“The Boston Strangler” – 1968. Dir. Richard Fleischer. With Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, and Murray Hamilton.
“We’ve got a full blown maniac on our hands!”
This is the first mainstream film to deal with fact based accounts of a serial killer. It’s an extremely gritty and dark film dealing with the real life Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo and the statewide taskforce that was after him. The film is engineered extremely well, it not only uses split screen but it will split the screen into multiple frames. The film isn’t what you would have expected in the late 1960’s starring Tony Curtis as the Boston Strangler and Henry Fonda as the chief investigator.
The film is told almost exclusively from the investigators point of view. We see the victims answer their doors, and get attacked – then we cut to the two lead detectives George Kennedy and Murry Hamilton. We watch these two detectives go from crime scene to crime scene. A half hour into the film we meet Henry Fonda, who plays manhunter John S. Bottomly.
Bottomly reluctantly accepts the case from the higher ups, and takes over as lead investigator on the case. Fonda is solid as usual, mainly always playing Juror #8 from “12 Angry Men”. He does show a little teeth in this performance, but what I find more exciting is Fonda joined a film about a serial killer with nudity, crude language and graphic crime scenes.
Tony Curtis enters into the film about an hour into it. This is the first time we see him, sitting on his recliner watching the JFK funeral on TV, and his sweet daughter comes and sits on his lap. From that point on in the film, Curtis commands every single shot he is in. He marvelously plays a man torn in two, the hardworking family man Albert DeSalvo and the menacing serial killer The Boston Strangler.
Curtis gives his career best performance as a man haunted by his alter ego. Albert DeSalvo doesn’t know that he is the Boston Strangler. Once DeSalvo is apprehended after a botched break in, he tells the police and the judge that he has been framed, that he doesn’t belong in jail – he refuses the court appointed council and the judge sends him to a state hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
The cast is what makes this film very enjoyable and gives it a lot of depth. Tony Curtis is just outstanding, I can’t give him nearly enough credit for this film, and he’s absolutely perfect. George Kennedy and Murry Hamilton (who’s best known as Mr. Robinson in “The Graduate” and Larry from “Jaws”) are solid as the two Baahston detectives that are on the case of The Strangler.
The film is at its best during the climactic interviews with Curtis and Fonda. The flow of the film from here on is Fonda delicately pushing Curtis more and more to the edge. As Fonda pushes more into Curtis’ memory banks, the film takes on a psychedelic feel, where Fonda enters Curtis’ memories, and talks to him, asking him more questions. He begins to push Curtis more and more while they are in Curtis’ memories. Much of the film feels and looks like a template for many of David Fincher’s films (“Zodiac”, “Seven”, and “The Game”). It seems very apparent that Fincher was influenced by this film a great deal. This is not only a very interesting film, due to its true life accounts, but it’s a film that is very ahead of its time. This film paved the way for “Dirty Harry”.