Release Date(s)1971 (March 15, 2016)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Richard Fleischer’s 10 Rillington Place (1971) is one of the most subtly unsettling movies I’ve ever seen, a quiet, restrained true crime film that ultimately has a far greater impact on the viewer than pictures with ten times the amount of onscreen violence. It’s a master class in how a director and actors can use space and décor to generate tension, as the drab, confined apartments in which the grim tale is set steadily close in on both the characters and the audience. Set in a postwar Britain of muted colors and sparse resources, it’s sad and terrifying in equal measures as it tells the story of John Christie (Richard Attenborough), a mild-mannered serial killer who committed some truly disturbing, brutal crimes – even by the standards of serial killers! The intersection between Christie’s life and the lives of two tenants in his building – a poor, slightly dim couple played by John Hurt and Judy Geeson – leads to series of tragedies both heartbreaking and inevitable, and rendered with such artistry by Fleischer that it's impossible to look away from the screen.
Fleischer is one of the greatest directors of his era, though his reputation remains muted due to the strange split personality that he had. On the one hand, he was the crowd pleaser behind family entertainments like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Doctor Dolittle; on the other, he was the chilly poet of crime behind razor-sharp thrillers like Narrow Margin, Violent Saturday, and Compulsion. 13 Rillington Place is perhaps the finest of this latter category, an impeccably orchestrated symphony of despair; it has a unique blend of melancholy resignation and blistering suspense unlike anything I can think of in any other film. The three lead performances are as good as screen acting gets – Attenborough in particular is remarkable, conveying the “banality of evil” concept better than any other performer in the history of cinema. Fleischer knows what he’s got in his actors and doesn’t force his effects – the film is extremely low-key, which makes it all the more harrowing.
The movie deserves to be far better known than it is, a situation that will hopefully be rectified by this gorgeous new Twilight Time Blu-ray release. Sony’s restoration of the picture represents a significant improvement over previous home video releases, providing a clarity and tonal range far beyond what was evident in the murky DVD that came out a little over ten years ago. The muted colors and cinematography are perfectly preserved, and the monaural soundtrack is flawless. (In keeping with Twilight Time policy, there’s an isolated score track as well, though there’s very little score in the movie given Fleischer’s stripped down approach.) The disc contains two superb commentary tracks: the first, with film historians Nick Redman and Lem Dobbs in conversation with Geeson, contextualizes the movie both in terms of film history and in terms of the true story upon which it is based; the second, by Hurt, is carried over from a previous DVD release and serves up a wealth of entertaining production history. An original theatrical trailer rounds out the terrific package.
- Jim Hemphill