The Boston Strangler (1968)
Strangled by Split Screen
When it comes to notorious serial killers the Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, has to be one of the most famous. It is why it was always inevitable that his story and that of the police investigation which lead to his arrest would be turned into a movie as we movie fans have a curious interest in these sorts of true stories about killers. Sadly "The Boston Strangler" starring Tony Curtis didn't do it for me and whilst I watched it for the first time many years after its release it seems to me to be a movie less about the story and more about the director's ideas.
So for the first half of "The Boston Strangler" we are presented with a heavy police procedural as the focus is on the detectives as they try and solve the case with very few clues to go on and ending up using a psychic to try and track the killer down. We also see how the increasing number of murders heightened tension amongst the public with women feeling unsafe travelling alone. It's not until the second half that we meet DeSalvo and are presented with the theory that he had a split personality and didn't know what he was doing when he killed women.
Now I don't know enough about the actual Boston Strangler to say how much fact or fiction there is to this movie but by all accounts it is heavy on the fiction rather than the fact. What I will say is that what keeps "The Boston Strangler" entertaining are the performances with Henry Fonda delivering a typical but well executed performance of the upright cop heading up the investigation. And then there is Tony Curtis who puts in one of his best performances as DeSalvo, transforming himself and becoming the character rather than playing a part.
But the trouble with "The Boston Strangler" is the combination of director Richard Fleischer and the fact this is a product of the late 60s. What I am on about it the use of split screens, pointless split screens such as two old women talking on the landing of their apartment whilst we sort of see into an adjacent apartment where their friend lies murdered in the dark. It is not only a technique which ends up painfully over used but in 99% of its use achieves nothing. It makes "The Boston Strangler" a movie dominated by the director's vision rather than the storyline.
What this all boils down to is that "The Boston Strangler" is an interesting movie because of the true story it is based upon and at the same time it has good performances through out. But it is a movie which for me is ruined by a director's vision and use of style elements such as split screen which ends up spoiling it.
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