The Boston Strangler – USA, 1968 – overview and reviews

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The Boston Strangler is a 1968 film based on the true story of the Boston Strangler and the book by Gerold Frank. It was directed by Richard Fleischer (Amityville 3-D; See No Evil; 10 Rillington Place), and stars Tony Curtis (Lobster Man from Mars; The Manitou) as Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer, and Henry Fonda as John S. Bottomly, the chief detective now famed for obtaining DeSalvo’s confession. George Kennedy and Murray Hamilton (Jaws and Jaws 2) also star.


A documentary-style account of the investigations into a real-life sex killer who terrorised Boston in the early sixties, murdering thirteen women during blackouts.

Tony Curtis plays Albert de Salvo, the psychotic plumber an ex-army veteran responsible for the killings, whilst Henry Fonda features as the Massachusetts Attorney-General leading the effort to track him down.

The first part of the film shows the police investigation, with some examples of the seedier side of Boston life, including sleazy scenes in the red light district of the city. The second part shows the apprehension of DeSalvo.

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The film makes much use of the split-screen technique which drew criticism on its release, some critics feeling that its use detracted from the documentary feel of the rest of the film.


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“Director Richard Fleischer commands the  material, which could have gone a thousand different ways, with ease. The cast of faceless cops are good, and believable. Tony Curtis, as I said, is top notch, and I would say this is his best performance  ever. I can’t recommend this film enough. It shares more in common with David Fincher’s Zodiac than  any recent blood and guts serial killer movie, but its the realism and pacing that really make the picture  work.” Strictly Splatter

“Although he doesn’t actually show up in the film until the second act, Tony Curtis is simply unbelievable as Albert DeSalvo. This is easily Curtis’s most enthralling acting performance, and he switches from cold and calculating to confused and disoriented with amazing deftness and skill.” Paul Corupe, DVD Verdict


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“The last image that we see as the end credits appear is haunting and lingers in your mind long after – we see Albert DeSalvo standing in the corner of an all-white room – by himself, no musical accompaniment, as the camera slowly fades back and gets whiter and whiter.” Magic Lantern

NB. The 1964 film The Strangler, which stars Victor Buono, was also inspired by the Boston Strangler case. A 2008 film The Boston Strangler – The Untold Story, stars David Faustino as De Salvo. In July 2013, it was announced that DeSalvo’s remains are to be exhumed for DNA testing to prove conclusively that he was the killer. He had been sentenced to life in prison for a series of armed robberies and sexual assaults and was stabbed to death in prison in 1973, but not before he recanted his confession.

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