Cult Movie: Tony Curtis a revelation in serial killer mode in The Boston Strangler

Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler
Ralph McLean

TONY Curtis was a mighty fine actor. He may have disguised that fact occasionally with performances that erred on the side of the broadly comic or the wildly scenery chewing but behind the knowing glances and good-humoured leading man shtick lay a thespian of considerable clout.

If you want proof of the man's capacity for the good stuff check out his performance in The Boston Strangler. Originally released to cinemas in 1968 and freshly reissued on Blu-ray by Plan B Entertainment, it's a film that coldly but effectively tells the true life tale of Albert DeSalvo, the so-called Boston strangler of the title, who murdered 13 women between 1962 and 1964. As the self-confessed psycho DeSalvo, Curtis is simply stunning.

Seemingly an ordinary Joe, he leaves his wife and kids at home to prowl the Boston streets, picking off innocent lonely women by pretending to be a plumber and gaining access to their apartments.

Understated and oddly detached, Curtis is chillingly aloof throughout and director Richard Fleischer, who would go on to helm the similarly cold British psycho killer true life tale Ten Rillington Place, underplays everything in much the same way.

Such an approach works and watching Henry Fonda as the no-nonsense detective in charge of the case try to unravel the seemingly pointless attacks makes for genuinely gripping viewing. Stumped in his attempts to nail the killer, he even brings in a psychic, played by Peter Hurkos, to try and get results.

Those expecting a traditional Hollywood drama may be disappointed, though. As this is a true story, Fleischer allows the tale to unravel at a natural pace and there are no big movie twists in this faintly depressing police procedural.

Shot in semi-documentary style and utilising some quite revolutionary for the time but now slightly irritating split-screen effects that pre-date a thriller series like 24 by at least four decades, it looks amazing and holds your attention even when things seem to move at a seriously slow pace.

The package is further enhanced by a sparkling new digital transfer – it looks amazing despite its age – and a heap of impressive extras including a commentary track from critic Kat Ellinger, a piece with William Friedkin about the movie that he almost directed, a making-of feature that really digs behind the story to reveal some genuine insight and a revealing interview with Curtis about his central role.

In terms of the actual story, Albert DeSalvo eventually confessed to the police from an insane asylum. Some argue that he was merely an innocent fantasist who had committed none of the gruesome crimes with which he was charged and that the real perpetrator evaded justice completely. We'll never know as he was murdered in prison in 1973.

Whatever the truth behind the real-life story, The Boston Strangler remains a superior crime drama version of events and Tony Curtis's breathtaking central performance stands proud as a real highlight in an incredible career.

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