The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story (2008)

More MOnster Musings – The MOnster reviews The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story!

“The last face 13 women ever saw”

Boston Strangler: The Untold Story may be a straight-to-DVD feature, but it definitely deserves more than its 3.9 out of 10 rating on IMDB! Released in 2008 and produced by The Weinstein Company and North American Entertainment, the film picks at the decades-old question of whether Albert DeSalvo was The Boston Strangler. Like Bundy: An American Icon, it was written and directed by Michael Feifer, and, unlike Bundy, which was a vehicle for Corin Nemec, Strangler features the talents of the well-known and rather typecast David Faustino as Albert DeSalvo (I mean, who could ever forget him as the amiable ingrate, Bud Bundy in Married With Children?). The DVD is available worldwide, and the film can also be found on numerous online sites like Amazon and Netflix.

Those who’ve seen Feifer’s Bundy will get a very pleasant surprise when watching his Strangler. David Faustino plays the odd, bumbling, simple-but-volatile De Salvo to a T and is supported by many able actors including the impressive Kostas Sommer as Frank Asarian (real life’s George Nassar) and Andrew Divoff as Det. John Marsden. Although Faustino’s height – or the lack thereof – is initially off-putting because one has difficulty imagining him succeeding as either The Green Man or The Measuring Man due to his sheer lack of the ability to physically intimidate, his small stature comes into its own once Frank Asarian/George Nassar starts to manipulate him and mould him into what Frank so clearly needs: a shield between his Strangler Secret Identity and the shrewd detectives on his trail.

The overall look of the film was understated, but it would be wrong to understand “understated” as lacking in interest or uncomplex. Set in the Swinging Sixties, there isn’t much swinging going on, but there is a color palette in evidence that touches on almost every shade of grey, brown and cream imaginable.  This sets the story firmly in place in the era when G-men still stood for Truth, Justice and The American Way in a country that was just a hop, skip and a jump away from exiting World War II. The drabness is just waiting for a change to come along and grab it by its throat, much like the quiet city of Boston waited for the Strangler to come along and grab IT by ITS throat…and we all know what happened after that: Boston – and America – lost an innocence that it would never quite attain again.

Another interesting color choice is showing the Asarian/Nassar flashback of him committing murder in black and white with flashes of color a-la-Schindler’s List. Perhaps this is meant to give an insight into Asarian’s black/white-no-shades-of-grey mindset when it comes to all things connected to him?

The film takes the increasingly-popular-and-supported-by-DNA-evidence stand that Albert DeSalvo was not the Boston Strangler and that he was merely manipulated into saying he was by his conniving cell mate, George Nassar.  Whether Nassar himself was the Strangler is still up for debate, but the film firmly comes down on the side that he was as it shows him committing one of the Strangler murders. Faustino plays DeSalvo’s simplicity and guilelessness perfectly when the confused look in his big blue eyes shows that he doesn’t even understand why becoming famous as the Strangler would not be a good thing. His DeSalvo is clearly only in it for two reasons: to achieve a questionable notoriety in a world where he was losing control faster than the city was losing its innocence and to get his hands on a portion of the reward money so that he could help his family survive the rough times that were sure to come while he spent the rest of his life in jail. There is no doubt that Faustino’s DeSalvo was an Italian with a large libido and a fiery temper, and his Measuring and Green Man antics are shown to be vicious and terrible, but he was not The Boston Strangler.

David Faustino as Albert DeSalvo

Yes, the film gets some details wrong – the Strangler Bureau seems to have been set up to catch a person and name him Strangler rather than to solve the crimes and no clue is given why the Green Man is green – but it stays faithful to the ideas perceived to be in DeSalvo’s head throughout his entire ordeal. Given everything, this may be the most important thing it does as DeSalvo’s own story so often gets strangled by that of the Strangler.

One thing that bothers, though, is that, although the opening five murders of the older ladies are referenced, they are not shown, and the film almost delights in showing only Pretty Young Girls in Peril. Although this may play better to the B Movie audience, it does do the older victims a disservice, and it seems that a more mature version of this story would have addressed this aspect properly.

Detectives and criminals are given almost equal screen time in the film, and this makes for an interesting insight into both sides of the story.  Those who know the case will also be amused by the off-the-cuff remark that the hair Marsden picks up at a crime scene wouldn’t help crack the case in the detectives’ lifetimes: DNA evidence, which is what eventually DID show that DeSalvo was probably not the Strangler, only came into play decades after the crimes were committed.

An interesting attitude-reversal is shown between the local cops and the politician who forms the Strangler Bureau. It is rather well known that the cops from the several districts in which the murders were committed were a touch reluctant to help each others’ investigations and to share evidence and that the Bureau was formed to ensure that all evidence was pooled, petty territorial squabbles forgotten and the crimes solved. In the film, however, although the Bureau does serve to pool evidence, the attitude is very much “find someone and call him the Strangler”, which totally flies in the face of Marsden – and the Boston police – suspecting that several killers were involved.

The film also raises interesting questions about the role of journalism in crime solving, and this point was also very much raised during the original investigation. One such question is “how much reporting is enough”? Another is “although the public have a right to know, do they have a right to know everything?” If, for instance, the papers had not published a highly detailed table comparing all pertinent aspects of each and every murder then (a) possible copy-cat killers would not have found themselves with a How To Kill Like The Boston Strangler Guide in their hands and (b) DeSalvo wouldn’t have been able to come up with so much accurate information and get jailed, and eventually, killed for it. As in The X-Files, there will always be a debate between “is it RIGHT for the public to know” and “is it GOOD for the public to know”, and, in most cases, these questions are only fully answerable after the cat’s out of the bag.

Was DeSalvo the Strangler? Will we ever know for sure? The answers to both questions could be “probably not”, but as long as films like these are being made and the questions are still up for discussion and debate, the story will continue to hold the public’s attention.

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