Stars – Richard Attenborough, Judy Gleeson, John Hurt
Director – Richard Fleischer
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Unsettling. Unnerving. Creepy. Dank, dark and disturbing. In a carefully mannered order we learn that serial killer John Christie has begun his activities during the bomb scares and turmoil that Britain went through during World War II. He methodically convinces a woman to partake of a soothing gas mixture under the false pretext of helping her to feel better. He tells her he is after all medically trained. He pleasantly reassures the woman when she begins to panic. After she passes out from the gas he strangles her with a length of rope and we are left to conclude that he has sex with her before disposing of the body in the small garden outside his house in the alley. Years pass from the war years to 1949. Christie and his wife live on the first floor of that same building. They rent the second and third floors. We never see the sick man in the second story. A young couple with a little baby rents the third floor apartment.
Judy Geeson (To Sir With Love) is so cute and peppy. John Hurt (Alien) as the father is hopelessly incapable of coping. He is out of work. He can’t read or write. He spends his time at the local pub bragging about fabricated stories. When poor Judy discovers she is pregnant she worries that they can’t afford another child. She takes pills to miscarry. They don’t work. However Christie reassures her. He can take care of it. He has had medical training. John Attenborough is bone chilling in his portrayal of Christie. There are no scenes of extreme violence. There is very little blood. The terror lies in the way in which he can convince these people of anything. He preys on their fears, anxieties and poor education. He gets the women including Judy Geeson to put that home made gas mask on their face and breathe deeply. We see him feed in the gas from the house valve that’d go to the stove. The murder scenes do not dwell on anything repugnant. Director Richard Fleisher shows remarkable restraint. He does not over play any prurient details. He keeps the horror in the way that Christie manipulates these carefully chosen people. We can see him coming but these victims can’t. They play so easily into his hands
Judy Geeson is so relieved to find someone who can just make her problem go away. John Hurt falls hook line and sinker for anything that Christie feeds him. He can’t read so any paper that Christie holds can be anything he chooses to say. This is based on a real case. One of the most disturbing parts of that case and this movie is that way that john Christie pins the murder of his wife and baby on his tenant Timothy Evans. The man is arrested and tried. Christie takes the stand and even though some damaging run-ins with the law in his past are revealed his testimony aids in the conviction. Evans is sentenced to death. John Hurt is amazing here. Everything he does just sinks him further into the quicksand. He has no idea how to extricate himself. His execution in the film was based on the real events. The actual hangman worked as a consultant. In frighteningly short order we see Hurt in his cell. The time comes and he is whisked through a door in his cell into the next room. A hood goes over his head, then the rope around his neck and the floor is pulled out from under him. It is a shocking sequence. Christie’s murders were planned with deliberate pace and extreme attention to every detail. They were carried out slowly. The contrast between them and the break neck speed with which Hurt’s hanging is shown is like a whiplash.
The actual events helped turn the tide against executions in Britain. The street address 10 Rillington Place became a location of such notoriety that it was totally changed in look and name. The film is carried out in a beautifully thought out professional manner. The casting, the set design, the locations and entire look of the film all evoke the era and the chilling elements of the story. Director Fleischer had done such excellent film noirs – Follow Me Quietly (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and Narrow Margin (1950). He’d done the well known popular hits The Vikings (1958), Fantastic Voyage (1966), and Tora, Tora, Tora (1970). However it is worth noting that he also directed a trifecta of excellent films made from real life murder events – Compulsion (1959) based on the Leopold and Loeb case about college students who murder a child to show they are superior, The Boston Strangler (1968) based on serial killer Albert DeSalvo, and this one, 10 Rillington Place. The tag line in the poster for The Boston Strangler was, “Why did 13 women willingly open their doors to the Boston Strangler?” These psychological undercurrents are what really gets under your skin.
Attenborough delivers a magnificent performance here that is unlike anything else he had done. This is a creepy and unnerving film that is remarkably well done. It is perhaps too realistic and creepy to pass as any kind of regular serial killer film if there is such a type. It plays like a finely tuned drama with horrific emotional underpinnings. That we never learn why Chrisite did these murders just adds to the injustice of it all. Having just seen this it is time to revisit The Boston Strangler and Compulsion again. Director Richard Fleischer is to be highly commended for his work here.
Video – 1.85:1
This is a dreary looking film. Colors are mostly from a drab brown palate. There are some very subdued cobalt blue tones with the occasional bit of pink found in the stripe of a shirt or a girl’s dress. Much of the film takes place inside a dingy run down small townhouse. Even though there is not a lot of light the black levels never veer into distortion. The grain is kept at bay too which is unusual for a film of that era. Skin tones and clothing all look fine with some good detail though nothing stands out as sharp. This all appears to have been done in a very controlled style. We see what the shadows let us see. John Christie appears so meek and so kind. He always keeps a respectful distance from us. Having never seen the film on screen this presentation looks to be spot on. The whole look of the film suit’s the story and characters well. There are no dirt specs, nicks or any kind of wear or damage to be seen.
Audio – English 1.0 DTS-HD mono track with subtitles offered in English SDH
Attenborough’s Christie speaks in low measured tones. He is soft spoken. John Hurt is always on edge. His voice runs off the sharp scale with frayed nerves and false bravado. Judy Geeson sounds so pleasant most of the time. While some of the voices are indeed on the soft side this appears to be entirely purposeful and in service to the story. John Dankworth’s eerie jazz inflected score is a good match for the many unsettling moods in the narrative.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with actress Judy Geeson, and film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, Commentary with actor John Hurt, Original theatrical trailer
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent