(1972, Alfred Hitchcock)
“You’re my type of woman”
Everyone knows Alfred Hitchcock did a lot of work in Hollywood, since many of his biggest films were made there, all concerning American things and set in America. But people tend to forget that Hitchcock started out in British cinema, and ultimately ended up returning to Britain shortly before his death. Frenzy is one of the movies made during this later period, but is it as good as any of his more well-known works?
In glorious London, a serial killer is on the loose, raping women and then strangling them to death with neckties. When Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), the manager of a successful dating agency, is murdered, circumstantial evidence places her ex-husband, Richard (Jon Finch) under suspicion. However, the movie makes it incredibly clear that the murderer is his friend, local market trader Robert Rusk (Barry Foster), while Richard goes on the run.
One thing that immediately stood out about Frenzy and made it hard to see it as a Hitchcock movie initially was just how painfully British it all was. The movie opens with shots of London with music so dramatic and out-of-place that this segment could easily be sold to the British Tourism Board, unedited, and used to sell holidays.
This intense Britishness continues with the incredibly stilted delivery that plagued all British movies before 1990, to the point where the reaction to a murder is more “gosh, how unfortunate” than outright shock and terror. No one really gets angry in the way they would in Hitchcock’s Hollywood movies, merely getting a bit miffed here and there. Framed for murder? My word, that’s inconvenient.
That said, Frenzy does have a certain charm about it. While a lot of the stiff upper lip, cricket on the green, Sunday tea time level of Englishness does get very silly indeed, it seems to be almost deliberate. Let’s not forget that Hitchcock wasn’t just a master of suspense but a master of inappropriate comedy as well, and Frenzy has this in spades.
Take a scene where the murderer has stuffed the body of his latest victim in a potato sack, only to discover he accidentally left incriminating evidence on the body, resulting in shenanigans as he jumps onto a delivery truck and is driven halfway across the country as he attempts to hide the crime. Despite the disturbing subject matter, this whole sequence is played as a caper, to the point where you have to wonder if it’s intentional or not.
Your questions get answered when scenes with the police chief, Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen), and his wife serving him bizarre “gourmet” cooking, which does little more than make Oxford rather ill. These scenes could easily feel out of place if they weren’t so strategically weaved in. As a result, the movie is filled with great comic moments that also make you feel a bit queasy.
But let’s not forget, this is supposed to be a thriller, and it keeps this up just as well as the dark comedy. Hitchcock is, of course, the king of this, and he’d still got it even in the 1970s. Every moment of the film teeters on a knife edge to the point where I sometimes felt like yelling at the screen as if the characters could hear me warning them not to follow the deranged psychopath.
Hitchcock did this by making the movie painfully slow at times, drawing out scenes much longer than necessary. A scene where the killer leads his victim into a flat results in the camera slowly panning away and lingering on the implications of what’s happening. It’s tense and it’s uncomfortable, and it’s superb.
Some of the murder scenes we do see are also horrific to watch. Brenda’s murder is not pleasant, and goes on far too long, but this is the point. We’re meant to be uncomfortable, we’re meant to be willing the scene to end. Hitchcock is toying with us and laughing the whole time.
And that’s where the movie succeeds despite removing the sense of suspense in finding out who the killer is. This is the third movie in a row where some big mystery has been revealed early on, but unlike Gaslight’s clumsy obviousness or The Host’s disappointing monster reveal, the reveal in Frenzy also feels meticulously planned to direct the audience towards sympathising with our hero and willing us to stick with him, forcing us to wonder if he’ll get out of all this alive.
Frenzy finally scores points by making the protagonist such a charming guy. He’s flawed in many ways, but he’s likeable and he’s determined, and he’s a character you want to see succeed. And in a movie like this, that’s incredibly important. The ending was also absolutely perfect, ending on a single line that closes the movie on a rather classy and humorous note.
I absolutely loved Frenzy. I know I rarely criticise Hitchcock movies, but I will stop praising them when they all stop being so damn good. They’re….my type of movies.
Starring Jon Finch, Alec McCowen & Barry Foster
Written by Arthur La Bern (novel – Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester) & Anthony Shaffer
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Ron Goodwin
Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor
Edited by John Jympson
Favourite Scene: That final line really is excellent.
Scene That Bugged Me: The opening scene where a crowd of people gasp at the sight of a dead body felt far too restrained considering what was going on.
Watch it if: You’re a Hitchcock completist
Avoid it if: You can’t accept a Hitchcock movie with an English accent
Posted on January 7, 2014, in 1970s, Crime, Thriller, United Kingdom and tagged alec mccowen, alfred hitchcock, anthony shaffer, arthur la bern, barry foster, black comedy, britain, jon finch, movies, murder, necktie, wrongfully accused. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.