On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Frenzy (1972)
by NIR SHALEV
This is some kind of thriller, truly one of a kind. Here we have Alfred Hitchcock delivering what is expected of him, except that right off the bat we see female nudity and coarse language is peppered throughout the film. Well, what at the time was passed off as coarse language. Regardless, it’s there and it’s new, and it all works very well.
The film’s concept depicts the “innocent man mistaken for a criminal” scenario, a popular trope found mainly in Film Noir-type films, and a few of Hitchcock’s previous films. What separates this film from Hitch’s other “innocent man accused” films is that Frenzy takes the subject matter mostly seriously.
We are introduced to Richard Ian Blaney (Jon Finch) just as he’s wrongfully fired from his bartending job. Later that day he meets with his friend Robert Rusk (Barry Foster) and is given a really good tip about a race horse. He neglects to put the tip to good use, drinks most of his money away, and is later told by Robert that the horse had indeed won the race at 20-1 odds. Richard is clearly, very unlucky.
Now, aside from Hitch inserting nudity and coarse language into the film, he also reveals its eventual “bad-guy” to the audience from early on, the aptly nicknamed “Necktie Murderer”. This serial killer is none other than Robert Rusk. Robert, at one point in the film, pays a visit to Richard’s ex-wife and murders her. And as can be expected, due to simple bad luck and others’ imperceptions Richard is blamed for the murder. From that point on in the film he’s on the run.
We follow him as he evades the authorities and seeks shelter wherever remaining acquaintances may shelter him; we follow Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) and his investigation of the murders/manhunt for Richard; and we also follow Robert as he kills again.
Frenzy looks and feels like a Hitchcock film but plays out more like a police procedural, especially when we follow CI Oxford around. There are amusing moments in the film where his wife serves him her “experimental French cuisine” at the dinner table while he bounces ideas off of her; there is also an ingenious sequence in which Robert attempts to retrieve a personalized pin from a corpse (one that will incriminate him if found by the police) only to be taken on an unexpected joyride. The film isn’t devoid of a sense of humor, but only rarely shows it. And that’s only one of its great many strengths.
This is also the second Hitchcock film (Psycho being the first) that features a scene in which the audience empathizes with the bad guy for a short period of time.
Frenzy was a nice return to form for Hitchcock, whose two previous films were espionage themed and, quite frankly, aren’t very good. But it wasn’t unanimously loved when it first appeared in theaters and even though it brought in a nice chunk of cash, it had also managed to put off a great deal of its audience because it didn’t depict the typical wholesome or humorous, cheeky style of storytelling. There’s a real feeling of panic as Richard seeks shelter and attempts to clear his name of the crimes in which he was wrongfully accused of, and there’s also a feeling of repulsion whenever Robert is on screen.
That being said, the performances from the principal cast are excellent and Hitch really wracks one’s nerves throughout the 116 minute runtime. Richard may seem like an unlikable fellow, but in truth he’s simply angry at the situation and at the terrible bout of bad luck. He curses under his breath on several occasions and also curses at those who don’t want to be labeled as “accessories” and choose to not help him. But he’s only human, and in this day and age that type of behavior is wholly expected.
Alfred Hitchcock is mostly famous for steamy, albeit quasi-morbid thrillers like Vertigo (1958); humorous, suspense filled yarns like Rear Window (1954); and thrilling actioners like North by Northwest (1959). But there’s definitely a place for Frenzy in the limelight because Hitch had purposely gone out of his way in order to deliver the very antithesis of his types of films while making Frenzy very much an Alfred Hitchcock type film. It’s hugely ironic and if you hadn’t yet watched the film then you’ll have to take my word for it. Hitch took a big chance with this one and struck gold because much like the initially abhorred Vertigo, Frenzy has made a comeback in the past few decades and had its status elevated from “hidden gem” to “you have to watch it because it’s awesome.”
This is a beast of a film; one that I’d only recently discovered myself, and love, and recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who loves movies. I defy you to not fall in love with this terrific thriller. This is my pick of the week, finally receiving a standalone Blu-ray release, and that should be owned by cinephiles around the globe.
The special features included in the Blu-ray release are The Story of Frenzy; Production Photographs; and a theatrical trailer.
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