Tony Curtis as Albert DeSalvo: 1968’s ‘The Boston Strangler’

October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

The list of Academy Award nominees for Best Actor in 1968 included Cliff Robertson (“Charly”); Alan Arkin (“The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”); Alan Bates (“The Fixer”); Ron Moody (“Oliver”) and Peter O’Toole (“The Lion In Winter”).

Not listed here was Tony Curtis, who that year played the real-life Albert DeSalvo, the long-suspected but never convicted man who was tagged as the terrifying Boston Strangler. Curtis gives a spare, haunting performance in this Richard Fleischer film – he’s a void, a cypher, a black hole. He’s a silent, morbid center, and Curtis gives one of the most convincing depictions of a killer ever put on the screen.

Curtis was undoubtedly overlooked by the Oscars because “The Boston Strangler” – the film – was controversial. The New York Times hated it. Variety loved it. It was explicit and grimy. Hollywood was still unsure of where it was headed. Just the year before, “Bonnie and Clyde” received 10 Academy Award nominations, but earned only two. (That film’s director, Arthur Penn, also died this week.) Curtis was a real glamour boy, conventionally handsome in that 1950s way, and so maybe Hollywood thought that if it didn’t reward him he would go back to his silly personas of “Some Like It Hot” and “The Great Race.”

He had already proved his acting chops in “The Defiant Ones” (Best Actor nomination) and the gorgeous “Sweet Smell of Sucess.” In the latter film, which is not an indictment on Hollywood, as some have written, but rather a look the rotten core of some human beings, Curtis played Sidney Falco, a cheap press agent, and he should have been nominated for that film, too.

Curtis also had another memorable part in 1968. He played the role of Donald Baumgart, an actor going blind, in Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” Curtis never appears on screen, but if you listen to Curtis over the phone (he speaks to John Cassavetes) you can hear the voice of a man whose heart is breaking because he just lost his chance.

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