Movie Magazine International

The Boston Strangler

USA - 1968

Movie Review By Monica Sullivan

Tony Curtis began his career in the late forties and early fifties playing dancing gigolos, juvenile delinquents, bellboys, cowboys, gangsters and other shifty characters. Even when he was 21st on the cast list, young female fans noticed him and Universal's star-making apparatus lumbered into high gear by his tenth movie & first starring vehicle, "The Prince Who Was A Thief" opposite Piper Laurie. Critics howled at his accent, but Tony Curtis fans were built to last and stuck loyally by their idol as he made 45 movies over the next 17 years. By 1958, he was nominated for an Academy Award opposite Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones". The following years he was in the funniest movie of all time, "Some Like It Hot." By 1968s "Rosemary's Baby," only his voice was heard over the telephone as an actor who loses a role to John Cassavetes.

Curtis was lobbying hard for another role: that of Albert DeSalvo in Richard Fleischer's "The Boston Strangler." Fully aware that audiences would have a tough time accepting TONY CURTIS as the homicidal rapist of 13 women, Curtis re-shaped his hair, eyebrows, eyelashes & nose, sent the makeover photographs to Fleischer, & tested for the role. He deserved it. Although "The Boston Strangler" made $8m at the time of its release, it was & is an exceedingly unpleasant film to watch & its astonishing to see how Curtis was able to strip every aspect of his own likable personality in order to play DeSalvo. Fleischer, who went on to make the equally disturbing "10 Rillington Place" with Richard Attenborough in 1970, chose to focus on the victims & the police investigation for the first half of the film. When we finally see DeSalvo, he's watching the funeral of President Kennedy with his wife and kids in the background. He's an affectionate family man, light years away from the monster who's been terrorizing the women of Boston. How does he get into all their apartments to kill them? The answer has been imprinted on every women who's ever taken a self-defense class or kept uninvited PG & E personnel on the other side of a locked & latched door.

One of the women who makes it all the way through the film is Sally Kellerman who fights like hell to save her life. While the invisible DeSalvo is taking one life after another, the police investigate one red herring after another. Hurd Hatfield, just because he's openly gay, William Hickey, just because he's openly crazy. Edward Anhalt's literate screenplay reveals how crime dramas have evolved since 1968: "The Boston Strangler" is by no means politically correct, but flesh & blood are revealed with awesome respect. Somehow the police know that yelling "mother effer" at a suspect every other word is a technique without value and Henry Fonda is deliberately low-key as an investigator far more motivated by the prospect of saving lives than by nailing a conviction. The Albert DeSalvo story is complex, with no easy answers & Tony Curtis plays it that way. It's a performance worthy of the Oscar Curtis has yet to receive.

© 2000 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 6/28/00

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