Directed By: Richard Fleischer
Screenplay By: Edward Anhalt
Based upon the book by Gerold Frank
Produced By: Robert Fryer
Cast: Henry Fonda, Tony Curtis, George Kennedy, Mike Kellin
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 116 minutes
Review Date: January 28, 2011
This is one of those films that is so powerful and so well executed that it lingers with you long after the final credits have rolled. The film made my skin crawl not only because of the content (which is extremely graphic), but also because of the sheer brilliance of its execution. This is by far one of the best thrillers I have ever seen.
The film has an all star cast headed by Tony Curtis as Albert DeSalvo (the infamous “Boston Strangler”), George Kennedy as keen Detective Phil DiNatale, Mike Kellin as Julian Soshnick, and the indelible Henry Fonda as Statesman John S. Bottomly. All are absolutely phenomenal in their roles and they each add an important component to the chromosphere that is this film.
The film begins with an investigation into the death of an innocent old woman that had been raped, mutilated, and brutally murdered. Leading this initial investigation is Phil DiNitale, and he starts by questioning the locals that have a history of domestic abuse. Then, there is another murder, even more brutal than the first. Now, the investigators start to pry into the seedy underworld of sexual predators. They bring many into custody, but it doesn’t stop the murders. The body count grows larger and it eventually garners the interest of local Statesman John S. Bottomly, encouraged by the Attorney General.
Together, Phil and John do what they can to bring this mysterious madman to justice. The first half of the film mostly deals with their investigation, posing as somewhat of a cop procedural with documentary undertones. The second half of the film deals with the apprehension and interrogation of Albert DeSalvo and makes for a powerful sixty minutes.
When Albert is finally apprehended, he is taken to the local psychiatric ward for further investigation. What follows is roller-coaster of emotion and visceral storytelling. I fear ruining the story so I will divulge no further. The last twenty minutes had me staring at the screen with sheer intensity, almost as if I was studying what was playing out in front of me. Don’t blink because I’m sure you will miss something. Yes, it’s that good.
The film was made in 1968 but it shows no signs of aging. The story is often told in split screen, or better yet, multi-screen. Often, we as an audience get to witness a scene or a sequence of scenes from two to six points of view, so I truly mean it when I say if you look away you might miss something. My favorite example of this style has to be near the films beginning when they are apprehending the sexual predators. On screen, all at once, we have about six different shots. One shows the back of our mysterious predator, slumped over in a phone booth dimly lit by a street light. The next shows a close up his lips, wet with drool and an active tongue. Another, a girl on the telephone. Lastly, we find two more shots of the girl’s roommate calling into the police and said police tracing the call. There are no edits per se, but instead it plays out in real time. This is really brilliant stuff.
Lastly, but most importantly, is Tony Curtis’s mind-bending performance. He becomes something inhuman, a mind intangible to outside forces, driven by some fiendish inner being. He’s absolutely breathtaking in his portrayal of DeSalvo and I dare you to look away from him while he is onscreen.
I almost feel like gloating about this movie, because I’m sure most modern filmgoers haven’t had the chance to see it. You should do yourself a huge favor and gloat with me. Right now.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.