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:
“We’ve got a full-blown maniac on our hands.”
Expertly constructed, The Boston Strangler is the kind of thriller capable of sending shivers down the spine while keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Although not as good as David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) or Zodiac (2007), this serial killer movie has a contemporary feeling to it that will delight many fans of the genre.
Based on Gerold Frank’s true-crime book, which provided an in-depth look into the police investigation that led to the capture of the vicious killer dubbed “The Boston Strangler,” this suspenseful and crafty thriller is one of the very first Hollywood productions that contains frank conversations about sex, rape, homosexuality, etc.
The script is credited to Oscar-winning writer Edward Anhalt (The Young Lions and Becket), who stays somewhat close to the events that occurred during a two-year period, in which the police desperately looked for the person responsible for a series of murders that sent the public into collective hysteria on the East Coast during the ’60s.
Director Richard Fleischer’s (Soylent Green) work is creative and precise. Fleischer deftly uses the then innovative split-screen technique — the cinematography is by Richard H. Kline, Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture) — an effect achieved by an especially designed matte process and multiple exposures.
Without a doubt, this visually arresting technique enhances the overall suspenseful atmosphere that Fleischer and Kline 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.
Tony Curtis (The Defiant Ones) is surprisingly great in the title role. 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 (Psycho) and Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Lecter (Silence of the Lambs).
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), and 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:
Although The Boston Strangler is a visually stimulating film, most of its effectiveness is due to Tony Curtis’s no holds-barred performance as the man identified with committing the gruesome crimes, Albert De Salvo. Curtis, a very underrated actor throughout his career, gives the performance of a lifetime, conveying ideas and emotions with subtle mannerisms. Highly recommended! Color, 115 minutes, Rated R.