Henry Fonda
Tony Curtis
George Kennedy
Mike Kellin
Hurd Hatfield
Murray Hamilton
Jeff Corey
Sally Kellerman
William Marshall
George Voskovec

Richard Fleischer


Time: 116 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Crime/Suspence/Drama

The only reason I bothered to check out this movie is because I saw a behind the scenes piece one afternoon on Turner Classic Movies. It went on and on about Tony Curtis' performance, how great he was and how bitter when he didn't receive any award recognition. Now, I have nothing against Mr. Curtis as an actor. In fact, I usually like him quite a bit. However, after recently watching this movie, I can't really see what all the fuss was about. Sure, it was quite a different role for him and he does a good job, but it didn't seem to be anything mind-blowing to me. Mainly because the film isn't very good. It gets the job done, but it's not anything overly exciting or memorable, which isn't good when your subject matter is inherently suspenseful. His performance is the only one that really stands out, however, that's more from a lack of interesting co-stars than talent on his part.

I think the main flaw with this film is its lack of focus. It shifts its point of view midway through the film, which dilutes the power of both halves. The film begins with the discovery of a murdered old lady, who becomes the first of many random female victims who are violated and then strangled to death. As the body count rises, so does the hysteria and pressure from the state to capture this killer. It seems no woman is safe and the police, though trying desperately to find the Strangler, have no real leads. Henry Fonda plays John Bottomley, a lawyer forced by the D.A. to open a task force office to deal solely with these murders. Though they flush out every sex offender in the Boston area, they don't catch a break until one of the victims, Diane Cluny (Kellerman), turns up alive. Unfortunately, due to head trauma, she doesn't remember anything about the attack, except that she bit the man's hand.

It's not until right before he gets caught that we're introduced to Albert De Salvo (Curtis), a family man with two kids and a job as a handy man. He's certainly no one special, which is why frightened women all over Boston continue to open their doors to him. His trick, which the police could never figure out, is to buzz an apartment and tell the woman he was sent by the super to fix their plumbing. It seems there was a lot of leaky faucets that year. Even though all women were warned not to let in strangers and he had no appointment, they always let him in. The need for water pressure and working plumbing outweighing their fear.

"But... I don't belong here... I-I guess everybody says that, don't they?"

Besides no one really believes it's going to happen to them. He was always able to get in and out without a problem until Diane. After that he panics, trying to break into another woman's home. Too bad for him her husband was there, which leads to his arrest for breaking and entering. Of course, the injury to his hand, which is definitely a human bite, and the fact that he has no solid alibis for the times of the 11 murders makes the police certain that he's their man. Albert protests his innocence. There's no way he could have done those terrible things. At first he doesn't remember, but after spending many sessions with Bottomley he begins to see visions, memories of his crimes. Though clearly insane, these images drive him further over the edge. De Salvo was never prosecuted as the Boston Strangler and spent the rest of his life in a mental institution, until he was stabbed to death by another inmate. This failure to bring him to justice is probably the main reason this film is so unsatisfying. We're led to believe that he was the killer and since the murders stopped one can jump to that assumption, but since he never admits to them and the police don't prove it, we're kind of left hanging in the wind.

The fact that he was a normal family man makes his duel nature a scary thing, but he never seems evil or dangerous, which makes the film fairly flat. Maybe I'm just too used to over-the-top villains to be scared by someone who jumps at their own shadow. It's not really Curtis's fault. He's just not given enough to do, which is the other problem. Either it's a crime story about how the cops captured the killer or a psychological thriller told from the killer's point of view. It doesn't work as both. I guess there wasn't enough to fill a whole movie about the police end of the story and since De Salvo never confessed they didn't have much to say about him. Quite a little catch-22. Because the story is true, it holds some intrinsic interest. Kellerman's survival gives the audience something to grab onto, since she's the only victim we ever get to see live, but it's too little too late. Plus, her character quickly disappears, because it's not really about her. There's just no one to relate to, which leaves you with an empty feeling for most of the film.

The one thing that makes it more interesting than it otherwise might be is the cinematography. Using a split screen technique, which was big in the late 60s and used to better effect in the 1968 version of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, gives this flick more excitement and flair than the script probably contained. Without it, it'd be no better than a TV movie. I thought this was going to provocative because it's R-rated. Think again. Maybe it was edited for television, but I was watching pay cable and there was nothing in it I could see that warranted an R. Sure, there were murders, but they never showed the victims and there was only one brief flash of nudity. Another reason this didn't get the blood pumping. I don't really agree with using violence gratuitously, however, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. If you like Tony Curtis or enjoy films about serial killers, you might enjoy this pic. Otherwise, it's an average telling of an extraordinary killing spree.

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