Sunday, June 27, 2021


TCM has been running a marathon of Alfred Hitchcock movies this weekend. It's going to conclude overnight, or early tomorrow morning, with Frenzy, at 3:45 AM.

In contemporary (1972, when the movie was released) London, a politician is talking about the pollution in the Thames while telling a crowd that a new bill being proposed will clean up that pollution. Ah, but the river is polluted in ways that our politician friend didn't expect, as a dead body floats to the shore. Worse, it's a woman who is completely naked, except for the necktie with which she's been strangled. So everybody knows this is the work of the Necktie Killer.

Cut to a pub in Covent Garden where Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) works as a barman. He's in a relationship with the barmaid, Barbara (Anna Massey), but more annoying to the owner is that Richard takes a drink for himself now and then and pays for it from behind the bar, which leads the boss to think that he's stealing drinks, getting him fired for his trouble. He's also been living in a room above the pub, so he doesn't seem to have a place to live.

In fact, Richard's life is a bit of a mess. He was married for about a decade to Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), who runs a dating service, and it's humiliating to him to have to rely on her for money. The closest he seems to have as a friend, othern than possibly Babs, is Robert Rusk (Barry Foster), who runs one of the produce providers in Covent Garden. It doesn't help, however, that Rusk gives Richard a horse tip that Richard can't cash in on, not having enough money.

To be honest, Rusk is even less of a friend than that. We learn relatively early in the movie that Rusk is in fact the Necktie Killer, as we see when he goes to visit Brenda's business. Rusk, under an assumed name, had been a client, looking for women who were into kinky sex. When Brenda won't provide that, Rusk flies into a rage, raping Brenda before killing her. Not long after that, Richard goes up to the office to see Brenda, finds out what happens, and realizes the police will suspect him.

Investigating the case for Scotland Yard is Inspector Tim Oxford (Alec McCowen), who is also part of the film's dark humor together with his wife (Vivien Merchant). She tries to make gourmet meals for her husband, this being a time when finding high quality out-of-the-ordinary foods was much more difficult, so everything she makes is less than appetizing. (Evidence of how limited the British palate was at the time is that she has to list the ingredients in a margarita, pronouncing the liquor as "tekwilla".)

Richard, on the run from the law, is spotted by an old RAF buddy who puts him up, and could even provide an alibi if it weren't for the fact that his wife doesn't want to get involved and especially doesn't want to get her husband brought up on charges of being an accessory after the fact. So eventually the authorities find him, and Rusk has been quite good at planting even more evidence to make Richard look guilty....

Frenzy is, for whatever reason, one of Hitchcock's lesser known movies. I think that's in part down the cast, which is a bunch of people who were never Hollywood names, although that's deliberate. Another part is probably because the movie was made in Britain on location in Covent Garden, giving it a gritty look. The much more explicit subject nature thanks to the end of the Production Code might be a factor too. Frenzy is pretty dark stuff even by the standards of Alfred Hitchcock.

Having said that, Frenzy absolutely works thanks to its great story and that gritty location shooting. Finch and Foster both look enough like creeps to make their characters realistic. Finch, like John Hurt's character in the previous year's 10 Rillington Place is also enough of a chancer that it's obvious to see why the police would immediately suspect him and nobody would have sympathy for him.

So if you haven't seen Frenzy before, it's one that I'd absolutely recommend.

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