After "Psycho," Alfred Hitchcock made "The Birds" & "Marnie" with Tippi Hedren, a beautiful former model with serious limitations as an actress, then "Torn Curtain," with the miscast and mismatched Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, then "Topaz," which is so boring that it hardly seems like a Hitchcock movie at all. When "Frenzy", his first British film since 1950s "Stage Fright", was released in June 1972, the advance word was that it was VINTAGE Hitchcock. That it was, and then some. "Frenzy" is murder most explicit AND murder most subtle. Jon Finch, not a star and therefore not someone in whom the audience has any emotional investment, is bartender Richard Blaney. After he gets fired from his job, only fruit stand owner Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) and cocktail waitress Babs Milligan (Anna Massey) seem to like him, so when his former wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) is strangled, he's the prime suspect. We know he didn't do it, because we saw the whole thing. But the police aren't grilling us. Babs tries to help him and Bob tries to help him. Another murder occurs in broad daylight. We don't see this one, but, even before we see the body, we can imagine every grisly detail as the camera retreats from both killer and victim back down the stairs and out onto the bustling street.
Alec McCowan and Vivien Merchant are wonderful as Inspector and Mrs. Oxford. They discuss every graphic aspect of the case as she tries to force inedible "gourmet" food down his throat and he tries to toss and/or spit it out behind her back. For some reason, Mrs. Oxford believes in Mr. Blaney, and while her husband dreams of humble cups of tea and coffee in truck stop diners, she lists the points of evidence that show how Richard Blaney couldn't possibly have committed ANY murders, let alone two. Although we never feel the same as Mrs. Oxford does about Blaney, that's hardly the point. A character doesn't have to be likeable to be innocent of murder. The reverse is true, too, of course. The most charming and appealing people can also be murderers. "Frenzy," a striking and disturbing film, may be the most personal of all Hitchcock's pictures. No one shoved a star down his throat this time, so there are none in sight, and thus no narrative compromises. The humor has never been darker, the sexual undercurrents have never been as obvious. Hitchcock doesn't show us what we EXPECT to see: He shows us what we DON'T want to see. Except with the Oxfords, we are always off balance and uneasy. We don't feel relief when the credits roll because Blaney's deliverance means nothing to us, two people we liked are dead and now we know what happens behind closed doors, even in the daytime. Based on the Arthur La Bern novel "Goodbye Piccadilly Farewell Leicester Square".
© 2009 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/16/09
Movie Magazine International
Movie Magazine International