10 RILLINGTON PLACE
Subsequent to Evanss hanging, Reginald Christies health went downhill and he became impoverished. His wife mysteriously vanished and was never heard from again. An impoverished Christie was forced to move out and lease the flat to other tenants. Attracted by a bad smell, the new tenants opened the wall and were startled to find human bodies there. A police search found four bodies buried behind the wall of the flat and a further two in the garden. It was determined that Christie would lure women to his flat while his wife was out on the pretext of helping with their health by claiming to have medical expertise, where he would then suffocate them with a homemade device connected to the gas mains and sexually molest them after they had expired. Christie was arrested in 1953 and later confessed to the crimes, including Beryls murder. He was sentenced to hang in 1953. After a long public campaign, Evans received a posthumous pardon in 1966 it was the realization of probable error in his hanging that directly led to the abolition of the death penalty in Britain.
There are contradictory flaws in both Evans and Christies accounts of what happened. For instance, if Evans was innocent, how was he able to describe the murder with such accurate detail? How did the trial lawyers manage to turn such a blind eye to Reginald Christies previous convictions? The best account of the case comes from journalist Ludovic Kennedys book 10 Rillington Place (1961), which forms the basis of this film. Kennedy believes that Evanss confession was forced out of him by the police. While some argue that Evans was responsible, Kennedy offers two difficult to dispute pieces of simple logic the fact that Beryls death fits in perfectly with Christies established modus operandi and the question of how likely it was that there were two murderers with identical m.o.s living in the same house. That said, after examining a request to quash Evanss conviction in 2004, the Court of Appeal refused to do so, concluding that Evans may have killed his wife but could not be certain about Geraldine.
This film adaptation of 10 Rillington Place was almost certainly inspired by the success of the film version of In Cold Blood (1967), based on Truman Capotes phenomenally best-selling 1966 book, which gave a detailed account of a true multiple murder case. The success of In Cold Blood brought about an interest in similar true-life murder cases on screen. The director of 10 Rillington Place was Richard Fleischer. Fleischer had emerged with films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), The Vikings (1958) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). (Richard Fleischers other genre films are listed at the bottom of the page). Indeed, Fleischer had previously ventured into the true crime genre twice before with Compulsion (1959) based on the infamous Leopold-Loeb murder trial and The Boston Strangler (1968).
10 Rillington Place is an excellent account of the Christie-Evans case in fact, one would go so far as to say it is one of the best of all true-life crime accounts on film. The opening title card makes note of how every detail has been made as accurate as possible, even down to basing dialogue on transcripts from the court case, as well as hiring Ludovic Kennedy as a technical advisor. About the only points that the film differs from the facts of the case are due to the time it was made. Firstly, it tastefully avoids all mention of what it is that Christie does to the women he gasses, as any mention, let alone depiction, of necrophilia would surely have been too much for the censorship boards of the day. The other aspect that the film neatly avoids is any mention of what Ludovic Kennedy was certain about that the police had beaten Timothy Evans to force a confession out of him and had persuaded other witnesses to alter their testimony.
Though an American-born director, Richard Fleischer does a superb job of portraying a dreary post-War British kitchen sink realism. Fleischer creates great tension at the same time as managing to be perfectly accurate to every detail of the case like the scene where Richard Attenborough goes to administer the abortion and Judy Geeson begins to struggle just as her friend comes knocking at the door. There is a beautifully subdued and matter-of-fact opening with Richard Attenboroughs Christie bringing a woman (Phyllis MacMahon) back to the flat during the Blitz Blackout, giving her a cup of tea and then offering to give her vapours from his homemade apparatus, which suddenly turns sinister when the camera closes in to see him unplugging the peg from the tube, all the while giving her calming assurances Thats the goodness coming in. Things become decidedly perverse the moment she collapses and we see him grab for her breasts through her blouse and then stand up to whip his clothes off as he lays body down on the floor. There is a wonderful subtlety to the film. Much of Christies psychopathology is shown through small, indirect means just in the way Richard Attenborough watches Judy Geesons ass as she goes up the stairs or his look of lust at seeing her fallen on the floor after the fight with her nightie riding up her thighs.
Richard Attenborough gives an excellent performance one that contains an unassuming ordinariness that is all politeness and banal homilies. Seeing him consoling the distraught John Hurt using these homilies is quite monstrous, especially considering that we know the truth about what has just happened in the murder of Beryl. The scenes where Attenborough blackmails and manipulates John Hurt with what could happen come with a superb play of acting and dialogue. The film also features a young John Hurt before the point he became a well-known name. Indeed, Hurt was so little known at the time, he is even second-billed beneath Judy Geeson.
Richard Fleischers other films are: Disneys classic Jules Verne adaptation 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Fantastic Voyage (1966) about a miniaturized submarine journey inside the human body, the musical version of Doctor Dolittle (1967), The Boston Strangler (1968), the psycho-thriller See No Evil/Blind Terror (1971), the over-populated future film Soylent Green (1973), Amityville 3-D (1983), and the Robert E. Howard adaptations Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Red Sonja (1985).
(Review copy provided of Kathy Tipping)