Frenzy feels like a fresh re-take on many earlier Hitchcock films, among them 1943's Shadow of a Doubt. Also, the killer's mislaid tie pin is reminiscent of the cigarette lighter in Strangers on a Train. The most obvious update is the level of sex, nudity, and graphic violence. This R rated film graphically displays what earlier films could only hint at. Featuring palpable tension throughout and Hitchcock's trademark dark humor, Frenzy is an excellent film. It may deserve more than an 80, but I'm awarding that score in relation to his masterpieces.
Definitely worth watching as a turn for the different in HItch's filmography - though it is surprisingly long for such a shallow film, it remains captivating on a basic human level. This might make an interesting exploration into cinema's role as a moral guardian or cathartic outlet (seeing dark, evil things perpetrated on screen assuages our own need to approach them in real life), especially since this was exceptionally racy for 1972. Even as one of his weaker movies, it still acquits itself pretty well.
In Frenzy, Hitchcock builds up the characters before the big part of the story unleashes. A few familer faces, such as Bernard Cribbings, Billie Whitelaw etc.
The plot, I should imaginewas quite sinister in it's day and still makes really good viewing now.
In the late sixties, the concept of what was considered acceptable to be shown on cinema screens had changed radically. Movies like 'Bonnie & Clyde' and 'Midnight Cowboy' portrayed violence in far more graphic and realistic terms than cinema-goers had ever seen before. The 'X' rating was introduced for this new wave of adult cinema, and, rather than turning away audiences, it become a huge selling point. An X-cert told audiences to expect a racy night out.
Sex and violence had suddenly become accepted in Hollywood, but only when kept apart from each other. Sexual violence was still considered taboo in America, leading several film-makers to relocate to Britain if they wished to explore such themes. Thanks mainly to Hammer films, whose vampire films had been gleefully mixing sex and violence throughout the sixties, such a taboo was nonexistent in Britain. This allowed Kubrick and Peckinpah to include brutal rape scenes in 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Straw Dogs', something they couldn't have hoped to get away with back in the States. Wishing to exploit this new tolerance, Hitchcock returned to his native London for the first time since 1950's 'Stage Fright'.
The rape scene in 'Frenzy' may not be as notorious as those seen in Kubrick and Peckinpah's films (both of which later received lengthy bans when the UK turned conservative in the late seventies) but it's every bit as savage. Though it features the bared breasts of a body double, it's relatively inexplicit, but Hitch's use of extreme close-ups make it an uncomfortable view. We see every bit of frustrated anger on Foster's face, every bit of fear and resignation on that of his victim. Had the film been made by anyone other than Hitchcock, I suspect it may have ended up on the infamous UK "Video Nasties" list a decade later.
'Frenzy' is the master's last great work, making up for both the pair of duds which preceded it and the turkey which followed. It features some bravura film-making which distinguishes it from the low-rent British thrillers of the time. The most famous moment, in film-making terms, comes when Foster leads a victim into his apartment. As the couple enter, rather than following them inside, the camera slowly descends back down the stairs and out into the noisy London street below. The audience knows the victim's fate thanks to Foster's use of the line "you're my type of woman", a phrase he uttered before the earlier graphic murder. Another simple yet brilliant moment comes when the verdict is being delivered at Finch's trial. Hitch positions the camera outside the courtroom door. We can see the judge speaking but can't hear him until a police officer satisfies both his own and our curiosities by slightly opening the door just as the verdict is delivered. Hitchcock was never one to allow his films to be polluted by unnecessary dialogue.
Much has been written about the influence the director's wife, Alma Reville, had on his creative work. It's said she would often be the deciding factor when Hitch found himself questioning the validity of some of his artistic choices. 'Frenzy's subplot, involving a Scotland Yard inspector's wife convincing him he arrested the wrong man, seems to be inspired by the director's own marital relationship. Like Hitchcock himself, the inspector enjoys a good hearty meal but is denied this by his wife who insists on experimenting with haute-cuisine.
Food is everywhere in 'Frenzy', from the bunch of "sour grapes" crushed by Finch when a horse he failed to bet on comes in first, to the potato truck Foster finds himself rummaging through for a piece of damning evidence he clumsily left behind. This latter sequence is one of the film's highlights, demonstrating Hitch's ability to manipulate audiences into identifying with the villain. We may be fully aware that Foster is a cold-blooded killer attempting to frame our protagonist, but that doesn't stop us hoping in the moment he retrieves his tie-pin without detection. Foster is forced to break open the rigor-mortis stiff fingers of a corpse to retrieve the item, a detail later referenced comically when bread-sticks are broken by the inspector's wife.
It's a shame that 'Family Plot' would follow as 'Frenzy' would have made the ideal final film for Hitch, a return to both his film-making form and the London streets he menaced as a young film-maker some forty-plus years previous.
Clocking in a little shy of two hours, the film has plenty of time to build suspense, and boy, it has a tendency to work a little too hard at keeping that up, not so much dragging itself out with filler, but still outstaying its welcome with much meandering material that slows down the momentum of rising tension, however limited it may be by inconsistencies beyond pacing. I don't know if the film is so much all that humorous, or even all that fluffy of a report back to London on the tropes that Alfred Hitchcock picked up during his time in Hollywood, Anthony Shaffer's script, on top of spending too much time with certain segments in material in general, spends too much time with inconsequential, almost tongue-in-cheek lighter segments, broken up by moments of tension that would be more effective if they weren't so forcibly driven into the midst of borderline fluff. Tensions certainly aren't helped by the film's lack of originality, being at least consistent in tossing whatever pacing or tone it's following upon a traditional muder and wrong-suspect tale that is all too predictable to feel all that momentous, just as it's too histrionic to fell that grounded. I don't suppose Shaffer's scripted storytelling is all that far out there, but it's a bit questionable, drawing a borderline barely probable thriller narrative whose holes in full buyability are conceptually problematic enough. Of course, what ultimately secures the final product's underwhelmingness through the story concept is merely natural shortcomings, because the near-two-hour runtime, and the jarring incorporations of more serious tonal aspects, wouldn't be so unreasonable if this story concept wasn't so light in momentum to begin with. I feel that something could have been done to carry this story a fair distance in execution, and highlights in storytelling stand as evidence, yet the consequential shortcomings - of which there are many - ultimately reinforce limitations in intrigue enough to hold the final product back as a relatively underwhelming, somewhat fluffy thriller. There's something ultimately lacking here, but not so lacking that the final product doesn't entertain just fine as a fair penultimate opus in Hitchcock's career, and one that looks good along the way.
Really, Gilbert Taylor's and an uncredited Leonard J. South's cinematography is hardly all that special, but it pays a nice compliment to Alfred Hitchock's distinctive visual style with a lovely pronunciation of color and some subtle plays with lighting that do a decent job of drawing you into the looks of this character piece. Of course, this thriller thrives more on the portrayers of its characters, and while there's not a whole lot of material for anyone to utilized as standouts or anything of that sort, most everyone has a very English and distinguished charisma which sells each individual character, while the occasional dramatic beat reinforces a sense of consequence. The performances are solid, never really standing out, but having a certain realization to presence to help keep you invested, with the help of some pretty decent material, in all fairness. Anthony Shaffer's script gets to be rather uneven in tone and pacing, and quite frankly, it's perhaps a little too blasted British in its overt dryness, whose somewhat subdued approach to heavy subject matter further limits a sense of weight, yet through all of the shortcomings, Shaffer's humor is generally clever and amusing, while characterization proves to be well-rounded enough for you to get a grip on the characters, and the conflicts which follow them. True, there's only so much weight to get a grip on within this somewhat narratively thin and very unoriginal story concept, but potential is here, intriguing as a classic, if sometimes probably questionable study on the hunt for the wrong man in a serial murder case, anchored by the aforementioned charismatic acting and clever script. Of course, what really brings storytelling to life, about as much as it can be with material so thin in concept and uneven in execution, is Alfred Hitchcock's direction, which not only flaunts a handsome visual style, as I said earler, but keeps fairly focused in that classic Hitchcockian manner, focusing on writing wit enough to keep the slow spells from descending into blandness, while playing with a sharp atmosphere during the more intense moments in order to thoroughly chill, and provide glimpses into a more effective thriller. Needless to say, the heights in intensity are few and far between in this sparse affair, and in between that is a thriller that is too held back by predictability, inconsistency and other issues to be all that thrilling, but entertainment value is not lost, sustaining enough intrigue to keep you going, even if it's for only so far.
Bottom line, the momentously and tonally uneven, as well as unoriginal and sometimes histrionic telling of a slightly thin story concept hold the final product back, but decent cinematography, charismatic acting, clever writing and thoughtful direction prove to be enough to make Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy" a pretty entertaining and sometimes pretty tense, if underwhelming penultimate project in the career of the Master of Suspense.
2.5/5 - Fair