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Frenzy

Those of us who enjoy a good Hitchcock tend to be torn on 1972's Frenzy. There are reasons to nod to it as one of Hitchcock's more favorably memorable films. Not up there with his peak efforts of more than a decade before, sure, but still superior to his other latterday films such as Topaz or Torn Curtain. On the other hand, Frenzy is still on course with the saddening downslide of his later, "flawed" body of work. This was his penultimate film (he was 73 at the time) and his first shot in London since 1956's The Man Who Knew Too Much. Frenzy does have glimpses of that signature Hitchcock brilliance, and those come riding the coattails of his in-your-face audacity (or mean-spirited brutality, take your pick) and one striking "classic Hitchcock" scene. But these glimpses are small uplifts in a thriller that delivers more misogyny and gratuitousness than shock and suspense.

Anthony Shaffer's screenplay sets a "necktie strangler" rapist-killer on the loose in London. We are clued in to the killer's identity early on, soon after we're also introduced to the killer's (unknowing) friend — a hard-luck bloke who, thanks to the Wrong Man formula's circumstantial evidence and coincidence, is accused of the murders, pursued, convicted, escapes, and aids in the capture of the real killer. Jon Finch plays Blaney, the innocent accused, and Barry Foster is Rusk, the rather fey mama's boy (à la Norman Bates) whose point of view the camera takes as he rapes and strangles women. Blaney's ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) and his casual girlfriend (Anna Massey) are among the victims. Their murders represent both the best and the worst points of Frenzy. As Massey's character is raped and strangled, her reactions and death throes play across her face in screen-filling close-up. Hitchcock suggests more than he shows, but the camera's unflinching dispassion inches from her contorting face make this graphic scene hard to watch. Sure, a rape-strangulation should to be hard to watch, but rather than move us it just cackles with cold and easy sadistic excess.

On the other hand, the girlfriend's murder gives an excuse for that single "classic Hitchcock" moment. It's a long recoiling tracking shot that isolates the murder on a canvas of loneliness and distance even as it occurs in an apartment building in a bustling neighborhood. It's a fine chilling moment, one that stands out half-way through an otherwise disappointingly ordinary catch-the-killer movie (one that ends on an abrupt, flat note to boot). Would-be comic interruptions arrive in the form of adolescent sexual winks, a woman's corpse crammed into a tomato truck, and tiresome repetitions of a put-upon Chief Inspector (Alec McCowen) and the "gourmet cooking" — eel head soup, for instance — placed before him by his dowdy wife (Vivien Merchant, so memorable in Alfie). Rather than classic Hitchcock, Frenzy feels more like a lesser director's cookie-cutter "Hitchcockian" knock-off.

*          *          *

Universal's "Hitchcock Collection" DVD edition of Frenzy offers a clean but unremarkable source print and transfer (anamorphic 1.85:1), and the Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural audio is likewise adequate.

The headline extra is The Story of Frenzy, a fine Laurent Bouzereau retrospective (44 mins.) with behind-the-scenes footage and appearances by Finch, Foster, Massey, screenwriter Shaffer, Peter Bogdanovich, and Hitchcock's daughter Patricia O'Connell Hitchcock. Also included are production notes, stills, promotional poster art, cast and crew bios, and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne



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