Working on my own novel about Albert DeSalvo and the events that surrounded his crimes and confessions, I've committed to exploring all the published works about Albert DeSalvo, who was my mother's favorite uncle, and directly impacted by the Strangler Bureau media circus as her father, Albert's brother Joe, tried so desperately to help Albert while his own family fell apart.
Initially excited to come across a title so recently released, I watched it, ipad in hand. I found myself wondering throughout the picture, "Who is Michael Feifer, this writer/director/producer, with a cameo appearance? And what connection does he have to this story?" With each successive scene, I surmised that his connection was likely to be none other than a recipient of hand-me-down anecdotes, perhaps of inmates who "knew" Albert.
The movie's portrayal of the Strangler investigation alone is so skewed as to include Albert in a line-up for the Stranger murders, which never actually happened. This is important because when investigators retrospectively looked at their activities, they realized that they never considered Albert DeSalvo as a suspect because he was well-known as a petty thief--a completely different category of crime. Breaking and entering was his thing, at least before his stint as the Measuring Man. And at that, the Measuring Man was about 3 things: feeling superior for having duped highly educated women, getting a cheap thrill and making quick cash. Albert never engaged in violent behavior at that time, unlike the movie's depiction--which had Albert in a completely different classification of criminal during the Strangler Bureau's Investigation.
Am I attempting to fuss over the fact that this movie's portrayal of Albert DeSalvo gives us intellectual whiplash, yanking us back and forth between glimpses of his initial gullibility (and the regret that became his undoing), and scenes in which he rivals Jekyll & Hyde's emotional stability? Not really. I'm simply a believer in a writer's responsibility to be forthright about what they're presenting to the public.
The movie's title set me up to prepare for a review of all the familiar players of that time.
Instead, I kept pausing the movie and looking up names I'd never heard, like "Paul Winfield" who was apparently supposed to represent the real-life, first black police commissioner in Boston, MA, Edward Brooke.
Paul Winfield announces the formation of the Strangler Bureau, and its' leader, Fred Addison, who later tapes Albert's confession. In reality, this was John Bottomly.
And yet even the changed names were inconsistent, lending to deep confusion. Identifying Albert's children by their correct names, Judy and Michael, it named his wife "Claudia," instead of Irmgard. Albert never had a brother named Michael or a sister-in-law named Sondra; the only husband-wife sibling team that visited Albert in jail was Albert's brother Richard and his wife, Rosalie.
The man identified in the line-up, who later became Albert's cellmate was identified as "Frank Asarian," but the real-life inmate who was instrumental in developing Albert's get-rich-quick scheme was a sociopath named George Nassar. He was from a wealthy family, who had reportedly spent quite a lot of money keeping George out of the press for the sake of the family name. Talking Albert into confessing to the Strangler crimes was just an extension of that strategy, and it was effortless to pay a hot shot lawyer.
George Nassar's attorney, F. Lee Bailey (apparently portrayed in the movie as Stuart Whitmore, who laughably referenced working 'pro-bono'--AS IF) convinced Albert of all the money he would make, taking book and movie deals after his conviction.
The opening scene shows Albert calling a doctor named Dr. Arlen who was familiar with him; in reality, Albert called 2 people the night before he was killed; F.Lee Bailey, and Dr. Ames Robey. While the progression of the murders and victims was completely inaccurate, I found it strange, if not in poor taste that the original names of the victims were used.
I would give this movie a half-star if I could, just for the attempt, and for getting a few facts straight. However harsh that sounds, my reaction comes from the fact that only after the title's promise and the painful content does the movie reveals it's standard disclaimer as a fictional work, which means 1 of 2 things to me; either the writer did not have the will or the guts to get the facts straight enough to straightforwardly declare the work a non-fiction, OR the writer knowingly wrote a fictional piece, including just enough of the facts to reel the viewer in, promising revelation of "truth," while delivering the same fluffy nonsense I endured while reading Sebastian Junger's "Murder In Belmont."
In the vernacular of Ebert & Roeper: "I give this a 2 thumbs down!"
Stay on the lookout for my new book, "In the Shadow of the Strangler," due for release later this year!
-Lisa A. Perry