) no holds-barred performance as the man identified with committing the gruesome crimes, Albert De Salvo.
In a masterstroke genius of casting, former matinée idol Curtis assumes the pivotal central role of the killer, completely transforming himself — physically and emotionally — into the rough-looking, almost illiterate De Salvo. Wearing a fake rubber nose and downplaying his natural good looks, Curtis creates a frightening, quite accurate psychological portrait of a murderous sociopath — his performance here is on par with other, more famous psychotic turns like Anthony Perkins’s Norman Bates and Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter.
Curtis, a very underrated actor throughout his career, gives the performance of a lifetime, conveying ideas and emotions with subtle mannerisms. It is almost unforgivable that the Academy neglected to single out Curtis’s impressive turn. Curtis is supported by an excellent cast: Henry Fonda (Mister Roberts), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), William Marshall (Blacula), Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H), William Hickey (Prizzi’s Honor), James Brolin (The Amityville Horror), Alex Rocco (The Godfather), Murray Hamilton (Jaws). Hurd Hatfield (The Picture of Dorian Gray) has a small role as a gay artist and this might be a first for Hollywood — a gay man plays a gay man.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Incisive and brutally honest, with its documentary-like approach, The Boston Strangler is a film capable of sending multiple shivers down the spine while keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Although not as good as The Silence of the Lambs or Seven, this film has a contemporary feeling to it that will delight many fans of the genre. Color, 115 minutes, Rated R.