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Monday, October 13, 2014

Movies Get Rougher In 1968


The Boston Strangler Squeezes Blood Off Headlines

Was this a first true-crime treatment of serial killing? It shocked in '68 for clinical detail re sex/mutilation aspect of DeSalvo murders, and memory still fresh of the horror made a hit ($8.3 million worldwide) of Fox's "tasteful" (said critics) treatment. Strangler was "Suggested For Mature Audiences," so we knew going in there'd be raw meat. Crime scenes are graphic as was dared at the time, and it startled to hear Henry Fonda, as chief investigator, inquire after "semen residue" on bodies. A new day indeed, as further evidenced by The Detective, also from Fox, where Frank Sinatra spoke plain on shock topics till then forbade by a weakening Code. One thing we understood about the soon-to-be ratings system was bets being off as to content; even some of what they rated "G," like for instance Dracula Has Risen From The Grave or The Impossible Years, was rough or sexy beyond what would have been tolerated a season or two before. I admit much of thrill in going to movies from '68 on was to see what walls they'd breach.


The Boston Strangler was one I sat alone watching at the Liberty on a weekday after school. Friends couldn't be bothered, and grown-ups were at work (hopefully) or home watching television. Matinees were being dropped in smaller towns but for weekends, but we persisted all the way to first Liberty closure in 1973 (a two-year blackout). Was it worth my sixty cents and that of three or four odd patrons to continue these 3:00 shows? I combo reviewed The Boston Strangler and a Parent Trap reissue for local press, the pair having played in succession over a past week. I should have pointed out how radically movies had changed in just seven years, but missed that point at fourteen. Strangler was jazzed up with split-screen visuals and action-reaction sharing halves of a Panavision screen, all of which played hell for techs who had to scan 16mm prints for TV use. Didn't Fox realize that a vast majority of public would see The Boston Strangler this way? But here seemed another device movies could use to differentiate from the tube, even if the trick plays trendy and more like distraction now.


The thing is neatly halved, killer pursuit in the first, arrest and analysis of DeSalvo for a (long) second. Think Psycho with an extra hour of Norman being interrogated and finally owning up to his/her dual personality. For many, The Boston Strangler is over once they catch DeSalvo. No more killings, suspense diminished, and we're left to verbal ping-pong twixt Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis, whose convincing perf was pride and joy for the actor in both his autbios. How he copped the prize was lots like Marlon Brando humbling self to be The Godfather four years later. Both stars were on downward sled, and while Brando's hit the dip then vaulted skyward, Curtis was largely back to copies of what had worked earlier for him and others (his first after The Boston Strangler: Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies). Strangler can't help but engage, thanks to grim curiosity as nightmare unfolds, but its no patch on a modern variant like Zodiac, probably the best and most chilling of serial death watches (excepting M, of course).

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