Frenzy – 1972
Director – Alfred Hitchcock
Starring – Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, and Anna Massey
Most of Hitchcock’s work has a certain smirk to it. It gives off the impression that there is some grand farce that everyone is in on, with of course, the exception of it’s characters. The dialogue is witty and playful, yet to the point. And the characters, while possessing the skeleton and characteristics of a real person, usually seem like a vehicle for the glossy movie star to seem debonair (Cary Grant), righteous (Jimmy Stewart), glamorous (Grace Kelly), or diabolical (Peter Lorre). Basically they provide movie stars an iconic memorable performance, delivered on a silver platter. This formula is great fun to watch, and it leads to some the best movies that I’ve ever seen (Rear Window, North by Northwest, and of course Psycho), but in 1972’s Frenzy it is nowhere to be found.
I am used to the Hitchcock of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, in fact that is just what I was expecting. A glamorous film, with a huge, name, star in the lead, swelling music, glossy close-ups, and those fake, staged post World War 2, American kisses, all while lightly exploring the seedy underside of passion and human nature. What I got in Frenzy, was a grimy, living, breathing, murder story. It had an unlikable, but realistic main character. It had a truely reprehensible, yet utterly believable villain. It had violence, brutality, and…gasp…nudity! A Hitchcock film with nudity? I never would’ve never guessed that something so contrary to the body of work that I knew and loved ever existed.
Jon Finch plays Richard Blaney, a down on his luck ex-RAF pilot recently fired from his job. After borrowing on the good will of the people in his life, one of them turns up as a victim in a notorious spate of killings attributed to the “Neck-tie murderer”. The police obviously finger Blaney for the killer, and start a manhunt to bring him in. With the police on his trail he must find the real killer and clear his name.
Early on in the film we learn the real identity of the killer, and we watch helplessly as he circles in on Blaney framing him for these crimes, and leading him towards the police. Played by Barry Foster, the killer exudes a sleaze and a charm at the same time. He is knows what he is, and operates not in spite of it, but because of it. We come to understand that both men are essentially the same person, only one blames himself for his misfortune, and the other blames women. As they go from friends to foils, Finch and Foster play nicely off of each other as they spiral closer and closer to being the same person, before Blaney discovers a humanity in himself.
As I’ve said earlier, most of Hitchcock’s films, are glossy and glamorous. Not so with Frenzy. The color palette of films shot in the seventies, muted and yellowish, sets the visual tone for the story perfectly. While most studio films of the 40’s and 50’s are encapsulated in their own little realities, Frenzy is given room to breathe in the real world. Everyone from the main characters on down to the secondary and tertiary characters looks and feels like real people. They swear, they have sex, they get angry, and they get frightened. While the cynicism, and dark humor typical of Hitchcock remains, it is backed up by a director not hindered by censors or morality codes. It feels like this was Hitchcock’s first real opportunity to stretch out and tell the kind of story that he’d always wanted to.
While I’ve always enjoyed Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Frenzy really opened my eyes to just how creative and compelling a filmmaker he was. I am looking forward to checking out more of his later work. I hope it’s all just as good as this one!