Appellate Judge Tom Becker is skipping the Church of Misery tonight.
Bud Bundy is Albert DeSalvo!
But was Albert DeSalvo really the Boston Strangler?
Facts of the Case
It's Boston in the early 1960s, and police are baffled by a series of stranglings. All the victims are women, but beyond that, many of the crimes have little else in common. Det. John Marsden (Andrew Divoff, Lost) believes that there is more than one killer at work, but Arthur Winfield (Joe Torry, Redrum), a politically ambitious DA, wants someone—any one—arrested and the case closed.
Albert DeSalvo (David Faustino, Married with Children) is a jerk, a wise guy, and a rapist. He's arrested and ends up cellmates with Frank Asarian (Kostas Sommer). Asarian offers DeSalvo a proposition: there's reward money being offered for info on the Strangler. DeSalvo can "confess" to Asarian, Asarian can collect the reward money, and they can split it. DeSalvo's never killed anyone, but since he expects he's going to be in jail for the rest of his life anyway, what difference does it make if people think he's the Strangler?
But Asarian has other reasons for wanting someone to confess to the murders.
The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story is writer/director/producer (etc.) Michael Feifer's latest cinematic love letter to a serial killer. Feifer has already given us Richard Speck and Ted Bundy (both essayed by Corin Nemec, Parker Lewis Can't Lose) and Dennis Rader (a.k.a., B.T.K.) and Ed Gein (both played by Kane Hodder, who was Jason in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, among other outings). Here, Feifer earns the eternal gratitude of David Faustino, still dining out on his Bud Bundy character from Married With Children, casting him as Albert DeSalvo, the man who was long considered to be the infamous Boston Strangler of the early 1960s.
It's an interesting casting choice, and Faustino really acts his little heart out, noodling with the occasional Boston accent, smacking around the occasional woman (occasionally, they smack back), grandstanding the occasional melt down, and so on. Unforgettably played by Tony Curtis in 1968, Faustino's DeSalvo is less a menacing hulk than an edgy, dimwitted punk. Also unlike Curtis, Faustino's DeSalvo is…not the Boston Strangler.
By now, it's pretty well accepted that there was no single Strangler in Boston between 1962 and 1964, and that the crimes were committed by a number of different people and were not serially slayings at all. DNA tests support this.
In Feifer's vision, DeSalvo was a rapist and molester who never killed anyone and just had the bad fortune to end up sharing a cell with the actual killer, here called Frank Asarian. Through a somewhat rushed and implausible series of circumstances and coincidences, DeSalvo decides to take the rap for the killings, rationalizing that his sex offences will keep him locked up for life anyway, and by "confessing" to the stranglings, he can claim some reward money and help out his family.
The accuracy of all that is debatable, but it's probably not far from the truth. Unfortunately, for the film, it brings up another question: If Albert DeSalvo was not the Boston Strangler, then why are we watching a movie about Albert DeSalvo? Once you take "serial killer" out of the DeSalvo equation, there's not a whole lot that's interesting about the guy. If Feifer had elected to tell the story of Frank Asarian, and then just thrown DeSalvo in at the end, this would have made more sense as a film.
Instead, we get a whole bunch of scenes of Faustino-as-DeSalvo not killing anyone, interspersed with a fairly routine police procedural and a couple of scenes of Sommer strangling some unfortunate supporting players. By the end, we understand well enough why DeSalvo would have gone along with the hoax and why the police and public were happy to accept his story, despite its discrepancies. I just don't know why Feifer chose not to focus on the person he believed to be the real Strangler—or at least, a real strangler.
The disc looks and sounds fine, and technically, the film is a step up from the last Feifer I saw, Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck. The only extra of note is a surprisingly entertaining commentary track with Faustino, Feifer, Composer Andres Boulton, and Editor Roberto Jimenez. Like the Chicago Massacre track, Feifer makes a couple of comments—in particular, about aspects of the DeSalvo-Asarian relationship that he didn't explore—that make me wish he was a little more courageous and less self-conscious as a story teller.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's nothing terribly wrong with this film, it's just not especially exciting or enlightening. We learn a lot about DeSalvo, but since he's just a fall guy, it all doesn't seem that important. It's fun watching Faustino, though, and if you're a fan of police procedurals, this one does its job fine.
I appreciate what Feifer does—making fact-based, unsensationalized dramas about serial killers and casting formerly famous actors against type. I just wish he'd thought this one through a bit better.
Like Albert DeSalvo, evidently, David Faustino is not guilty. The film, on the other hand, is guilty of being a confused effort that could have gone in a number of better directions.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Commentary with Michael Feifer, David Faustino, Composer Andres Boulton, and Editor Roberto Jimenez
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