Frenzy (1972)
Frenzy (1972)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: June 21st, 1972 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Anna Massey, Alec McCowen, Vivien Merchant, Billie Whitelaw, Clive Swift, Bernard Cribbins, Michael Bates, Jean Marsh

 


 

A

t a press gathering for the announcement of the cleansing of London’s River Thames, a woman’s body washes ashore, with a tie wrapped around her throat. She’s yet another victim of the “Necktie Murderer,” whose stranglings have plagued the city. Despite a marked cheeriness from the townsfolk (as well as from the music, by Ron Goodwin, which is thunderous and adventurous – a stark contrast to the eeriness of the subject matter), a scant few grow concerned about the accruing bodies.

Meanwhile, former pilot and current booze-pinching pub worker Richard Ian Blaney (Jon Finch) loses his job, accused of stealing drinks – and stealing kisses from coworker Babs (Anna Massey). Pal Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) offers to lend some money, as well as a hot tip on a horse race, but Blaney can only think about drowning his sorrows in brandy. When his funds run dry, Richard visits ex-wife Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), whose financial successes with her matrimonial bureau only make the former barman more unruly and bitter. When she generously treats him to dinner, he proceeds to make a scene, lamenting his failed businesses.

Like in “Psycho,” there’s a scene designated to explaining the mindset of the killer, though here it takes place early on, mentioning definitions such as “social misfits” and the label “criminal sexual psychopath.” Plus, the culprit is likely to blend in, despite his inability to engage in normal relationships with women. And at the end of this sequence, the two men discussing the crimes make a joke of how a serial rapist is good for the tourist trade.

Interestingly, all of the clues point to Blaney as the necktie strangler; his motives may not mirror the specific profile, but his desperation and belligerence are entirely suspect. As is anticipated from Hitchcock’s works, the “wrong man” scenario makes things stickier, even though the murderer’s identity (itself a bit of a twist) is revealed fairly early on. From here, the tension grows as the audience gets to worry about innocents, potential victims, and additional slayings. There’s even suspense generated from the evildoer accidentally leaving behind evidence of his involvement. Yet thanks to convenient witnesses and unbelievable circumstances, the protagonist is surely in a worse bind than the antagonist. “You can’t make normal judgments about psychopathic killers.”

Shortened from the mouthful-of-a-name novel “Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square” by Arthur La Bern, “Frenzy” is one of Hitchcock’s most mature, grisly productions, featuring unobscured nudity and stronger violence than previously seen. But there’s also artistry, chiefly in the cinematography, that stands out beyond the storytelling, which is something not often noted about Hitchcock’s tales; his stories are usually so absorbing that the technical elements can be easily overlooked. There are also lots of unnecessary details, however, such as when a character ravenously consumes an English breakfast or frowns at a seafood soup, which contribute to comic relief yet drag out the running time. Other morbid moments of levity are more appropriate, including a foraging through a potato sack to wrestle with rigor mortis, along with Blaney trusting the wrong blokes.

As a ripped-from-the-headlines police procedural, “Frenzy” is above average. But it’s somewhat lacking for Hitchcock, despite its fascinating deviations from his usual projects – perhaps most visibly in the stripping away of glamor by not utilizing traditional Hollywood stars. Nevertheless, the conclusion, which is sensationalistic and terribly unlikely (designed to be cinematic but not the least bit realistic), possesses a certain wryness that salvages many of the faults.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10