As far as I know, this was only ever shown once on Italian TV; I had always wanted to watch it, due to Leonard Maltin's ***1/2 rating but also because I find the subject matter of a serial killer using a number of disguises fascinating, so when Paramount's bare-bones DVD (why, not even the theatrical trailer is included!) was on sale at "DVD Empire", I decided to order it - along with about 15 other titles from the same studio...
Though somewhat patchy and verbose, the plot (adapted by John Gay from a novel by William Goldman) is undeniably compelling and the performances of the entire cast - including George Segal, Lee Remick and Eileen Heckart - are faultless; still, Rod Steiger as the flamboyant murderer (this is no spoiler, since the killings start from the very first scene!) dominates the proceedings and obviously relishes the opportunity of sinking his teeth into such a juicy role: his disguises - including a priest, a plumber, a gay hairdresser, a police officer, a chef and, at one point, he even turns up in drag! - also incorporate various accents and imitations, among them that of W.C. Fields, whom Steiger would eventually play in a biopic of the great comic some years later! Diminutive actor Michael Dunn has a hilarious bit in which he shows up at Segal's police station and confesses to the crime spree.
While the film displays no particular evidence of technique (Jack Smight was, at best, a journeyman director), it emerges unequivocally as a product of the late Sixties with the added qualities of good location photography and an effective score by Stanley Myers (best known for composing the "Cavatina" theme utilized in THE DEER HUNTER ); as a matter of fact, it reminded me of PRETTY POISON (1968), another black comedy I watched only recently for the very first time - but also of EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962), a classic black-and-white film noir I caught up with during the past few weeks which also features Remick as a potential victim of a formidable villain (who, like Steiger's character here, is not above adopting a female disguise in order to get what he wants!).
Among the film's most successful elements is the murderer's relationship with flustered Jewish cop Segal, whom he phones and teases prior to each killing. Also notable is the climax set in a theatre, where the fatally wounded Steiger goes into each one of his 'personalities' before expiring, as well as the subtle contrast the film creates between the two characters' mothers: Segal's is a typically nagging Jewish woman who always puts him down while praising her other businessman son, whereas Steiger's late mother (who is only shown in portraits) had been a great theatrical actress - whose talent for larger-than-life roles was adopted to its extremes by her unbalanced son!