Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
Released on: November 15th, 2016.
Director: Richard Fleischer
Cast: Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, Tony Curtis, Sally Kellerman, Hurd Hatfield, Mike Kellin
Year: 1968 Purchase From Screen Archives
Based on a screenplay by Edward Anhalt that was in turn based on a book by Gerold Frank, Richard Fleischer's 1968 film The Boston Strangler plays out more as a procedural drama than a typical serial killer thriller or horror film. It is, however, a very well made picture anchored by some seriously great acting and some stylish direction.
The film takes place in a Boston on edge thanks to a rash of brutal murders in which some fiend has killed off some of the city's older female inhabitants. Henry Fonda plays Boston P.D. investigator John S. Bottomly, the man in charge of a special task force setup by the cops to try and identify and apprehend the killer. As he and his men set out to do just that, they come across various suspects who, for a myriad of reasons, they figure could be the culprit. It isn't until they come into contact with a man named Albert DeSalvo (played by Tony Curtis) after he's busted on a break and enter that they realize they've got their man.
Unfortunately for Bottomly's team, DeSalvo is ruled unfit to stand trial for his deeds, as he suffers from multiple personality disorder and psychotic episodes...
Told almost entirely from the point of view of Bottomly and the cops working the case, Fleischer uses what were, at the time at least, fairly radical instances of split-screen and multi-pane visuals to effectively convey the state of panic gripping Boston while DeSalvo was running loose. While this might seem a little dated now, at least from a visual perspective, it still works and proves an interesting way of communicating the chaos that factor into aspects of the film's plot. While the script may take some liberties with the details of the actual case that the movie was based on, it nevertheless makes for good entertainment.
A big part of what makes this work is the performances. Cast against type, Tony Curtis is really good as the disturbed DeSalvo. His confusion is completely believable and he invest in the part a lot of great body language and facial ticks, the kind that, when coupled with smart dialogue as they are here, really serve to flesh out the character. Henry Fonda is also in fine form here. He's well cast as the top cop on the case, and as he gets frustrated throughout the movie he's careful not to overdo it (which could have easily sent his character into parody). Along the way we get some likewise solid work from supporting players like George Kennedy as another detective along with Sally Kellerman, Jeanne Cooper and a small but memorable turn from none other than William Marshall.
The Boston Strangler debuts on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 widescreen and it looks excellent. There's virtually no print damage to note, just a normal amount of visible and natural looking film grain, while depth and detail are consistently impressive. The 50GB disc is free of any obvious compression artifacts while color reproduction is strong, as are black levels. There's solid texture here and no issues with contrast - this is, to be blunt, a very film-like transfer taken from source materials that were clearly in excellent shape and the picture quality here is gorgeous.
The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD Mono track, in English. There are no alternate language options provided but subtitles are offered up in English SDH format. The dialogue sounds fine and the score absolutely benefits from the lossless audio format. Hiss and distortion are never an issue and the single channel mix has fine range and depth to it.
The main extra on the disc is an audio Commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros. The two participants offer up a lot of critical analysis in regards to the various tactics Fleischer uses to tell the story, the performances in the picture and the quality of the script. At the same time they're able to provide plenty of information about pretty much every one of the cast members used in the picture, the score, the locations used in certain scenes and more. This is interesting and well-paced - as such it's worth listening to.
The disc also includes a few featurettes, starting with Split-Screen Personality: William Friedkin On Richard Fleischer's The Boston Strangler. Over the span of this twenty-two minute piece Friedkin, who was at one point expected to direct the picture, offers up his thoughts on the techniques that Fleischer employed throughout the film and why he feels this is a particularly well made picture. Next up is Real Killer, Fake Nose, a thirty-three minute long featurette made up of interviews with Fleischer's son, actress Sally Kellerman and cinematographer Richard H. Kleine. Lots of good stories here about why certain scenes were shot the way that they were, what it was like working with some of the cast assembled for the film, Fleischer's style as a director, what it was like on set and more. The third featurette is AMC Backstory: The Boston Strangler which is a vintage piece that runs twenty-two minutes and that gives us a decent history of the picture with a lot of emphasis on those who made it.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, a Fox Movietone Newsreel, an isolated music and effects track (in DTS-HD format) menus and chapter selection. Inside the Blu-ray keepcase alongside the disc is an insert booklet of liner notes featuring an essay from regular Twilight Time scribe Julie Kirgo who gives us some welcome background information on the film, how the various cast members fare in the picture, and her own thoughts on the effectiveness of it all. A great read as always.
The Final Word:
The Boston Strangler is much more of a drama than it is the thriller you might expect it to be, but that doesn't take away from what is a genuinely well-made film. The performances are all top notch, the direction is slick and the production values quite strong. Twilight Time bring Richard Fleischer's picture to Blu-ray in grand style with a gorgeous transfer, strong audio and a nice selection of supplements to accompany the feature attraction.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!