Made in 1972 and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this was a very controversial film at the time, earning itself an R rating. This was due to graphic violence and nudity, depicting a rape and strangulation scene.
The story revolves around a series of murders, and a man who is unjustly accused of the crime. It’s a standard road for Hitchcock, though significantly more graphic than even “Psycho” in it’s violence. He does not leave the audience guessing about the murderer, who is introduced early on and is clearly identified as the killer in the controversial scene. Barry Foster plays the killer, and convincingly swings between suave and charming, and creepy and nasty. The protagonist is played by Jon Finch, and his character is no hero, an unemployed drunk who was divorced by his successful wife, and he likes to blame others for his problems. Finch is excellent in this role. They are ably supported by an excellent supporting cast.
Hitchcock is one of my favourite directors, and he does not disappoint in this film. He is very good at suggestion, and he is very aware that less is sometimes better. A great example of this is the second murder. The first murder is shown in graphic detail, from the murderer’s first approach to his victim, to his departure after killing her. In the second murder, we see the victim going in the door, followed by the murderer, who tells her she’s his kind of woman. The viewer knows this is a signal that he’s about to get violent, as he says the same thing to the first woman. At this point the door closes behind them, and the camera starts to move backwards, back down the hall they have walked, the stairs, out of the front door and back across the road. We half expect that we will hear something – a scream, thumping, but there is nothing. It is in fact, very quiet. The viewer fills in all the details needed, taken from the first murder. Nothing else is needed. It’s a classically Hitchcock moment.
He is also an excellent editor. The scene in the potato truck is a great example of this. The murderer climbing into the truck, being stuck there when the truck starts moving, and his efforts to remove the incriminating evidence from the corpse he has previously dumped there, is a great sequence, and the editing of the different shots makes this work.
He lightens the mood with humorous moments. One of my favourite scenes is of the investigating officer’s wife, who calmly tells him he’s got the wrong man when they arrest the protagonist, which he ignores. He is somewhat disgruntled when he realizes she is absolutely correct.
There are some areas where this film has not aged well. A particularly cringe-worthy moment occurs early on, where some extras are discussing the murders. After a woman says ‘I hear they were raped first’, the two men in the conversation leer at each other and one says ‘well there’s got to be some good in it’. As a modern viewer I am forced to remind myself that in 1972 this kind of attitude was not uncommon, however wrong. Another aspect of this is the incorrect science (and the old wive’s tale) of a murdered person clutching something in their hand. While I am not an expert and there may be exceptions to this rule, in general when you die your muscles go limp, and there is no way something can be held in a dead person’s grip. Rigor Mortis, which does stiffen the muscles, does not occur till some hours after death. (four to six, according to Wikipedia.) So the entire sequence I have previously mentioned, in the potato truck, would never have occurred because the murdered woman could not be holding the incriminating tie pin. (It is great cinema, though.)
“Frenzy” was Hitchcock’s second to last film, and certainly among his great ones, in my opinion. He took a risk with the level of violence, but in doing so he created a very enjoyable thriller. If you haven’t seen it, it’s certainly worth a look.
(Click on the link below if you are interested in buying this film.)