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Synopsis: The "Necktie Murderer" is on the loose inLondon. The recently unemployed Richard Blaney becomes the prime suspect when hisex-wife turns up as one of the victims. Barbara, his current girlfriend, is convincedof his innocence and helps him hide from the police. In the meantime, Chief InspectorOxford of the Scotland Yard must piece together the case from a paucity of cluesand endure his wife's inedible "gourmet" meals at home. When Richard bychance learns the true identity of the killer, he must fight to clear his name.
After the mixed-to-poor critical and box office response to Marnie(1964), Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969),Frenzy (1972) was widely regarded as a return to form for AlfredHitchcock. The lower budget, particularly compared to Topaz, allowed Hitchcock relative freedom from studio interference. Another undoubted factorcontributing to the success of this film was the recently established MPAA ratingssystem, which enabled the director to push the boundaries of sex and violence muchfurther than in older thrillers such as Psycho (1960). Beyondthe inherent box-office appeal of exploitation content, this new freedom enabledHitchcock to revitalize otherwise familiar thematic territory. The most explicitand insidiously effective scene in this regard is the rape and murder of Brenda,Richard's ex-wife. Equally memorable, however, is the scene in which the killer invites an unsuspecting woman into his apartment while the camera retreats down the stairs and out into the street, and the subsequent episode in which the killermust rummage through sacks full of potatoes to retrieve a personal item held in the rigid grip of the corpse.
Frenzy opens with an aerial shot of the Thames River and the Tower Bridge, its touristic, picture-postcard look emphasized by the seal of theCity of London superimposed on the right side of the screen. Such tourism, however,is far from innocent; a crowd of bystanders is soon attracted to a woman's nude corpse washed up on the riverbank. Later in the film, one character even states:"Well, we haven't had a good, juicy series of sex murders since Christie [i.e.,John Christie] and they're so good for the tourist trade." Clearly, Hitchcockis suggesting a parallel between the public's fascination with the lurid detailsof a crime and the basic voyeurism of film spectatorship, a recurring theme in hiswork articulated most clearly in Rear Window (1954). This timethe director adds a further element of grisly humor by comparing the twisted appetitesof the killer with food and eating: in addition to the aforementioned scene withthe corpse hidden amongst potatoes, we see the killer work in a produce market and,after a killing, he picks his teeth as if finishing a satisfying meal.
The lead role of Richard Blaney, as performed by Jon Finch (b. 1941), is unusual to the extent which the character is made deliberately unsympathetic, especiallycompared to the unctuous killer. Finch's first film roles were the Hammer horrorvehicles The Vampire Lovers (1970) and The Horror ofFrankenstein (1970). Roman Polanski subsequently chose him for the leadrole of his controversial adaptation of Macbeth (1971). Polanski'sfilm and Frenzy proved to be the two most significant film rolesof his career. During the late Seventies and early Eighties he appeared in a fewBBC Shakespeare productions; his most recent film appearance was in Ridley Scott'sepic on the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven (2005). According to Hitchcock biographer Patrick McGilligan, Finch angered the director during the productionof Frenzy by publicly criticizing the anachronistic dialogue and nearly got himself fired from the film. However, Hitchcock's London in this film is not the swinging, pot-smoking city of Blow-Up (1966);it is in a certain sense a London of the imagination, as the postcard-type imageopening the film indicates. One example of this is a 1971 interview in the EveningStandard, in which the director complained that most contemporary pubswere too "psychedelic," whereas he was seeking a traditional-looking pubwith dark wooden interiors.
Michael Caine was originally considered for the juicy role of Bob Rusk, and one can easily imagine how his affable screen persona might have fit within Hitchcock'svision. Barry Foster (1931-2002) nonetheless makes his own mark as the outwardlyfriendly psychopath. An established stage actor--like much of the film's cast--heappeared in many films throughout the 1960s, but it was likely his performance in the little-seenBritish thriller Twisted Nerve (1968) that attracted Hitchcock'sattention. In later years, he appeared in the Merchant-Ivory films Heatand Dust (1983) and Maurice (1987).
Anna Massey (b. 1937) is probably best known today for her role in Michael Powell'sPeeping Tom (1960). She also appeared in Otto Preminger's brilliant, underrated drama Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) and a variety of "heritage" films andTV miniseries, among them two A. S. Byatt adaptations: Angels and Insects (1995) and Possession (2002). Massey's most recent feature film is the disturbing psychological thriller The Machinist (2004) starring Christian Bale.
Vivien Merchant (1929-1982), who gleefully steals scenes as Mrs. Oxford, did notappear in many films, but they included such noteworthy productions as Alfie(1966) and Accident (1967). For many years she was married tothe great playwright Harold Pinter and appeared in his plays. She won the Tony forBest Actress for her work in The Homecoming (1967) and reprisedthe role in Peter Hall's 1973 film version.
The screenwriter Anthony Shaffer (1926-2001) is most commonly associated with the phenomenally popular stage play Sleuth, adapted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in1972, and the truly original occult thriller The Wicker Man (1973).Unfortunately, Shaffer's obvious talents were not always fully utilized, as filmssuch as The Sting II (1983) and a spate of Agatha Christie adaptations--amongthem Death on the Nile (1978), Evil Under the Sun(1982) and Appointment with Death (1988)--would seem to indicate.His work with Hitchcock was unusually rapid and harmonious, suggesting the ease with which he joined in on Hitchcock's macabre game.
Producer and Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Script: Anthony Shaffer, based on the novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square by Arthur La Bern
Photography: Gil Taylor
Editor: John Jympson
Music: Ron Goodwin
Production Design: Syd Cain
Principal cast: Jon Finch (Richard Blaney); Barry Foster (BobRusk); Barbara Leigh-Hunt (Brenda Blaney); Anna Massey (Barbara Milligan); Alec McCowen (Chief Inspector Oxford); Vivien Merchant (Mrs. Oxford); Elsie Randolph (Gladys); Billie Whitelaw (Hetty Porter); Clive Swift (Johnny Porter); George Tovey(Mr. Salt).
by James Steffen