Elderly women are being murdered in Boston, Massachusetts. They are being sexually assaulted, sometimes with foreign objects, and strangled. By the time the third victim is discovered Boston police have determined that they have a serial killer in and around Boston. Soon there are more murders that cover several jurisdictions. Women are warned to not open their doors to strangers. A task force is assembled to coordinate the investigation. The Attorney General of Massachusetts, Edward W. Brooke (William Marshall) assigns John S. Bottomly (Henry Fonda) to head the investigation. Boston and outlying areas are blanketed with police and detectives investigating all known sex offenders, but the Strangler is not among them.
Desperate for anything that will help, Bottomly calls in a noted psychic, Peter Hurkos (George Voskovec). Although Hurkos comes up with a suspect, it’s the wrong one. Another murder happens while Hurkos’ suspect, Eugene T. O’Rourke (William Hickey), is in custody. O’Rourke is a sick puppy, but he’s not a murderer.
During the funeral of John F. Kennedy, Albert DeSalvo leaves his house and cruises the streets of Boston. He talks his way into the apartment of Dianne Cluny (Sally Kellerman) and assaults her. Dianne manages to bite him, and he flees. When DeSalvo tries to break into another apartment, the husband chases him down the street. He is caught by the police and ends up under psychiatric observation. It’s not until later that he is suspected of being the Boston Strangler.
“The Boston Strangler” was released in 1968 and was directed by Richard Fleischer. It is an American crime mystery.
The acting is top notch. Back in 1968 the movie was exploitive but looking at it 55 years later it is more artistic. As with most Hollywood films, a lot of it is fiction. If you look at the movie as a work of fiction, then you find a well-made police procedural with some stunning imagery in a well-produced package. Crime, yes, true crime, no.
The real DeSalvo was never diagnosed to have had multiple personality disorder. DeSalvo was never actually charged with the killings even though he supposedly confessed to the murders. Of course, his confession was disputed. At the same time the murders were happening a series of rapes were being committed. The rapist was known as the Green Man. DeSalvo was arrested for the rapes. Reportedly DNA was recovered and matched to DeSalvo in 2013 for at least one of the Strangler killings. No evidence tied him to the other twelve murders, so the rumors and speculation continue.
The film uses a split screen technique to enhance the suspense and add intensity to the film. The technique has its fans and its critics. As long as it’s not overdone, I’m OK with it. In this case it is only used during the investigative part of the movie and does seem to add to the urgency of the investigation.
In all there were thirteen murders attributed to the Strangler. The ages of the women ranged between 19 and 85. Most were sexually assaulted and strangled although a couple of them were stabbed. They occurred in several cities. There is still some speculation that more than one person was responsible for all thirteen murders.