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    Date with a Strangler

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Forty-eight years ago this Sunday, a daring and intense chiller opened to considerable controversy and vigorous box-office. Critical reaction was mixed, best summed up by The Motion Picture Guide authors Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross, who dubbed it “an unnerving film that chips away at the sensibilities, effectively shot in a semi-documentary style, but a movie that refuses to pander to the perverse.” A self-described “true and remarkable motion picture” based on a true story as chronicled in a well-researched book by Gerold Frank, The Boston Strangler (1968) depicted the investigation into the brutal murders of 13 women, almost all involving sexual assault, in the greater Boston area between June 1962 and January 1964. The director Richard Fleischer already had the truth-based crime dramas The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing and Compulsion under his belt, while screenwriter Edward Anhalt had ventured into similar race-against-time territory writing Panic in the Streets (sharing an Oscar® for Best Motion Picture Story with wife Edna), The Sniper, The Young Savages and The Satan Bug. Tony Curtis would reshape his handsome leading man screen image altering his pretty-boy looks to play chief suspect Albert DeSalvo and Henry Fonda (elsewhere that same year doing a similar change-up as Once upon a Time in the West’s coolly evil gunman) assumed the role of chief detective John Bottomly, the lead investigator in the lurid, media-frenzied trail that led to DeSalvo’s apprehension. Its large and well-cast ensemble includes George Kennedy, Mike Kellin, Hurd Hatfield, Murray Hamilton, Jeff Corey, Sally Kellerman, William Marshall, Leora Dana, Richard X. Slattery, Dana Elcar, James Brolin and William Hickey. Though it did not factor into year-end awards consideration as its studio hoped, the movie has been rigorously examined from varying angles – warts and all – through the years and several of these are worth checking out. For a worthy rendition of how the film came together, reference Jeff Stafford’s piece here [] to discover how its development included a cockeyed draft script by, of all people, distinguished British dramatist Terence Rattigan. Fans who recall Fleischer’s innovative and remarkable use of multiple screen images across the wide Panavision screen to set up gripping parallel lines of accumulating tension should look at Quentin Turnour’s perceptive 2000 Senses of Cinema essay here []. Finally, those who concur that Curtis’s nuanced and committed portrayal of DeSalvo never got its due can access J.R. Jones’s 2010 Chicago Reader appreciation here []. To see the shattering result in its optimal 2.35:1 1080p clarity, Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation features not just the movie, but also film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros on a thoroughgoing Audio Commentary, the featurettes Split-Screen Personality – William Friedkin on Richard Fleischer’s The Boston Strangler and Real Killer, Fake Nose, and a vintage Fox Movietone Newsreel excerpt. The Boston Strangler creeps into your hi-def consciousness November 15. Preorders open November 2.