BOSTON STRANGLER, THE(director: Richard Fleischer; screenwriters: from the book by Frank Gerold/Edward Anhalt; cinamatographer: Richard Kline; editor: Marion Rothman; music: Lionel Newman; cast: Tony Curtis (Albert De Salvo), Henry Fonda (John S. Bottomly), Sally Kellerman (Dianne Cluny), George Kennedy (Phil Di Natale), Mike Kellin (Julian Soshnick), Hurd Hatfield (Terence Huntley), Murray Hamilton (Frank McAfee), Jeff Corey (John Asgiersson); Runtime: 115; producer: Robert Fryer; 20th Century-Fox; 1968)
“Curtis works hard to give his character some force in one of his best performances.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Richard Fleischer (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”) gets fashionably in tune with the trendy times as he resorts to overusing split-screen image techniques to give his strangler film a semidocumentary look, but keeps the storyline pedestrian. In this true story of serial killer Albert De Salvo (Curtis), the self-confessed strangler (murdered and raped 13 women over an eighteen month period in the early 60s), the filmmaker takes some liberties with the truth. He depicts the sex fiend as a basket case schizoid, someone more ill than evil.
De Salvo’s terrible crime spree filled the tabloids with raging headlines back then, and he became a legendary figure in the world of serial killers. The film version reveals a one time happy family man battling mental problems over a split personality and losing to the illness. This leaves some room for him to appeal to the bleeding hearts in the audience and gain some sympathy. Unfortunately this presentation plays as a tiresome cliché, though Curtis works hard to give his character some force in one of his best performances. But the film just offers a second-hand look at what psychological reasons drove this killer and lacks a proper tension to keep the pot boiling. What it’s good at is keying in how a Boston neighborhood looked and felt in the midst of this crime wave in the ’60s, and the investigation itself.
Henry Fonda is fine in the role of Attorney General John S. Bottomly. He is emotionally wrapped up in this difficult case earnestly tracking the killer down as efficiently as he can, but like it so often happens in police work– without luck there would be no arrest.
What mostly filled the split-screen was the many interrogation scenes, where on one side was the suspect and interrogator in the present and on the other side the suspect and his interrogator in flashbacks. Fleischer eschews the graphic violence in the murders and aims instead to try and understand the killer through the script’s bogus psychology. The big things the film tried didn’t pan out as that interesting, as the flashy camera work counteracts the conventional storyline chronicling the rise, manhunt, fall, and prosecution of De Salvo.
Sally Kellerman is cast as the Strangler’s only surviving victim and Hurd Hatfield as the gay pervert who becomes a suspect.
Albert DeSalvo was stabbed to death in prison on November 26, 1973, and mystery still clouds his story as many law experts do not believe he was the killer but that his confessions were the result of a delusional mind.
REVIEWED ON 1/4/2004 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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