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Christopher Gill is a psychotic killer who uses various disguises to trick and strangle his victims. Moe Brummel is a single and harassed New York City police detective who starts to get phone calls from the strangler and builds a strange alliance as a result. Kate Palmer is a swinging, hip tour guide who witnesses the strangler leaving her dead neighbor's apartment and sets her sights on the detective. Moe's live-in mother wishes her son would be a successful Jewish doctor like his big brother. Written by
Rod Steiger was initially approached to play the put-upon Jewish cop, not the fiendish serial killer - perhaps because he had recently had a great success playing a Jewish character in "The Pawnbroker", and because the cop was the hero. After he told the producer that whoever played the killer would steal the film, he was offered that part instead. It is worth noting that the part of the killer has been greatly expanded in the film from William Goldman's novel, where the cop is definitely the central character. See more »
The first victim is identified both in a line of dialogue and in the end credits as "Alma Mulloy." However, when the killer is reading about the murder in the paper, the news article lists her name as "Alice Mulloy." See more »
Watching serial killer Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) trying to enlist the trust of his prospective victims is what makes this film really interesting. Once these babes in the Manhattan woods let down their guard, then ... pounce. And like some deep-sea predator that changes its color or its shape to suit the needs of its prey, Gill changes his disguise from Irish priest to plumber to eccentric hair stylist to waiter, to suit the needs and desires of his selected middle aged female targets.
Gill is a loner, but he still needs human contact. So, between killings, he engages in a phone dialogue with detective Morris Brummel (played well by George Segal). Gill also checks the newspapers frequently, to verify that his killings get noticed by the police and by society in general. The film is thus a character study of a fictional psychopath. But the characterization is consistent with expert profiling of the generalized needs and motivations of real life serial killers.
Indeed, some researchers have speculated that the infamous Zodiac killer "may" have studied this film. In some ways, Gill's modus operandi is similar to that of the Zodiac who was known to be a movie buff. Further, the killings in the San Francisco Bay Area premiered just a couple of years after this film came out.
Quite aside from its possible historical significance, the film is very well made. It conveys a well-written script, good cinematography, attention to detail in costumes and production design, effective pacing and editing. The background music at the film's beginning and end is beautifully haunting, and lends a tone of sadness, and therefore emotional depth, to the story. And, of course, Steiger's performance is so good that it alone makes the film worth watching. The only downside is Morris Brummel's nagging mother who quickly becomes grating and irritating.
That this film has been largely forgotten is unfortunate. But it is available on DVD, and therefore can be seen by anyone who appreciates good movies.
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