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The Bottom Line

A chilling true story film about a serial rapist and murderer (Richard Attenborough) and the unfortunate family headed by John Hurt that moves in above him.

The Rest of the Story

The movie opens in 1944 on John Christie (Attenborough) seemingly assisting a middle-age woman with a medical procedure. However his dark intentions are quickly revealed, and the body is subsequently disposed of in his garden.

Fast forward five years. Christie is married and subletting the third floor of his building (the titular 10 Rillington Place). When the Evanses, a young working class couple (played with theatrical precision and energy by John Hurt and Judy Geeson) and their infant daughter take the flat, Christie's urges are once again ignited.

When Mrs. Evans reveals she needs an abortion (illegal at the time), Christie offers his experiences as a part-time war emergency personnel to do the job. Instead, the inevitable sexual savagery occurs, and when the husband returns home from a day at the factory, Christie informs him the abortion turned septic and his wife is dead. He then proceeds to twist the story in such a way that it will look like Evans murdered his wife (their violent arguments about the baby being common knowledge) and so encourages him to escape in the night, and he'll "take care of the baby."

Which he does in gruesome fashion.

Eventually Evans, racked with guilt over his wife's death, turns himself in in distant Cardiff. But his story (naturally) does not match the facts, and when he is blindsided by the death of his daughter at the station, he suffers a nervous breakdown and confesses to all. His simpleminded pleas of "Christie done it" do not save him from the gallows, the third victim of this singular atrocious event.

The film then relates the eventual decline and capture of Christie, after new tenants to 10 Rillington Place discover what heinous crimes have taken place there.

My Thoughts

Director Richard Fleischer was well-versed in the adapation of true crime, having done stellar work in 1959's Leopold-Loeb sendup Compulsion and 1968's The Boston Strangler, and this film again captures his aesthetic for his realistic pictures - detached, elliptical, medium cool. The film never wanders, never squanders a moment or a scene or a line, but at times (especially in this modern age of forensic science and reality television) the lack of motive or explanation can be disappointing. All in all, decidedly more pastiche than thesis.

The acting from the two leads is fantastic: Attenborough, turning his explosive Lew Moran of Flight of the Phoenix into a cold, calculating serial killer, his baldness and bad back and ever nascent psychopathy perfectly internalized; and Hurt as the illiterate yarn-spinning yokel, so unsuited for modern life, trading in confusion and sympathy. The rest of the cast, though, gets relatively short shrift.

The editing is brisk, the music minimal but effective, and again and again you find yourself saying out loud, "This is true? This really happened?" and still you don't believe it.

Trivia: The film was actually shot on location at Rillington Place (renamed Ruston Mews), number 6.

My Rating

7 out of 10. A bit antiseptic even by crime doc standards, but plenty of great acting and a tour de force of urban menace.

Credits

Directed By
Richard Fleischer

Written By
Ludovic Kennedy (novel)
Clive Exton

Editing
Ernest Walter

Starring
Richard Attenborough ... John Reginald Christie
Judy Geeson ... Beryl Evans
John Hurt ... Timothy John Evans
Pat Heywood ... Mrs. Ethel Christie
Isobel Black ... Alice

 

Every now and then, a film comes along so powerful and moving that it reminds you of what’s important and why it’s good to be alive.

This is not that film.

“10 Rillington Place” is a bleak, war-torn, hangman’s noose of a film, as well as the former street address of its subject, John Reginald Christie.

“10 Rillington Place” stars Richard Attenborough as Christie, John Hurt as Timothy Evans, Christie’s mentally-challenged tenant, and Judy Geeson of “To Sir With Love” fame as Evan’s wife, Beryl. The film was released in 1971 to mixed reviews, one of the chief complaints being that there is zero explanation given as to how Christie became what he was, and came to do the things he did.

In London, in 1944, John Christie lured a woman named Muriel Eady to his home at Rillington Place. Muriel suffered from bouts of bronchitis; Christie said he was a doctor, and had a sure-fire remedy for what ailed her.

What Christie actually did was administer coal gas through a tube connected to a gas tap. Once Muriel was unconscious, he raped her, strangled her, then buried her in his back garden.

In the spring of 1948, Tim and Beryl Evans moved into the top floor apartment of 10 Rillington Place, along with their infant daughter, Geraldine. When Beryl discovered she was pregnant again, Christie offered to “help”. Professing once more his medical knowledge—of which, in fact, he had none—Christie told the Evanses he could perform an abortion for Beryl, free of charge. Timothy Evans was illiterate, and his meager income could barely support the family, as it was. Reluctantly, Tim Evans agreed.

That night when Evans came home from work, Christie and his wife, Ethel, met him at the door. It’s bad news, Tim, said Christie. Indeed it was; Beryl was dead. Christie told Evans that Beryl had struggled during the procedure, and hit her head on a bed post hard enough it killed her. In truth, Christie did the same thing to Beryl as he had done to Muriel Eady.

In addition to being illiterate, Timothy Evans was also naive and a bit slow-witted; rather than going to the police, Christie suggested disposing of Beryl’s body in the garden, and Evans, once again, reluctantly agreed. There’s a couple I know in East Acton, said Christie, they’ll look after Geraldine until all this blows over. Timothy Evans left London to stay with relatives in Wales, and later that night, Christie strangled little Geraldine with a necktie.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for you in case you plan to see it, but I will tell you John Christie killed twice more before he was caught. Timothy Evans was hanged for the murder of his wife and his daughter, but after Christie confessed, Evans was granted a posthumous pardon

The film was directed by Richard Fleischer, and released in 1971 by Columbia Pictures. In 1959, Fleischer also directed “Compulsion”, a fictional account of the crimes of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. Unlike that previous effort, however, “10 Rillington Place” offers no explanation about Christie’s motivations, which, as I stated earlier, was one of the main critiques of the film upon its release.

Fleischer’s film is every bit as unrelenting as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. But Norman Bates is almost cuddly, compared to John Christie. “Psycho” is a nearly flawless film marred only by a ham-handed scene at the end, where a psychiatrist, played by Simon Oakland, offers up the requisite mumbo-jumbo.

At first blush, both Christie and Norman Bates appear to be harmless. Christie seems a soft-spoken, balding, bespectacled man, the kind you could easily picture asleep in a comfy chair, in front of a fire with a purring, contented tabby on his lap.

He was anything but. John Christie was a soulless man, and Richard Fleischer never offers you his hand to lead you through the cobwebs. He does not attempt to humanize Christie by delving into his motives or his past.

John Reginald Christie was hanged in 1953. The film ends with Christie breathing his last. It's powerful and moving; nothing in "10 Rillington Place” reminds you why it's good to be alive, it's a grim and barren piece of business, and I love every one hundred and fifty-one minutes of it.

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