Review: Frenzy [1972] - dir. Alfred Hitchcock

London is terrorised by a vicious sex killer known as the neck tie murderer. Following the brutal slaying of his ex-wife, down-on-his-luck Richard Blaney is suspected by the police of being the killer. He goes on the run, determined to prove his innocence.

Hailed by many as Hitchcock's final great movie, Frenzy can certainly be described as a return to form after the disappointments of his three previous movies (Marnie, Torn Curtain & Topaz). Echoing his silent classic The Lodger from 46 years earlier and with overtones of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, but with more explicit handling of rape and murder, it is a film with a quintessential 'Hitchcockian' theme of murder and suspense by way of black comedy.

The neck-tie murderer is on the loose in London, and when Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh Hunt) is murdered in the office of her own dating agency, suspicion falls on her ex-husband Richard (Jon Finch). The real murderer however is his friend, likeable grocer Bob Rusk (Barry Foster). Whilst Foster's character has "certain peculiarities" that are all too readily apparent, he's a more likeable character than Finch's, perhaps partly as a result of Hitchcock's apparent professional dislike for Finch. Arguably however, it makes the story all the more believable. Blaney may be a bad piece of work, but that doesn't make him guilty of his crimes. But, much like in the lighter in Strangers On A Train twenty years previously, when Rusk realises he's left evidence that can tie him to the murders on a victim, who hasn't watched and wanted the villain to succeed?

Hitchcock set and filmed Frenzy in London after many years making films in the United States. The film opens with a sweeping aerial shot along the Thames to the ubiquitous Tower Bridge, and while the interior scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios, much of the location filming was done in and around Covent Garden and was an homage to the London of Hitchcock's childhood. The son of a Covent Garden merchant, Hitchcock filmed several key scenes showing the area as the working produce market that it was. Aware that the area's days as a market were numbered, Hitchcock wanted to record the area as he remembered it. The area as seen in the film still exists, but the market no longer operates from there. The buildings seen in the film are now occupied by banks and legal offices, restaurants and nightclubs, such as Henrietta Street, where Rusk lived (and Babs met her untimely demise), Oxford Street which had the back alley (Dryden Chambers, now demolished) leading to Brenda Blaney's matrimonial agency, is one of the busiest shopping areas in London, if not Britain. Nell of Old Drury which is the public house where the doctor and solicitor had their frank, plot-assisting discussion on sex killers, is still a thriving bar. The laneways where merchants and workers once carried their produce in the film are now occupied by tourists and street performers. To many people of a younger age, the world depicted in Frenzy shows a London that has all but disappeared.

For me the film feels very much like a culmination of everything Hitchcock had been heading towards with his previous films, and thanks to a relaxation in censorship laws that came at the tail-end of the sixties, it finally allowed him to produce the most violent and disturbing work of his career. His love of London and it's colourful inhabitants is evident in every frame, and this is most certainly one of the films that inspired such modern day exponents of 'stylised' thriller cinema as Brian DePalma and Dario Argento. This film is worth watching for the astonishing moment when the camera backs away from a room in which a murder is occurring, down the stairs, through the front door and then across the street to join the crowd milling indifferently on the pavement alone... ignore the fashions, ignore the occasional stilted dialogue and the heavy use of plot shoe-horning explanations, and just enjoy the visceral experience that is a great epitaph to a true cinematic master, proof that even more than 40 years after his debut, Hitchcock still had it.


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