Do you have a movie in your peripheral vision? You hear about it, you want to see it, but you never see it?
Well, that is exactly how The Boston Strangler was for me. I should know better. My mother recommended it, and she has excellent taste: The Haunting, The Innocents, Night of the Eagle, The Great Escape, The Naked Prey, the list goes on, suffice to say she never steers me wrong.
This week we look at The Boston Strangler starring Tony Curtis. My mother and I are not fans of rape violence or torture, don’t worry, this film is not the Grand Guignol. And yes, in case, you are wondering, Tony Curtis plays the Boston Strangler! I know, right? When you think of ideal actors to play a rapist and a serial killer, his isn’t the first name that comes to mind. But sometimes, the best choice is an unusual choice.
The Boston Strangler is a docu-drama, following the Boston Police Department’s attempt to find and apprehend a real-life serial rapist and killer, Albert DeSalvo. DeSalvo suffered from multiple personality disorder, this fragmented reality combined with the mediated nature of news reporting creates a stylish dissociative thriller.
Before you let your imagination run wild with, “Judy, Judy, Judy!” Curtis cast-off his faux Cary Grant accent. According to his autobiography, Curtis campaigned for the role aggressively, he frizzed his hair, wore nose putty, and sent mugshot type headshots to director Richard Fleischer.
He also gained 15 pounds, created a labored gait by wearing ankle weights, and wore prosthetic makeup and brown contact lenses.
Joining Curtis are William (Blacula!) Marshall, George Kennedy, and Henry Fonda. Henry Fonda and Curtis were friends, however:
Henry Fonda was very cold to me, or so it seemed to me. I was working my a** off to give a performance, and never once did he say, ‘That was a good scene,’ or ‘Nice job’ or even ‘You could have done better.’ He hardly talked to me at all. Maybe he treated me that way because he was intent on staying in character. Some actors like to work that way, but it certainly wasn’t my style. I tried hard not to be offended by Henry’s remoteness, but at times it was a real struggle (Curtis, 270).
Tony Curtis’s experience with Fonda is odd. I am a Henry Fonda fan, I hoped Fonda felt the need to isolate himself from his co-star (like method acolyte Julie Harris). Then I remembered, Julie Harris was always kind and gracious once the filming ended. And Curtis never mentions Fonda again. Even stranger, Fonda’s biographer practically omits the film.
Naturally, this is driving me crazy, I want an explanation, but can’t find it. So, I re-watched the scenes between Fonda and Curtis.
- Observation 1: My mother is right, Tony Curtis is amazing in this role!
- Observation 2: This is not a 12 Angry Men quality performance from Henry Fonda.
The reviewers were unkind. Renata Adler of the New York Times writes:
It is as though someone had gone out to do a serious piece of reporting and come up with 4,000 clippings from a sensationalist tabloid. It has no depth, no timing, no facts of any interest, and yet, without any hesitation, it uses the name and pretends to report the story of a living man, who was neither convicted nor indicted for the crimes it ascribes to him.
Sorry, I don’t seek verisimilitude in movies. Particularly, a real crime movie with minimal hard evidence. Call me madcap, but I expect colorization. I feel Adler mistook the intentionally fragmented quality as “no depth”. In my opinion, this quality reflects fragmented real information combined with DeSalvo’s mental character.
But the film does show us this:
Okay, “based on fact”, I guess we should expect facts. I guess she wanted facts with due process.
Roger Ebert is much kinder than Adler:
‘The Boston Strangler’ requires a judgment not only on the quality of the film (very good), but also on its moral and ethical implications…. As entertainment, it’s first-rate. Henry Fonda is a subtle, sensitive lawyer; George Kennedy makes a convincing cop, and Tony Curtis acts better than he has in a decade.
Here’s the problem, in 1968, audiences did not know whether DeSalvo was The Boston Strangler. But the film clearly states it presents facts. So, this film publicly convicts an untried suspect. Don’t feel too sorry for DeSalvo, while his mental condition prevented his trial, we now know he was The Boston Strangler. In 2013, DNA from DeSalvo’s nephew matched DNA from archived evidence. SINCE WE NOW KNOW HE’S GUILTY, we can watch the film freely without moral implications. Right? Right! Nietzsche is proud of us.
I will say it: This is Tony Curtis’s best performance of all time.
Yes, his performance is better than Some Like It Hot and Spartacus! Even better than The Sweet Smell of Success, and it is hard for me to besmirch a Clifford Odets screenplay. You can rent the film online through amazon.com for $2.99.
Here is the trailer, moral and ethical dilemmas aside, it is a good movie!
Until next time my darlings, in our next installment we discover Captain Kirk is not as nice as we think.
Yes, William Shatner plays a very, very bad man.
Oh, no! Say it ain’t so!
Does Mr. Spock know about this?
In September, Now Voyaging hosts The William Wellman Blogathon coinciding with my Unusual Suspects Series! I cover Wellman’s film Roxie Hart starring Ginger Rogers in the title role and in prison for murder! “The name on ev’rybody’s lips is gonna be … Ginger” and I promise not to paraphrase too many songs from the Kander & Ebb musical version Chicago.
Then Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood pays tribute to the late great Lauren Bacall and hosts The Lauren Bacall Blogathon! I will chime in with a piece on Bacall’s performance in Howl’s Moving Castle and “Bogie and Bacall Syndrome”. An actual clinical term for vocal damage, and how I got it on purpose. “Hmmm… a killer voice, or killing her voice?”
Steve from MovieMovieBlogBlog offers a salute to physical comedy and hosts The See You in the Fall Blogathon, and I write about Patricia Routledge in Keeping Up Appearances, “That’s Bouquet, spelled B-U-C-K-E-T!”
In October, Darren at MovieReviews101 and Rob at MovieRob, co-host The Stephen King Blogathon, and I pick the most un-Halloween-y movie listed (but one of my favorites)! “You guys wanna go see a dead body?” Stand By Me is based on King’s novella The Body written as Richard Bachman. There are fun films remaining! Contact Darren to sign up!
In November, Fritzi at Movies Silently hosts The Swashathon I cover the wonderful Leslie Howard as The Scarlet Pimpernel fop by day hero by night. “Put Some Swish in Your Swash!”
Finally a super awesome trio, Ruth of Silver Screenings, Kristina of Speakeasy, and Aaron of Criterion Blues co-host The Criterion Blogathon and “Mackie’s Back in Town!” I cover the Pabst/Weill/Brecht (another great trio) film Die Dreigroschenoper (3 Penny Opera) and try not to picture Bobby Darin while Polly sings Mack the Knife! Ooh, another three, time to play the lotto!
Ciao for now, darlings!
Adler, Renata. “The Boston Strangler (1968) Screen: ‘The Boston Strangler’ Opens: Movie Is Taken From Gerold Frank’s Book Curtis in Title Role of Film at 3 Theaters.” The New York Times. 17 Oct. 1968. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
Curtis, Tony. American Prince: A Memoir. New York: Harmony, 2008. Print.
Ebert, Roger. “The Boston Strangler Movie Review (1968) | Roger Ebert.” Rogerebert.com. 22 Oct 1968. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
McKinney, Devin. The Man Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012. Print.