Richard Fleischer is one of my favourite directors from Hollywood history, and his 1968 account of the hunt for Boston’s most notorious serial killers remains one of the grittiest and most innovative thrillers of the 1960s, boasting as it does a bravura performance by Tony Curtis in the title role. The film surely influenced a generation of gritty 70s police procedurals from The French Connection onwards.
Trouble is, it’s all more or less a load of hooey, as it turns out.
Albert De Salvo was convicted of the thirteen ‘Boston Strangler’ killings that occurred in that city between 1962 and 1964, but pretty much the only evidence that he had anything to do with it was his own confessions, now believed – certainly by the makers of this new film – to have been offered forward for pecuniary reasons, since by then De Salvo was serving a life sentence as a multiple rapist anyway.
Ultimately no new version of the story can really draw the case to a close (it’s still an open investigation with the Boston Police Department), and a Zodiac-style pall of insecurity hangs over this new straight-to-DVD release by Michael Feifer, though it isn’t necessarily the worse for that.
What it is the worse for is the paucity of the budget – doing period drama on a shoestring leads to all the usual suspects: a handful of good actors mixing in with thespians who could barely carry a line in a porno movie; close-ups that crop out or defocus the modern setting that the production couldn’t afford to redress or SFX-up; and a varying standard of dialogue.
Luckily the two core performances of the movie are very well-played, with David Faustino a credible and weaseley De Salvo, and Kostas Sommer as the opportunistic lifer who ends up sharing a cell with him, and who sees a buck or two to be made in offering a false confession.
Most of the material at the police station is drawn from standard noir-wannabe thrillers – embarrassingly hard-boiled and undoubtedly containing the hokiest dialogue.
Luckily we mostly stay with Faustino, and here we’re in good hands, as he really evokes the insidious and ingenious De Salvo ‘method’ for finding a new rape victim. It’s strange for me, as I’ve not kept up with Faustino’s career since Married With Children, to see Bud Bundy in such a bad light, but to be honest I couldn’t quite make the connection whilst watching the movie, and had to resort to Google to work out where I knew Faustino from. And that’s a good sign both for the actor and the part.
The appeal of The Untold Story is, predictably, that we get the skinny on where the investigation and the Fleischer movie went wrong, and this is certainly compelling, even if certain aspects of the saga have inevitably been over-emphasised or semi-fictionalised for dramatic impact.
A multiple rapist, we only get to see a full De Salvo ‘hit’ once, and the rape scenes themselves are fragmentary and momentary flash-backs. If you’re tired of seeing rape pored over as a subject, you’ll be pleased to know that this film handles the matter with at least a modicum of decorum, instead of pruriently lingering on De Salvo’s ‘career’ moments.
Untold Story is interesting enough to be worth a rent or even a purchase (when the price is right). It’s a cheaply made tale, but pretty well-told, with two strong central performances that lift it a little above its ‘straight-to-disc’ stigmata.
On a negative note, Lionsgate have put an unforgivable number of trailers for other movies as a roadblock to this one on the DVD, and for me that relegates the disc to the ‘possible rental’ status.
The Boston Strangler is released today.