AN certificate film called The Boston Strangler ("X," Rialto) sounds exactly the kind of picture that our most conscientious readers protest should never be reviewed in a Catholic paper. But it isn't.
Obviously it is not the picture to put before children (the law excludes under-16s anyway) or nervous old ladies. No doubt, when the project for a film of Gerold Frank's book on the terror in Boston when 13 women — some old, some young—were murdered in the 18 months following President Kennedy's assassination the subject was thought likely to appeal to today's terrible appetite for crimes of violence and sex.
No doubt, the matters explored and revealed do reflect the violent spirit of the times, as much as did the horrors of Webster. As the Assistant Attorney-General, Bottomley (Henry Fonda), puts the pacifist argument, you must expect a habit of killing in a society which spends so much of its budget on weapons of death.
But given the subject—and given it by history—Edward Anhalt's screenplay and Richard Fleischer's direction treat it with uncommon sobriety and restraint. They have made a brilliantly dramatic entertainment at the same time as a pretty serious problem picture.
Frank's original book was written with the avowed purpose of describing "a great city besieged by terror." Probably for security considerations, the film confines this aspect to a brilliantly sketched impression of an atmosphere of anxiety.
There is, of course, drama and suspense. But the only contrived gimmick is to withhold the first sight of the star (Tony Curtis) as the strangler, Albert DeSalvo, for almost an hour. When we do first see him, a fond father and husband, it is not the culmination of a whodunit but the beginning of the film's real business, a case-history of the man's multiple-split personality un
covered in a series of gruelling and touching interviews with Bottomley.
These "two handed" interview scenes are absorbing and superbly played. Henry Fonda makes Bottomley a man of infinite rectitude and patience, persevering to win the cooperation of the bewildered de Salvo in breaking through the barriers of his clouded mind and memory.
The director's clever use of the split screen to show other people and happenings than those in the foreground seems to me brilliantly apt and analogous to the flashes through the mental barriers.
In its emphasis on the split personality the film soft-pedals, compared with the book, the part played by what we used to call heredity and environment. If it occasionally threatens to verge on the sentimental "pity the poor criminal" attitude, it never topples over, Its final question is of the responsibility of the community for such sick members. • By more than usually strange coincidence, the same question of responsibility ends another and unique film I have waited for years and hitherto failed to see. Now Night and Fog ("X," Paris-Pullman) turns up in an outstanding double bill of Alan Resnais's work.
Made in 1955 from material in the war archives of France, Germany and Poland, this poetic documentary condenses into half an how the history of the worst horror of our times, perhaps in human history: the Nazi concentration camps.
A lush green opening suggests that all is overgrown, serene and silent, until a strand of barbed wire flashes us back into black and white newsreels more horrendous than anything in Dante or Bosch. Of all the reels of film I have seen and the volumes of print read on the subject, this 30-minute film is the most powerful and the most shattering.
I believe "Night and Fog" should be shown to everybody (over 16) who is capable of enduring it: to those of us who remember the end-of-war revelations, to remind us and illuminate a little of horror on a scale we shall never under
stand; and to enlighten those who cannot remember and will surely not believe that such things were done to people of whom survivors live and move among us.
The commentary finishes by asking who is responsible when so many claimed they were not?
The first feature in this masterly double revival is Resnais's Last Year in Marienbad ("U," Paris-Pullman), the original "do-it-yourself" puzzle picture. i must have seen it three or four times and still come to no hard or fast solution: had the Man (Giorgio Albertazzi) and the Woman (Delphine Seyrig) who meet in a huge baroque hotel met the year before in another spa hotel, as the man insists, or is it all a confidence trick or dream?
I don't think there is art answer for I think the film is concerned with something else: with the capacity of the cinema, until television the most mechanised of media, for exploring the interior movements of mind and hear in time and memory. It is endlessly fascinating and consistently beautiful.