“A deadly new twist from the original Hitchcock.”
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Alec McCowen
Synopsis: A serial murderer is strangling women with a necktie. The London police have a suspect, but he is the wrong man.
There’s a moment in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy that puts one in mind of a scene from his earlier classic, Psycho. Having just disposed of the body of his latest victim, a killer dubbed ‘The Necktie Murderer’ returns to his flat only to discover he has lost his fancy lapel pin. Experiencing one of those nerve-tingling oh-no-moments with which we’re all familiar to some degree, he realises it must be somewhere in the vicinity of the body of the woman he has concealed in a potato sack, and has to undertake an incredibly risky mission to retrieve it. For a brief moment we unexpectedly find ourselves rooting for Bob Rusk (Barry Foster — Sea of Sand, Twisted Nerve) as he embarks on a perilous quest for the pin, and it’s at this point that we’re reminded of that moment in Psycho when the car in which Norman Bates has secreted the body of an interfering detective momentarily pauses during its descent into the swamp behind the Bates Motel.
Frenzy is filled with echoes of older Hitchcock movies, but while it is a gripping thriller in its own right, those echoes serve as an intrusive reminder of just how much better the Old Master was when he was in his prime. Rusk’s search for that incriminating pin devolves into a semi-comical wrestling match in which suspense gives way to misplaced black humour as he struggles with the uncooperative corpse upon which the pin is hidden. The familiar Hitchcock story of a wrongly accused man on the run is also diminished here because retired RAF Squadron Leader Richard Blaney (Jon Finch — Sunday Bloody Sunday) is such an arrogant ingrate that we feel no sympathy for him whatsoever as he finds himself on the run after becoming the prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt).
Frenzy is an unusually brutal movie, and although it benefits from many of Hitchcock’s unmistakeable touches, there’s a nastiness about it all, not only because we’re expected to side with a character who is something of an arse (and who becomes increasingly side-lined as the plot develops), but because an unmistakeable sense of mild disgust for all the characters is evident throughout. Despite this, Hitchcock’s mastery of his craft is still intact: he can wring more tension from a lengthy static shot of a doorway as we wait for the inevitable scream of a secretary returning from lunch to discover her murdered boss than most other directors can manage in an entire career. Barry Foster, in a role he won on the strength of his performance in Twisted Nerve, stands head and shoulders above an otherwise ordinary looking cast. Billie Whitelaw (Make Mine Mink, Twisted Nerve) is wasted in the role of the objecting wife of one of Blaney’s friends who hides him from the police, while poor Alec McCowen (The Agony and the Ecstasy) struggles as the police officer investigating the murders — a role so prosaic it looks as if it was written with the chance of a sit-com spin-off in mind.
(Reviewed 12th January 2015)