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.
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.
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.
Ludovic Kennedy (novel)
Richard Attenborough ... John Reginald Christie
Judy Geeson ... Beryl Evans
John Hurt ... Timothy John Evans
Pat Heywood ... Mrs. Ethel Christie
Isobel Black ... Alice