THE BOSTON STRANGLER ( 1968 Fox)116min http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/boston-strangler-the-blu-ray / PRETTY POISON (1968 Fox)89min http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/pretty-poison-blu-ray/ –Twilight Time Blu Rays $29.95 each Limited to 3000 pressings each
1968 was a banner year for movies: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY(MGM), OLIVER(Columbia), ROMEO & JULIET(Paramount), ROSEMARY’S BABY (Paramount), PLANET OF THE APES(Fox). Among those films were two marvelous murder thrillers, both from 20th Century Fox, one a box office and critical success (BOSTON STRANGLER) the other a box office failure that has developed a strong cult following that continues to grow (PRETTY POISON).
First, we have THE BOSTON STRANGLER.
THE BOSTON STRANGLER was a big budget ($4.1 million) film released October 16,1968. Critical reaction was mixed for director Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA(Disney,1954) and his then daring split screen and multiple images to show various points of views at the same time (also used in GRAND PRIX (MGM,1966) as well as THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (U.A.,1968)). There was a more unanimous consensus of praise for Tony Curtis and his daring and solid performance as split personality Albert DeSalvo. Curtis won a Golden Globe for Best Actor, which must have been thrilling for him, considering that he was not considered able to play the role, but had to win the role by taking photos of himself in makeup and having director Fleischer slip them to the studio head, who said that was the type that they were looking for!
(old VHS print from Key Video)
Based upon Gerold Frank’s best-selling well researched non -fiction book of the same title (Hardcover, New American Library,1966), there was difficulty in finding the right screenplay adapter. The original choice, Playwright Terrence Rattigan who wrote stage plays like THE WINSLOW BOY(London,1946) was a friend of producer Robert Fryer. However, the screenplay that he turned into a comedy! Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and writer Edward Anhalt (winner of an Oscar for the adaptation he co-wrote with his wife Edna for PANIC IN THE STREETS (Fox ,1950) produced a script that was more faithful in feeling to the Gerald Frank book.
Henry Fonda portrays John S Bottomly, who leads the investigation into a series of Strangle Murders in Boston. The police get so desperate they even resort to a Psychic to aide them. The killings continue unabated until plumber Albert DeSalvo is apprehended for attempted breaking and entering. A series of incidents and clues lead them to believe that DeSalvo is killer whom they have been seeking.
Tony Curtis is superb playing the family man who has a dual life and even a dual personality. The fractured screen shots and isolated images also perfectly encapsulate the isolation and separation that DeSalvo seemed to be suffering from. That he was not nominated for an Academy Award (the best actor award going to Cliff Robertson for portraying another person suffering from mental problems in CHARLY (Cinerama,1968)) is one of the major shames in the whole award process mentality, as he gives a superlative performance.
Besides Fonda, other great performances are given by George Kennedy (a year after his best supporting actor Oscar win for COOL HAND LUKE(WB,1967)) and Murray Hamilton (who had performed on stage with Fonda, but is perhaps best known as playing the Mayor in JAWS(Universal,1975)as two of the detectives who piece together the various bits of evidence, as well as various members of law enforcement and society being portrayed by William Marshall(BLACULA,AIP,1972),Sally Kellerman (MASH,Fox,1970),Hurt Hatfield (forever Dorian in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY,MGM 1945),Jeff Corey (SECONDS,Paramount,1966),James Brolin (still a struggling contract player at Fox at the time before rising to fame as a T.V. heartthrob on MARCUS WELBY,M.D.(Universal,1969-1976) ,and many more .
(William Hickey as a suspect )
The 1080P transfer Region Free transfer is sharp and clean. Audio is an optional 2.0 or 3.0 DTS-HD Master. There are optional English (SDH)subtitles.
Extras on the Blu Ray reviewed include:
-An isolated music and sound effect track. The score by Lionel Newman (COMPULSION, Fox, 1959) is effective, but, to me, not memorable on its own.
-An informative and nonstop Audio Commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros that covers both the production history of the film as well its cinematic style, as well as a lot of information about the actual murders, the doubts that exists that if DeSavlo was the killer of all the victims, and where the film deviates from the facts of the case.
– “Real Killer, Fake Nose”- is over a half hour long documentary about the making of the film, and how innovative its cinematography and editing was for the time. Interviews include Sally Kellerman (who plays one of the victims) and Mark Fleischer (the director’s son) and D.P. Richard H Kline.
– “Split Screen Personality” -has director William Friedkin (THE FRENCH CONNECTION,Fox 1971) discuss the real-life events and the film, plus how the film influenced his style.
-Original Theatrical Trailers (approximately 4 minutes)
-An 8-page booklet by Julie Kirgo about the film
Two extras ported over from the Fox 2004 DVD release are
– “AMC Backstory: The Boston Strangler”- a nice overview of the film made for The American Movie Classics channel when it was still about movies.
– A Fox Movietone News clip (roughly 3 ½ minutes) from the era about Albert DeSalvo.
Like Most of Twilight Times releases, this is limited to a print run of 3000.
Next we have PRETTY POISON.
PRETTY POISON was and is a quirky little thriller that failed to find an audience when first released. The screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr (fresh from T.V.’s BATMAN (Fox,1966-68)) is a fairly faithful adaptation of the short novel “She Let Him Continue “by Stephen Geller (first edition: Hardcover E.P. Dutton,1966), save for a reduction of the pill taking so prevalent in the book.
(note,this paperback edition says filming for EMBASSY PICTURES!)
Director Noel Black had only had a short film released by U.A. before he was given his feature film debut. He had seen Tony Perkins on Broadway, and thought he would be perfect for the part of Dennis Pitts, a young man who had killed his aunt when he set fire to their home when he was 15. So, sure that Perkins was right for the role, that Black waited at Perkins’ request until the play closed before filming began.
Dennis Pitts, after his release, is stuck in a dead-end job at a local chemical company. To break up the monotony, he thinks of young Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld, who had been acting since age 13 in ROCK ROCK ROCK (DCA,1956)). Weld was a perfect choice for this role of the young innocent who it turns out is not as innocent as she first appears.
Dennis tells Sue Ann that he is secretly a CIA operative spying on the factory for dumping chemicals into the river. His harmless fantasies however fuel an amoral side to Sue Ann, who becomes the dominant partner in both sex, wanton destruction, and finally murder, starting with her mother (Beverly Garland, star of many Roger Corman 1950s films).
Weld supposedly hated her director, and would often refuse to do as he asked or would break down in tears. Perkins had no such problem with Black, and the finished film was affected by the behind the scenes dramas. Weld & Perkins would work together again in PLAY IT AS IT LAYS (Universal,1971), another wonderful film that was also a box office failure.
Though not hired with it in mind, it is hard to escape the idea that this is a variant of Norman Bates for Perkins. Indeed, parts of it could be a template for PSYCHO II (Universal ,1983). The film also seems to me to be a precursor of Terrence Malik’s BADLANDS (WB,1973), albeit with a darker sense of humor than that latter film.
Shot over 30 days on location in Massachusetts, with only an additional day of studio work, the film was brought in for a 1.3-million-dollar budget.
Sadly,1968 was a year when random gun violence was on the rise, with the murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr happening earlier. The studio, which didn’t seem to have much faith in the finished film, dumped it into 42nd Street double bills. However, when Pauline Kael and Rex Reed championed it, the studio gave it a more halfhearted art-house release, again with little support.
Director Noel Black never seemed to have ever gotten the chance to ever match this film. Several aborted projects, some barely released (MIRRORS,1978, First American Films), and a lot of tv work.
His biggest theatrical success was the teen sex comedy PRIVATE SCHOOL(Universal,1983). Towards the end of his life, Anthony Perkins tried in vein to get Noel Black as director for PSYCHO IV, which eventually was directed by Mick Garris from an awful Joseph Stefano script (Universal TV,1990).
It was only when PRETTY POISON began showings on t.v. in a heavily edited edition that a wider group of people began to discover the movie. A rather bland vhs release and a no frills 2006 DVD from Fox (the region 2 DVD at least had a commentary by director Black) were also both released without fanfare.
TWILIGHT TIME, once again, has gone all out on bringing this gem to the attention of the movie loving public, and what a wonderful job that they have done.
First, we have the beautiful 1080p High Definition transfer. The magnificent cinematography by
David Quaid (whose previous work varied from SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS(Embassy,1964) to THE SWIMMER(Columbia,1968)) gets a proper framing and clean sharp images.
The original mono sound can be heard in crisp 1.0 DTS-HD MA, with optional English SDH subtitles.
As for extras:
At this point (January ,2017), I think of those who worked on PRETTY POISON, only producer Lawrence Turman (age 90!) is still with us. Turman’s latest production was the 2011 remake of THE THING(Universal), so we are lucky that TWILIGHT TIME could get him for the audio commentary. With him are film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman. The trio keep up a lively commentary.
Also included is the audio commentary from the 2004 region 2 DVD. This has director Noel Black and film historian Robert Fischer discussing the history and tribulations of the film,
Johnny Mandel’s music and the films effects sound track are given an isolated sound track on the disc. Mandel’s score strikes the right balance between a thriller and a romance.
Optional English Subtitles are also available.
Julie Kirgo once again supplies an informative 8-page booklet about the film.
The BluRay sleeve is reversible with a stylized drawing of Perkins & Weld.
Also included is the audio commentary from the 2006 region 2 DVD. This has director Noel Black and film historian Robert Fischer discussing the history and tribulations of the film,
An interesting extra is a text script scene that was deleted that has commentary by Black and Fischer.
This TWILIGHT TIME release is limited to only 3,000 units.
Once again, I must say, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. I may just have to save time at this rate and say TWILIGHT TIME -HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all future reviews.
–Kevin G Shinnick
(Did I mention the 1996 remake?I didn’t? Good, because it was pretty bad.)