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  Boston Strangler, The Killer On The Streets
Year: 1968
Director: Richard Fleischer
Stars: Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, Mike Kellin, Hurd Hatfield, Murray Hamilton, Jeff Corey, Sally Kellerman, William Marshall, George Voskovec, Leora Dana, Carolyn Conwell, Jeanne Cooper, Austin Willis, William Hickey, James Brolin, Dana Elcar
Genre: Drama, Thriller, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1962 Boston police were called to a home belonging to an elderly lady: she had been strangled and the body mutilated, which was bad enough, but when it happened again to another old lady in the same fashion the lawmen became aware that they were dealing with a possible serial killer. Which is true, and the killings that resulted would go on to be among the most notorious of the twentieth century, though with the study and capture of such murderers not as advanced as it would become, the cops were reduced to questioning everyone with a criminal record for sex crimes and then anyone who was believed to be acting suspiciously, and still they got nowhere as the public fretted...

That was because the man they were seeking was not on their records, and to all appearances was a normal family man with a steady job, very far from the stereotypical misfit who might ordinarily be tagged as the culprit for crimes of this nature. Although one aspect which this film of the true case put across was that paranoia concerning the most everyday people hiding some dark secret which was unimaginable back in the early sixties, more innocent times (up to a point), was about to truly take hold on the public's consciousness, and sadly the notion that anyone could be capable of terrible acts was going to be more prevalent as suspicion mixed with fact. In this instance, the film produced an explanation for the killer, which was somewhat misleading.

Its need to reassure was laudable, but didn't fit what really went on in the case, playing fast and loose with the genuine account to introduce the sort of psychology which would have been fashionable in the Hollywood movies of the nineteen-forties when Freudian processes were affecting screenwriters' creativity but were facile when it came to offering an understanding of what made serious criminals tick. Although it acknowledged the man they caught was never tried for the crimes, being judged too ill to stand trial and kept locked up in a high security hospital for the rest of his life (aside from one brief breakout) until his eventual murder, what they glossed over was that Albert DeSalvo never had any reason he could see for what he did, which is even more disquieting.

Indeed, the proof that he actually committed the murders was not cast iron until the advances in forensic examination managed to offer reliable evidence that he was the man they were looking for, some years after he had died, so you could perceive a fatherly sense of trying to send the audience away with a pat on the head in the movie: every authority figure in it is male, and every victim a woman, or someone in danger, quietly blamed for getting themselves into these situations. This may well have been the way it was in real life, and you can envisage a version of the case made decades later introducing a female character for better audience identification, which would have been equally patronising, but it was accurate to say the film of The Boston Strangler was stronger in some aspects than it was in others.

Aspects such as the sort of scenes which were the bread and butter of police procedurals, detectives discussing the case, questioning suspects, maybe tension as they realise they finally have their man. The lowlifes the cops round up range from the comedic (one man who has had sex with hundreds of women over the course of six months leaves detective George Kennedy amazed) to the dignified (Hurd Hatfield tries to rise above being accused simply because he's homosexual) to the pathetic (William Hickey as a self-loathing and obviously unbalanced individual whose urges are self-destructive rather than aimed at others). Henry Fonda lent a touch of class as the reluctantly drawn in D.A. who according to this was instrumental in finding DeSalvo, but it was Tony Curtis in that role which impressed audiences at the time, cannily cast to bring home the chill that the man next door could be a murderer. Director Richard Fleischer got a lot of stick for his flashy techniques, but they are well handled and render what could have been dry very distinctive; it's disturbing, but more honesty would have been welcome.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Richard Fleischer  (1916 - 2006)

American director whose Hollywood career spanned five decades. The son of famed animator Max Fleischer, he started directing in the forties, and went on to deliver some stylish B-movies such as Armored Car Robbery and Narrow Margin. His big break arrived with Disney's hit live action epic, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and which he followed up with such films as The Vikings, Compulsion, Fantastic Voyage, The Boston Strangler, true crime story 10 Rillington Place, See No Evil, cult favourite Soylent Green, Mister Majestyk, Amityville 3-D and sequel Conan the Destroyer. He became unfairly well known for his critical flops, too, thanks to Doctor Dolittle, Che!, Mandingo, The Jazz Singer remake, Red Sonja and Million Dollar Mystery, some of which gained campy cult followings, but nevertheless left a solid filmography to be proud of.

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