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.