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Richard Fleischer
Henry Fonda, Tony Curtis, George Kennedy, Murray Hamilton
Writing Credits:
Edward Anhalt (screenplay), Gerold Frank (book)

Why did 13 women willingly open their doors to the Boston Strangler?

A series of brutal murders in Boston sparks a seemingly endless and increasingly complex manhunt. MPAA:
Rated Approved

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16X9
English Stereo
English Monaural
French Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $49.98
Release Date: 5/7/2013

Available As Part of the 10-DVD “Henry Fonda Film Collection”

• “Backstory: The Boston Strangler” Featurette
• Fox Movietone Newsreel
• Trailers


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Boston Strangler: The Henry Fonda Film Collection (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 28, 2014)

From late in his career, Henry Fonda turns up in darker-than-usual subject matter via 1968’s The Boston Strangler. Set in 1962, someone targets elderly women to rape and strangle to death. Boston police follow multiple leads, but when the crimes cross jurisdictions, Massachusetts Attorney General Edward W. Brooke (William Marshall) appoints law professor John S. Bottomly (Fonda) to lead a broad task force to find the killer.

We follow the long, slow investigation and all of its dead ends. Eventually the cops find their way to Albert DeSalvo (Tony Curtis), a married father. We see some of his crimes and how he ends up in custody.

Plenty of movies before and since Strangler have offered mysteries that lack mystery. The film hit screens in late 1968, almost exactly four years after DeSalvo got caught, so it would’ve been tough to sell the identity of the killer as a surprise. That would’ve been like a Zero Dark Thirty in which the filmmakers hope the audience won’t know the Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden. (Since the 1960s, some have questioned whether or not DeSalvo really was the Strangler, but from what I can tell, his guilt would’ve been accepted when the film was made.)

With a villain not in doubt, Strangler needs to keep us interested with how it explores its story and instead of suspense about whodunnit. Unfortunately, the film largely fails to do so. Much of the problem comes from the way that it acts like a mystery when it’s not. The entire first half of the film follows the police investigation and a seemingly never-ending roster of false leads.

In a movie with some mystery, these scenes might have value, but in this case, they lack much to make them interesting. The main problem comes from the film’s lack of emphasis on real police procedure. It seems like the cops stumble across leads/suspects, so we don’t often get an impression that they’ve achieved much.

Rather than emphasize police work ala something like Zodiac, Strangler prefers to delight in the weirdos the cops meet. We don’t learn about the methods used in the investigation as much as we watch a parade of oddballs. This gets tedious before long.

While the second half focuses much more on DeSalvo, it does so in an unsatisfying manner. Strangler digs into a lot of gimmicks. From the very start, it utilizes split-screen to boast multiple camera angles at once, and that becomes more of a distraction than an embellishment.

Once DeSalvo winds up in custody, Bottomly acts more as therapist than interrogator, and the movie goes into stylistic overdrive. As Bottomly talks with DeSalvo, Albert flashes back to prior events in a highly theatrical manner. While this attempts to get us inside his head, it just seems silly, and the end result lacks any form of depth.

That’s the main misfire involved in Strangler: it boasts no real substance. It could’ve been a good exploration of a police investigation and/or a psychological portrait of a killer, but it flops in both ways, as it remains too preoccupied with stylistic flourishes.

At least the cast bolsters matters somewhat. Though about a decade too old for the part, Curtis does fairly well as DeSalvo, and Fonda helps anchor the proceedings. We also find a top-notch supporting cast that includes talents like George Kennedy, Murray Hamilton, William Hickey, and Sally Kellerman.

Unfortunately, they can’t make much out of this goofy thriller. The Boston Strangler feels badly dated and lacks much to make it an involving tale.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-

The Boston Strangler appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This wasn’t a terrible presentation, but it lacked luster.

Sharpness was one of the iffier elements. Even close-ups could look a bit tentative, and wide shots tended to be fairly soft and ill-defined. At best, the movie showed passable clarity but that was about it. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but noticeable edge enhancement could be seen during parts of the movie. Source flaws remained minor, as I saw a few small specks and nothing more.

Strangler used a fairly restricted palette, so this meant a set of colors without pop. Some of this appeared to be intentional, but I thought the hues appeared drabber than they should. Black levels seemed fairly deep and rich, while shadows demonstrated good clarity. This was a good enough presentation for a “C-“ but it lacked real strengths.

On the other hand, I felt relatively impressed with the film’s Dolby Stereo soundtrack. Sound spread modestly to the sides, mainly due to directional dialogue; the movie featured a fair amount of speech placed firmly on one side or another.

Not much else occurred. The film included little music, so that wasn’t a factor. Effects occasionally broadened to the sides, but they usually stayed pretty centered. The soundscape opened up more than expected for a 46-year-old flick – mainly due to the dialogue – but this wasn’t a particularly engrossing environment.

Audio quality seemed dated but good. Dialogue sounded reasonably natural and distinct, and speech largely lacked evidence of edginess or problems related to intelligibility.

Effects seemed slightly thin but came across as acceptably realistic and clear. Again, music was essentially a non-factor, as the flick included precious little score. This wasn’t a great mix, but it was satisfactory for its age.

Only a few extras appear. Backstory: The Boston Strangler runs 21 minutes, 30 seconds and includes comments from producer Richard Zanuck, director Richard Fleischer, cinematographer Richard H. Kline, and actors Tony Curtis and Sally Kellerman. We learn about the film’s path to the screen, how the director and cast came onboard, various visual techniques and performances, censorship issues and the movie’s release. “Backstory” doesn’t dig into the production with much depth but it still gives us a decent overview.

For a period piece, Fox Movietone News lasts three minutes, 27 seconds. From the 1960s, this clip shows aspects of the Strangler crimes and investigation. Unfortunately, much of the audio remains lost, so it lacks as much value as I’d like.

We get both the teaser and trailer for Strangler. The disc also tosses in promos for From Hell, Don’t Say a Word, One Hour Photo, My Darling Clementine, The Grapes of Wrath and Joy Ride.

Despite a fine cast, The Boston Strangler provides a limp thriller. It lacks much substance or drama and limps along across its 116 minutes. The DVD offers mediocre visuals along with generally positive audio and a few minor bonus materials. There’s a good movie to be made on the subject but this isn’t it.

Note that this version of The Boston Strangler comes as part of a 10-DVD set called “The Henry Fonda Film Collection”. It also includes The Grapes of Wrath, Jesse James, The Return of Frank James, The Longest Day, The Ox-Bow Incident, Drums Along the Mohawk, Immortal Sergeant, and Daisy Kenyon. It appears that the Strangler DVD simply duplicates the original disc from 2004, though.

Viewer Film Ratings: -- Stars Number of Votes: 0
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