Review – Extra! Extra! Read All About It! (“Boston Strangler”)

Back in 1968, the movie, The Boston Strangler, (starring then-superstar Tony Curtis) shocked audiences with its graphic depiction of serial killer Albert DeSalvo and how it was the police that solved the case. (see review below). Now it’s time to see the other side of the story.

Now showing exclusively on the Hulu streaming channel is the retelling of 1962-64 events of the Boston Strangler, but through the eyes of two female reporters from the Record American newspaper. After the third murder of elderly women, tenacious reporter Loretta McLaughlin (Kiera Knightly) sees a connection but is shut down by her editor, Jack MacLaine (Chris Cooper). However, Loretta still pursues her leads and finds clues that even the police don’t see. After more murders occur and Loretta’s theories prove correct, Jack teams her up with his tough investigative reporter, Jean Cole (Carrie Coon), to run with the story.

Scooping every newspaper in town and embarrassing the Boston PD, the girls are both equally harassed and admired for their impressive detective skills that other police detectives have brushed aside. Loretta’s only “in” with the police is Det. Jim Conley (Alessandro Nivola) who, burned out with his own investigation, gives her inside information. Meanwhile, Loretta’s home life is rocky at best, as her caring, understanding husband (Morgan Spector) is cracking under the pressure of his wife going down the rabbit hole of investigation. Just like in the movie Zodiac, even after she discovers the killer’s identity as Albert DeSalvo (David Dastmalchian), and he consequently confesses, she’s still not satisfied and can’t let it go.

More and more unanswered nagging questions plague her until the Michigan PD calls, causing the cycle to start all over again, leading to a speculative ending that many conspiracy theorists suggest that DeSalvo wasn’t the real killer. Written & directed by the little-known Matt Ruskin (Crown Heights, Booster), this tantalizing little tale is more like a Law & Order procedural, mixed with the typical gung-ho reporter(s) you normally see in any newspaper drama from Zodiac to All The Presidents Men. Ripped from the headlines (literally), this fact-based story doesn’t rely on gruesome murder scenes and heavy dialogue to spice up the film, but showing the by-the-book operations that reporters have to go through to get their story.

Now, that could be a boring thing if the subject matter wasn’t so darn interesting. Knightly is both beauty & brains as she can sniff out a story better than anyone in her office, and her dogged determination in tracing down the truth knows no bounds; an admirable quality, especially for a woman in the misogynistic 60’s. Cole is cool and collected as the “been there, seen that” reporter. Ruskin directs this dark story (and I do mean, dark! Someone turn on a light!) that is gloomy, creepy in places, and with a haunting sense of dread. It even covers the filming of the 1968 movie, The Boston Strangler! How very meta!

**Now showing only on the HULU streaming channel 




The Boston Strangler (1968)

The Boston Stranger killings ended in 1964 and the book, The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank, came out in 1966. You’ve heard of “based on actual events” in movies, right? Well, the book adaptation for this movie was met with considerable controversy and anger over its content.

Screenwriter Edward Anhalt (Jeremiah Johnson) took the book and really embellished the story, characters, and used a documentary-style approach to the plot. So, after this movie was released, people directly involved with the case (mostly law enforcement) denounced the movie as a work of fiction! It all starts in 1962 Boston and the murders of three elderly women in their apartments. The police conclude they’ve got a serial killer as the type of killings are all the same. On the case is Det. Phil DiNatale (George Kennedy) and his partner, Frank McAfee (Murray Hamilton). But just as they think they’ve got the killer’s M.O. down, he switches tactics and starts to kill young women. . . and different ethnic groups!

The police are baffled. There are precious few clues, the eyewitnesses lead nowhere, and the city is now thrown in fear thanks to the media. As the body count grows, the Attorney General appoints (okay, he demands) agent John S. Bottomly (Henry Fonda) to head up a special Strangler Task Force. Bottomly even hires a kooky Dutch psychic, Peter Hurkos (George Voskovec) who, amazingly and with pinpoint accuracy, locates Eugene O’Rourke (William Hickey), a guy who fits every description of the strangler. But, it ain’t him. Finally, after an hour into the movie we meet Albert DeSalvo (Tony Curtis), a handyman and family guy who can easily talk his way into ladies’ apartments and then viciously murders them. 

Right after victim #13 (Sally Kellerman), who doesn’t die, DeSalvo slips up and is forced on the run by the police. He’s apprehended, but during his lengthy interrogation by Bottomly, is judged to have a split personality. Oddly enough, the movie ends (like Hitchcock’s Psycho) with an ambiguous ending. This was because, at the time of filming, the real DeSalvo was still standing trial and the outcome hadn’t been concluded yet. I’ll go ahead and spoil it: he was convicted and sent to prison for life, but he was killed while in prison by a fellow inmate years later.

One thing is for sure, the script (for 1968) is rather hard-core. Although it mostly spares us from seeing what happened, it doesn’t shy away from graphic wordplay about what happened. The detectives on the scene describe (in dramatic detail) how the victims were killed. Also, the overuse of the word “faggot” is thrown out often and haphazardly, something that is considered unbelievably crude and vulgar today. Although it’s kept within the context of the movie, it’s clearly not necessary and shows the prejudice of the police at the time.

Every actor, at one point in their career, wants that ‘break-out’ role; a movie that shows another side of them. Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine/Mind, Charlize Theron in Monster, and Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems to name a few. For Tony Curtis, this was it, and it scored him a much-deserved 1969 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his efforts. Although the script was iffy, the direction was spot-on as it was helmed by the prolific Richard Fleischer, who gave us such terrific movies as Tora! Tora! Tora!, Soylent Green, Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and many more. So, if you watch this movie, look at it not so much as the pseudo-documentary as it was written, but as a fictionalized version of one of the many horrific events in U.S. history.    

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