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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > Boston Strangler

The Boston Strangler


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Film: B-



Prior to Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), the topic of serial killers had not been duplicated and trivialized to death.  Even after Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1985), such characters and storytelling was considered a topic strictly for “stupid exploitation films” that were for a lesser audience of the sick and/or immature.  That is what makes Richard Fleischer’s The Boston Strangler so unique.


Released back in 1968, Tony Curtis took one of the biggest gambles of his career playing Albert De Salvo, who haunted the great city in the 1960s by murdering a series of unsuspecting women.  The film begins with the surfacing of one of many dead bodies, done with limited dialogue and with the visual device of splitting up the wide scope screen into segments to suggest claustrophobia and additional darkness.  As the story progresses, this device is used to twist the idea of the killer’s point of view, as well as the darkness that was taking over the city itself.


At first, we are as in the dark about whom the killer is as the authorities (including Henry Fonda, George Kennedy and Murray Hamilton), then piece of the puzzle start to set in.  Though there is no “voice of God” until the very end, this is handled as a police procedural of the most serious kind and is effectively consistent in that way to the end.  By taking this approach, the great journeyman director Fleischer and writer Edward Anhalt (from Gerold Frank’s book) hope to take seriously something very easily exploitive.  They also try to take the high road, post-Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which made this film possible and was the most imitated film of the 1960s.


The film is great until the end now rings not quite as right as was originally hoped at the time, but it shows the limits of the police procedural and how underestimated the situation of mental illness still was.  This is very well acted and handled, with Curtis pulling off a very convincing portrayal, but it did not help his feature film career.  He next went on to the expensively produced television series The Persuaders (reviewed elsewhere on this site) as he tried to survive the end of star-driven Hollywood before Easy Rider arrived the year of this film.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is not bad, but has some definition and detail limits.  It retains a dark look without the current trend of desaturating the color to a point of being silly.  Richard H. Klein, A.S.C., shot the film with multi-screen and split-screen is a way that is still very matter-of-fact.  This is different from the use for kinetic purposes later in Woodstock and the knowingly demented and suspenseful way Brian De Palma would use it later.  The color was done by Deluxe and there are some shots that show how good that was.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 is available in the original monophonic sound issued and a nice stereo remix that redirectionalizes the sound with the images in mind.  This works well enough, but some may not be convinced, so the choices will depend on the viewer’s preference in this case.  Extras include the AMC Network Backstory installment on the film (just over 20 minutes), a Fox Movietone Newsreel covering the actual story, the original teaser and theatrical trailer for the film.  To bad Fleischer, Curtis and other participants were not available for an audio commentary, as this film deserves one.  This one definitely is a must-see, weathering age better than most of the films made in its time, and definitely superior to the films today being made on the same subject.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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