10 Rillington Place (1971)

10 Rillington Place (1971), directed by Richard Fleischer.

A true horror story, everything in the plot taken from actual events, forensic evidence and trial records. I had never heard of the film before it appeared on Blu-ray, nor did I know anything about the famous Christie murders.

I'm not spoiling the plot, because the pattern is established in the very first scene. A shabby, timid-seeming man offers medical assistance to lone women. He gasses them, strangles them with a rope, then performs erotic exertions on their bodies. Fortunately we see little of that last part, but it is enough.

He incautiously disposes of the bodies in shallow graves in the back garden, in sealed-up rooms and under the floor of his apartment house. How long can that go undetected? About four times there and probably another four times elsewhere.

The main part of the story concerns a young couple (John Hurt and Judy Geeson) with a baby who move into the building. Christie (Richard Attenborough) conceives a cunning plan to kill the wife (and yes, even the baby) openly and blame it on the husband. His plan works and he is a key prosecution witness at the trial. Only later does the truth emerge.

The early reveal of his crimes is a useful bit of filmmaking. For the audience his every little look and gesture is loaded with menace. He's fooling everyone else but not us; if only we could warn them! Surely he's not going to... oh, no, he really is. The growing realization and dread in his wife's eyes is something to behold.

Great cast all around with Attenborough unforgettable as the soft-spoken psychopath, skilled at getting into people's lives and setting them up for vile death. His barely concealed excitement is chilling.

Christie had a prominent domed forehead and Attenborough has a well-made headpiece to match.

It beggars belief, but the executioner who hanged both the innocent man and the guilty one consulted on the execution scene in the film. They say he had "gallows humor". The hanging is done speedily, no time for last words or emotion. For a sympathetic bio-pic of the hangman see Pierrepoint (2006) with Timothy Spall.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with two commentary tracks.

The first is an earnest conversation between Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs and actress Judy Geeson. They were all young people in London when the Christie murders were still current and have vivid memories of the time. They marvel at how an American director could capture the historical moods and textures so well.

The second is a thoughtful track by John Hurt, done previously for a DVD edition but still made over 30 years after the film.