Tony Curtis did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Albert DeSalvo in The Boston Strangler.
The Boston Strangler is a mostly effective film about the search for the titular killer that feels like a precursor to serial killer procedurals like Zodiac and Memories of Murder, though it isn't as successful as those films. It is yet another example of director Richard Fleischer seeming most adept at realizing darker subject matter though, even if he does unfortunately indulge in some of those forced attempts at an overt style so common in the late 60's.
The Boston Strangler follows the police as they work the case, following them as they struggle to solve it through various false leads while the killer continues to strike. The film over an hour in reveals the killer to the viewer as Albert DeSalvo played by Tony Curtis. Curtis is an actor who apparently wanted to be taken seriously, despite often being cast in pretty boy roles, and like his work in Sweet Smell of Success, that seems rather evident in this performance. Curtis isn't at all distracting, despite being a recognizable face, as he enters as DeSalvo. Although Curtis is playing a serial killer, he's not just playing a random loner psycho, but rather a man who was a killer while living as a seemingly normal family man. Curtis resists any possible urge to telegraph his performance, which would have been wholly ill-fitting given the film's tone, despite even the material setting up, inaccurately apparently, that DeSalvo suffers from a split-personality, more on that later. The initial scenes of Curtis though follow DeSalvo as he makes excuses with his family in order to go continue his murder spree.
The murder scenes, like Fleischer's masterpiece 10 Rillington Place, are handled without exploitation though that is not to say they are not brutal. They do not relish in the violence but they do depict the viciousness of it. Curtis's performance is part of this in his exact depiction of the serial killer who keeps killing as a habit. Curtis is chilling by the ease in which he portrays DeSalvo's manner in these scenes whether it is in asking the potential victims to let him in, like a workman just asking to be able to do his job, or when the assault begins. DeSalvo asks for silence, claiming he will not harm his victim to do so, Curtis delivers this calmly, a calm that is consistent within the scene. Curtis never goes broad with the killer even for a moment though realizing in such eerie detail this man going about his sinister task. This is particularly off-putting as Curtis shows how DeSalvo manages to get away with the crimes in that method of seeming so innocuous until the attack, then during the attack granting that disturbing serenity as he begins, though his eyes always tell of his true intentions for his victims.
Eventually DeSalvo is caught in a failed home invasion but not in a circumstance where it was obvious he was trying to murder someone. Curtis's work is striking by how natural he is in these scenes portraying such a honest fear in the man as he tries to plead to be let go. Curtis does not give away the killer instead showing the man behind all of it. There is a pivotal scene where he meets with his wife and Curtis is excellent because he does not telegraph any evil within this man. If you had not seen him participate in the crime it could seem as just a scared man who made a mistake through Curtis's realistic portrayal. It is rather remarkable to me that I just took Curtis as DeSalvo in the film, and the idea of Tony Curtis playing a killer wasn't even a thought in my mind due to how natural his work is here. Curtis is outstanding in the way he creates almost a sympathy by how genuine every facet of the incarceration and the separation from his family do afflict him. Curtis never dehumanizes the killer actually by showing the real ordeal the man is going through even beyond why he is there.
The film introduces though the idea that DeSalvo suffers from a split personality disorder, which Curtis takes as an idea but doesn't go with an obvious approach to realize it. He does not portray it as a simple switch, or a switch at all for that matter, that would be more akin to a villain in a different kind of film. Curtis instead maintains the tone of the film by creating this as something far less clean within DeSalvo's psychosis. Curtis reveals the broken psyche of the man as a mess, as the moments before his final interrogation, he keeps the indications subtle and incredibly effective in these slips into his urges and his madness. This film leads towards its final scene which is basically the confession of DeSalvo. This is depicted as prompted by the lead investigator (Henry Fonda) but the scene entirely falls upon Curtis's shoulders. The investigator prods the confession by going over with DeSalvo his crimes trying to force him to relive them. Once again Curtis's work is stunning by how subtle he stays for much of the scene. For quite a while he just reveals the intense and raw emotion swirling in the man's mind, just through the gradual unnerving change as he listens. Curtis, worthy of comparison's to Peter Lorre in M, conveys all the damaged thoughts in the man's mind as he suffers through his own remembrance. Eventually he prodded towards his reenactment which Curtis builds towards in a way that is bone chilling by the way he has DeSalvo give himself to the moment, and we see the full insanity of the man. Curtis is absolutely haunting in his depiction of this by giving this unmistakable life to such a monstrous act. It is never a single thing as he reveals with the act this harrowing cluster of lust, hate, and also pain in the act. The film abruptly ends with the end of the "confession". Curtis earns this decision as it feels as though nothing more should be said after that moment. This is an amazing performance by Tony Curtis as he creates such an unsettling and vivid portrait of the man that is the murderer.