[box cover]

The Boston Strangler

The problem with the serial killer film in the wake of Psycho is that so many of them felt obligated to go heavy on the analysis of the killer once he was caught, as if atoning for its lurid content by performing a valuable public service. Richard Fleischer's The Boston Strangler (1968) is certainly one of the most egregious offenders in this respect, dragging on interminably after the titular killer's capture as a disinterested Henry Fonda interrogates an acting Tony Curtis (his reward: a Golden Globe!) Working from a by-the-numbers script from Edward Anhalt, which was based on a best-seller by Gerold Frank, the film would merely be a passable diversion for aficionados of the genre without the leaden finale. For 90 minutes or so, it's mostly just a dry police procedural enlivened by Fleischer's inventive use of scope and then-novel split-screen techniques. Fonda plays John S. Bottomly, the put-upon investigator charged with heading up the massive law-enforcement effort to catch the prolific murderer. They cast a wide-ranging net, initially delving into Boston's homosexual scene, allowing the viewer a taste of what "Henry Fonda in Cruising" might have looked like. When that proves a dead-end, they bring on a British psychic whose ESP actually leads to the apprehension of a deviant (William Hickey), though he comes up empty on the strangler. As usually happens with serial killers (i.e., the ones who get caught), it's not until the Strangler, aka Albert DeSalvo (Curtis), got sloppy that they were able to capture him. Though there remains to this day some doubt as to whether DeSalvo was actually The Boston Strangler, Fleischer and Anhalt are absolutely convinced, which results in their leaving some critical details, like DeSalvo's past arrests for breaking-and-entering, untouched. They're far more interested in the peculiarities of DeSalvo's split-personality (which may account for Fleischer's rampant split-screen abuse) and how it enabled him to operate undetected for so long. Thus, it's all one deliberate build to the interrogation room showdown between Fonda and Curtis, which Fleischer uses as an excuse to go full-on surreal (for a commercial film of that era) as DeSalvo literally walks Bottomly through the particulars of his multiple slayings in flashback. And it's still a complete slog. Fleischer remains an underappreciated director, which is mostly his fault given that he spent the '70s and '80s making awful (Amityville 3-D), occasionally repugnant (Mandingo) motion pictures. Obviously, he was never a great judge of material, but when he sunk his teeth into something worthwhile, his visual audacity and keen sense of narrative combined to deliver a number of genuine classics (Compulsion and, best of all, The Narrow Margin). Sadly, there's nothing but empty technique on display in The Boston Strangler, and the panache is stifling rather than invigorating. Fox presents The Boston Strangler in a fantastic anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with solid Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras include a Fox Movietone newsreel on The Boston Strangler and an "AMC Backstory" featurette. Also included are the theatrical teaser and full trailer. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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