Film Review: The Night Strangler (TV Movie 1973) The Cost of Carl Kolchak's Genuine Journalism

Updated: May 19


FILE PHOTO: Carl Kolchak in The Night Strangler (1973).  ©ABC; composite ©Ryota Nakanishi
FILE PHOTO: Carl Kolchak in The Night Strangler (1973). ©ABC; composite ©Ryota Nakanishi

FILM AND REALITY

STORY-TELLING OR FACT-TELLING?


First of all, it's all about journalism in reality not about an ''elixir of life''. The 144 year-old strangler Dr. Malcolm/Richards (played by Richard Anderson) who commits groups of killings of girls within 18 days in 21 year-cycle since 1889 in Seattle is totally fictional. Thus it's meaningless to search for any resemblance between Dr. Malcolm and real serial stranglers in US on this. We should directly stick to the theme when analysing the valuable content for our reality. In other words, allegorically we should look at Platon's fire itself not the shadow casted on the wall of a cave in the famous allegory of the cave. The essence is the fire, reality, real social context; the shadow is the fiction, superfluous phenomenon, the film. The fire itself is the only reality. Therefore, film analysis or film review is supposed to point it out to the public.


As we know today, so called ''investigative journalists'' (''jiken-kisya'' in Japanese) are almost extinct under the global monopoly of political agenda-driven ''advertising'' mainstream corporate media and their best corroborators BIG TECH social media giants. In fact, ''advertising'' industry and real ''journalism'' are fundamentally contradicted and even unable to coexist with each other. What we can see in platform market can only be almost results of a concession between them if it has any better quality as some kind of ''journalist work''.


The term ''journalism'' means that the social functions of the third party ''media'' who investigate facts and monitor the policies of governments with independent thought and highly critical stance for the best benefits of the people. Meanwhile it will take actions against misdeeds of governments or capitalists or any criminals if it's necessary. Thus it is also activism to certain extent. Real journalists are not critics but they are activists who seek social solutions to issues. It's originally not just selling writings to media. For the new era, filmmakers and film critics should be more consciously ''journalistic'' toward their society instead of indulging in their fictional world, film style and selfish career opportunist social activities with political blindness. I should briefly introduce such instances here.


For example, Matthew Kadish, a novelist, pop culture critic, and filmmaker from the US wrote a brilliant film article on career opportunism in the industry in relation to the real political context in US. The title The Rock may back Biden, but most celebrity endorsements are career opportunism… which is why they NEVER come out for Republicans published by RT on October 4, 2020. It's genuinely a ''journalistic'' filmmaker's writing job as a social commentary not like a scholastic pedantism at film schools. True criticism must be made with critical attitude toward all political tendencies and biases that camouflage class war behind cultural phenomena.


His film review is also very progressive as a ''journalistic'' approach toward film and its cultural phenomena simultaneously. He wrote the article titled ‘Tenet’: How does a bad movie trick you into believing it’s good? By confusing the heck out of you! which also published by RT on September 9, 2020.


Tenet, at its core, is a convoluted movie that is more in love with its ideas than with telling a good story. (1)


This is also a point to this discussion on The Night Strangler (TV Movie 1973) as the producer/ director Dan Curtis told in his rare interview which can be seen on Youtube.



''It's all about story now.'' Good ''story-telling''(a good story skilfully told by creative teams) is everything for being a good and everlasting film masterpiece even though technical conditions of each work are inevitably different by time and place. It is still universal truth. However, ''story-telling'' (art of fictional fabrication) is not journalism at all. On the contrary, journalism must strictly stick to only facts and truth thus it should be called ''fact-telling'' or ''truth-telling.'' At this moment, we realised the dialectic contradiction between ''story-telling'' (fiction) and ''fact-telling'' (reality).


A film is Aufheben, synthesis of the contradiction. ''Truth-telling'' is synthesised into ''story-telling'' by artists thus it becomes fictional reality. In which, the truth exists as a form of enlightenment, realisation of truth, right decision, personal development of the protagonist in the imaginary reality.


For analytical work or review, the process of dialectics is quite reversed. "Story-telling" is synthesised into ''fact-telling''. In which, dialectical elements of the fictional work is abstracted and reconstructed into ''truth-telling.'' Status of being fiction is seen as a sheer fact. Thus, creating a fictional work and analysing the fictional work are all dialectical processes in the opposite direction.


From this point of view, what is the fake news? It's mainly produced by PR companies=advertising companies=marketing companies=almost all corporate mainstream media of today according to their ''political correctness'' which instructed by their ad clients and bureaucrats. It forms ''McCarthyism''; ''Red-purge'' like-social atmosphere, Gestapo-like social justice warriors and tendency of management teams. Such as cancel woke culture of today. Of course, not only it is blithely promoted but also it is total denial of basic ''fact-telling'', a death of journalism. ''Political correctness''(a.k.a. fabricated stories) replaced ''facts''. Nowadays even intelligence textbooks are based on ''political correctness'' and fabricated official narratives instead of factual truth unfortunately. This is why professional intelligence analysis is also dying.


One of respected RT writers Lee Camp wrote the best article on the issue which titled Lee Camp: Two massive new leaks show dirty underbelly of the empire republished on October 13, 2020.


Well, according to the leaked documents – “These UK-funded firms functioned as full-time PR flacks for the extremist dominated Syrian armed opposition. One contractor, called InCoStrat, said it was in constant contact with a network of more than 1,600 international journalists and influencers, and used them to push pro-opposition talking points.”


Sixteen hundred media people, many calling themselves “journalists,” were simply printing hack stories by pro-war government cut-outs?! Compare that number to those of us reporting the truth... I count, um, seven. Nine if you include the two who only do their 'reporting' on the telephone to telemarketers who are unlucky enough to accidentally call them. A single PR company used 1,600 people and millions of dollars pouring in from the US and UK. With that kind of money, they should’ve won a goddamn Oscar – like 'Schindler’s List'.


...Wait. I now remember. They DID win an Oscar. A documentary about the White Helmets in Syria won an Oscar!


You recall the White Helmets – the amazing people in Syria who just rescue children from rubble. And America – which bombs children all over the world – happens to care about these particular children. Nothing to see here. Nothing unusual. We Americans just really care about Syrian children. Don’t give a tip of a turd about any other children crushed by our wars (hot, cold or lukewarm) around the world. Only Syrians caught in rubble rescued by the White Helmets pull at heartstrings.


Perhaps this next part won’t shock you. The new leaks confirm earlier reporting by The Grayzone and others showing the White Helmets were funded by Western governments, and claimed to be saving innocent civilians while also trying to get America to bomb more. They literally called for more air strikes. It’s not so dissimilar from all those emergency room doctors who spend their days trying desperately to save lives and then run around at night trying to start gang wars by making fun of Li’l Boom-Boom’s swastika tattoo before yelling “WEST SIDE!” and running away. That’s super common among doctors.


“The White Helmets were founded in collaboration with USAID’s Office of Transitional Initiatives – the wing that has promoted regime change around the world – and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.” (2)


This is the aftermath of infodemic. In which, mainstream media circulate ''fictional news'' and ''official narrative'' at the cost of ''fact-telling.'' They are self denying journalism by this irresponsible PR marketing activities. Indeed, telling the truth and manipulating public opinions are completely different things. Only the former is journalism. Hence, marketing or advertising is not journalism at all.


In this film, the protagonist Carl Kolchak insists telling the truth to the public yet the news release gets blocked at the end by his editor Tony Vincenzo (played by Simon Oakland); Capt. Roscoe Schubert (Scott Brady) and Kolchak's employer Llewellyn Crossbinder (John Carradine) in order to prevent a panic among people of Seattle.


Curiously, the legendary investigative journalist at Washington Post who exposed Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal, Bob Woodward showed similar journalistic stance of Carl Kolchak on Trump's mishandling of COVID-19 pandemic in USA in his new book RAGE.


The Guardian published his interview on September 20, 2020.


The biggest headline from the book concerns the pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans, the highest toll in the world. It opens with a top secret briefing – regarded by Woodward as “probably one of the most important meetings in American history, this century anyway” – on the afternoon of 28 January. Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, warned Trump: “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.”

In Woodward’s telling, Trump’s head popped up.


The president would tell Woodward in early February the virus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus”. Yet publicly he continued minimising the risk, comparing it to the flu and insisting it would go away while holding rallies and refusing to wear a mask. He tried to rationalise this to Woodward on 19 March: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.(3)


''Journalism versus panic prevention'' is antagonistic contradiction in both fiction and reality. It can only be solved by power politics not by gentle reasoning in society. Although RAGE won't bring down the US president Trump like the Watergate scandal while the book was based on Trump's friendly cooperation, Bob Woodward reinstated his genuine journalistic attitude on this and criticised Trump. For him, the border between fact and opinion is sacrosanct. The antithesis to journalism is someone who flooding social media with hot takes.


Woodward is puzzled by Trump’s cooperation. Unlike Nixon when Frost came calling, the president was not paid to be a witness against himself.


Rage comes with a definite viewpoint. Woodward contends that a “president must be willing to share the worst with the people, the bad the news with the good”. Instead of “truth-telling”, Woodward writes, Trump has “enshrined personal impulse as a governing principal”.


When Trump’s “performance is taken in its entirety”, he concludes, history will show that he was “the wrong man for the job”. (4)


His stance in the entire political context will serve Biden, Harris and democrats in the upcoming November election. Bob's publication of the new book is in fact pro-democrat undoubtedly. However his definition of genuine journalism is unbiased. He said:


You have to tell the truth and you can’t dodge that if that’s what you believe the truth to be. As a reporter, one plus one equals two: you can say that. And this is factual. It’s overwhelming. It’s incontrovertible and, as people are saying, it’s bulletproof. So I left it in.” (5)


Simply, it means that the best panic prevention or crisis prevention is to sincerely tell the truth to the public instead of fabricating a story or mitigating the real threat. This is the genuine journalism embraced by the fictional protagonist Carl Kolchak and the legendary US investigative journalist Bob Woodward. Moreover I have to additionally point out the more important principle that


''Truth-telling'' without class conciseness is still blind. Ongoing cultural war and identity politics by ruling class are all distractions from class war. Dr Lisa McKenzie from UK wrote a brilliant article in terms of the class interests of the working class people on this issue.


Rather than judging an unfair system that (and yes, I will say it again) advantages the middle class and disadvantages the working class, those who benefit from it continue to thrive. They fill the political and social space with their moral judgments, measuring not only what we do, but also how we think on cultural scales to divide us up into neat piles of the deserving and the undeserving.

Fight your culture wars if you wish. I’m fighting the only war that will emancipate the ‘undeserving’ – the Class War. (6)


In other words, the only war that really will represent the working class people is class war not any others under capitalism.


Besides this, I have to fairly mention that even Bob Woodward is criticised on his biased ‘Military Messiah Syndrome’ narrative for justifying generals who false flagged the Syrian government for the groundless chemical attack allegation with help from ''anti-Assad'' Al-Qaeda cells in Khan Shaykhun in April 2017. One of talented RT writers, a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer, ''pro-Trump'' Scott Ritter pointed out that Bob Woodward's Rage is built on a lie about Syria for the vested interests of military industrial complex and generals.


There was no confirmed use of chemical weapons by Syria at Khan Shaykhun. Indeed, the forensic evidence available about the attack points to the incident being a false flag effort – a successful one, it turns out – on the part of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists to provoke a US military strike against Syria. No targets related to either the production, storage or handling of chemical weapons were hit by the US cruise missiles, if for no other reason than no such targets could exist if Syria did not possess and/or use a chemical weapon against Khan Shaykhun.


Moreover, the US failed to produce a narrative of causality which provided some underlying logic to the targets that were struck at Khan Shaykhun – “Here is where the chemical weapons were stored, here is where the chemical weapons were filled, here is where the chemical weapons were loaded onto the aircraft.” Instead, 59 cruise missiles struck empty aircraft hangars, destroying derelict aircraft, and killing at least four Syrian soldiers and up to nine civilians.


The next morning, the same Su-22 aircraft that were alleged to have bombed Khan Shaykhun were once again taking off from Shayrat Air Base – less than 24 hours after the US cruise missiles struck that facility. President Trump had every reason to be outraged by the results.


But the President should have been outraged by the processes behind the attack, where military commanders, fully afflicted by ‘Military Messiah Syndrome’, offered up solutions that solved nothing for problems that did not exist. Not a single general (or admiral) had the courage to tell the president that the allegations against Syria were a hoax, and that a military response was not only not needed, but would be singularly counterproductive. (7)


However we can't claim all content is a lie in Bob Woodward's Rage. At least it is quite truthful on the Trump's mishandling of COVID-19 pandemic in US even though Bob Woodward deliberately ignored lies of generals on their ''humanitarian bombing'' of Syria.


NARRATIVE STRUCTURE


ACT1

 FILE PHOTO: Carl Kolchack hired by Daily Chronicle at ACT1 of The Night Strangler (1973).  ©ABC
FILE PHOTO: Carl Kolchack hired by Daily Chronicle at ACT1 of The Night Strangler (1973). ©ABC

Exposition: An investigative journalist Carl Kolchak is in Seattle after the last year (1972)'s vampire incident in Las Vegas. Unexpectedly Kolchak reencounters his former editor, Tony Vincenzo and gets hired for Llewellyn Crossbinder's Daily Chronicle.


 FILE PHOTO: Inciting Incident at ACT1 of The Night Strangler (1973).  ©ABC
FILE PHOTO: Inciting Incident at ACT1 of The Night Strangler (1973). ©ABC

Inciting Incident: A series of murders occur. All female victims are strangled and drained of a few ounce of blood from the base of skull with hypodermic syringe. Tony Vincenzo assigns Kolchak to investigate the killing of the ballet dancer Merissa (Ethel Parker). Also a cocktail waitress Gail Manning found dead in the same way.


FILE PHOTO: End of ACT1 of The Night Strangler (1973).  ©ABC
FILE PHOTO: End of ACT1 of The Night Strangler (1973). ©ABC

End of ACT1: Merissa's colleagues like Charisma Beauty and Louise Harper can't provide any key information. However Kolchak gets several clues to the killer from other sources. A coroner's report reveals that the killer left the pieces of rotten flesh on the victims' necks; A witness of another Pioneer Square murder Joice Gabriel helps sketching the killer's face out; with help from Daily Chronicle's library researcher Titus Berry, Kolchak finds a pattern that the strangler commits six murders within 18 days in every 21 years since 1889. Kolchak and Vincenzo publish the news but police Capt. Roscoe Schubert blames them after that. It makes Kolchak more difficult to act.


ACT2

FILE PHOTO: From ACT2 of The Night Strangler (1973).  ©ABC
FILE PHOTO: From ACT2 of The Night Strangler (1973). ©ABC

Complication: Kolchak closely encounters the killer at the scene of the next murder in valley near the rear entrance of Richard's Clinic yet his photos with the camera confiscated by Capt. Roscoe Schubert. Then, Kolchak attends an underground tour of old Seattle with his new girl friend Louise Harper, and he is introduced to her university's Prof. Hester Crabwell to reach a conclusion that the killer's motive is to make the elixir of life. Charisma Beauty gets killed later at night. Kolchak quarrels with Capt. Roscoe Schubert on the precise pattern of the killing and methods of searching the killer however it's the deadlock between them.


FILE PHOTO: Midpoint at ACT2 of The Night Strangler (1973).  ©ABC
FILE PHOTO: Midpoint at ACT2 of The Night Strangler (1973). ©ABC

Midpoint: Titus Berry discovers the clue to identify the killer in an interview with Mark Twain, it leads to Dr. Richard Malcolm who is a surgeon of the Union Army during the Civil War and possessed with the notion of possibility of immortal life. Furthermore Kolchak identifies the killer is Dr. Richard Malcolm (a founding member of Seattle's Westside Mercy Hospital; a.k.a. Richard's Clinic). He gets arrested after altering the painting at the entrance hall of the now Richard's Clinic to make sure the resemblance between Dr. Richard Malcolm and Malcolm Richards. Finally, Kolchak and Titus Berry successfully convince the police Capt. Roscoe Schubert; their employer Llewellyn Crossbinder and editor Tony Vincenzo to follow the suggestions of Kolchak to capture the killer before he disappears for more 21 years yet the release of news is denied.


FILE PHOTO: End of ACT2 of The Night Strangler (1973).  ©ABC
FILE PHOTO: End of ACT2 of The Night Strangler (1973). ©ABC