The Boston Strangler has dated somewhat: as with all revolutionary films, what seemed groundbreaking in 1968 seems almost quaint at times today. Yet it’s still interesting just how unjudgmental the film is, generally offering a tour of the city’s moral underbelly without ever assuming the same prejudices of the detectives failing to deal with the murders. Like the same year’s The Detective, also from 20th Century Fox, it’s surprisingly level and sympathetic in its treatment of Hurd Hatfield’s gay antique dealer who is automatically regarded as a prime suspect in any sex crimes (was it an in-joke that it’s a portrait that gets him on the list, I wonder?), just as it resists the temptation to demonize William Hickey’s obsessive pervert (lesbians, however, aren’t quite so lucky). In many ways, this is a film more about attempting to understand and prevent further killings than a manhunt movie, with the eternally under-rated Richard Fleischer’s psychiatric training making him an ideal choice for the material.
The matter of fact procedural nature of the film is at times too low-key to make for compelling drama, but the split-screen sequences are still quite impressive and Tony Curtis’ performance is a remarkable piece of work from an actor who now seems all too content to play down to people’s low expectations. It’s also interesting to note the way that the interrogation scene, with Henry Fonda appearing in Curtis’ memories as he works his way inside his head, was so comprehensively ripped off by Spike Lee in Clockers to much less effect