Friday, June 12, 2009

DVD of the Week: "The Boston Strangler" (Richard Fleischer, 1968)

by Brandon Colvin

Flipping through the guide listings on my Dish Network cable package, I came across the info blurb for The Boston Strangler, a late 60s genre film about the infamous titular serial killer starring Henry Fonda as investigator John Bottomly and Tony Curtis as confessed murderer Albert DeSalvo (not to mention George Kennedy in a great supporting role as Detective Phil DiNatale). “Looks like it could be good,” I thought. I set it to record on my DVR. Weeks later, keeping in mind of the crapshoot that recording and watching random movies can be, I started the film, warily. I finished it with a blend of amazement and incredulity. “Did that just happen? Because I’ve never seen that before.”

What I’m referring to is the most remarkably original technique of director Richard Fleischer’s proto-slasher/thriller/mystery – the inventive and playful use of aspect ratio, masking, and split-screens, resulting in a general derangement of the accepted concept of the stable frame. The boldness of The Boston Strangler’s experiments is startling considering its classical Hollywood stars and sensationalist pulp material. Zeroing in upon details, carefully excluding information, juxtaposing contrasting elements, and offering simultaneous action from multiple angles, the film’s frame manipulation serves the purpose of transforming the narrative into a series of fragments, clues – sometimes they dead end, sometimes they contradict one another, sometimes they are incomplete; we never get the whole story. Superlatively cohesive in form and content – perhaps the only cinematic detective story that rivals its stylistic unity is David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007) – The Boston Strangler is one hell of a find. You might come for the funky framings, but you’ll stay for the lurid violence, sexual deviance, social commentary, and gritty performances.


Tony Dayoub said...

I've really got to see this. I've caught it in bits and pieces here and there, and always find it enthralling. But it's one of those movies that for some external reason proves to be inconvenient for me to watch in its entirety.

I bet it'd make a great triple bill with Zodiac and Summer of Sam.

Anonymous said...

This was a pretty exciting little post.

I look forward to seeing this when I get around to it in a few years.

Chris said...


I stumbled across the Out 1 website the other day and noticed on one of your posts that you live in Lexington. I've wanted for some time to form a film club for sophisticated cinéastes, but it is hard to find people who venture beyond the insipid mainstream fare offered up at 20-screen cineplexes. Someone who writes for an online film journal named after an obscure Rivette film would certainly fit the bill. If the idea of a movie club in Lexington appeals to you, send me an email at: