Saturday, October 13, 2012
Regardless of format, Frenzy remains a wickedly entertaining and morbidly funny film. Once again, Hitchcock draws on one of his favorite tropes - the man wrongfully accused - but instead of concentrating on the potential chase and man-on-the-run elements like he had in previous films (most notably in North by Northwest and The 39 Steps), he revels in the delicious irony of all the clues pointing to an innocent while nothing incriminating is tied to the real criminal, and he teases the audience with a number of standout suspense scenes.
A London serial killer is strangling women with a necktie, and all evidence points to Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), a recently fired barman down on his luck. He was the last man seen near where his ex-wife was raped and murdered, and he's got a bad temper and a bit of a drinking problem. The problem: he didn't do it. The real killer is a friend of Blaney's, Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), a market salesman with a warped sexual compulsion hidden beneath his charming, helpful personality. In the middle is Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen), who discusses evidence of the case with his wife while trying to avoid eating her ghastly meals.
The humor typically comes from dark irony. The film opens with long, sweeping shots of the London cityscape and proceeds to an outdoor press conference where a government official boasts about efforts to clean up pollution in the Thames River, only for someone to cry out there's a dead woman floating by. Later, Rusk, looking for a piece of incriminating evidence in a victim's hand, climbs into the potato truck, getting knocked around by all the sacks and growing increasingly frustrated and desperate; it's a sequence that's as humorous as it is tense. The public, instead of being shocked or repulsed by the murders, are actually fascinated by them, treating them as just the latest piece of gossip. One extra notes how the city could use a little excitement. More traditional humor comes from the dinner scenes between Oxford and his wife; he elaborates on the case while hiding his disgust for her cooking. Given that the film is about appetites - Rusk's depraved carnal hungers - it makes sense that the detective who eventually figures out the truth is the one who has trouble swallowing what's put in front of him.
Being the master of suspense, Hitchcock shows he still knew how to turn the screws. The potato truck scene as I mentioned is a standout sequence, and the murder of Blaney's ex-wife is another great example. It's brutal, shocking, and drawn out. We watch her mind work as she tries to talk her way out of it and then try fight. When the deed is done and Rusk leaves, there's a long shot held on the building's entrance outside; we see the secretary walk inside, but we wait outdoors for the inevitable scream of discovery. Rusk later leads another victim up to his apartment, and when the door closes, the camera pulls back, down the stairs, and outside; we know what's going to happen, and we're helpless to stop it.