Frenzy ★★★★½

Although I enjoyed FAMILY PLOT, I believe FRENZY is the last truly great Alfred Hitchcock movie.  It is a thriller that not only has the Master’s golden touch of suspense, but it also boasts a screenplay from Anthony Shaffer who gave us THE WICKER MAN and the superlative thriller, SLEUTH.  My sole criticism of the film is that a great deal happens in the final 20-minutes.  After maintaining a wonderful pace, the conclusion breezes by so quickly which left me wondering if someone was concerned about the running time overall.
FRENZY is a darker and “rougher” Hitchcock film ... nastier than PSYCHO.  The film opens with the delightfully dark humor of a speech about cleaning up the pollution in the Thames being interrupted by the discovery of a floating body, the latest victim of “The Necktie Murderer.”  It also features the first of onscreen nudity scenes, definitely not what one anticipates from a Hitchcock film.
Particularly unsettling is a theme that had previously appeared in TORN CURTAIN.  In that latter film, there is a sequence that shows it is not easy to physically kill another person.  The scene in FRENZY is of a strangulation, and it is both graphic and very unpleasant.  Most of the folks who have told me that they don’t care for FRENZY cite that scene as being unnecessarily vivid and cruel.
Of course, there are plenty of other Hitchcock touches.  In addition to the pervading dark humor, there is a very exciting sequence about a dead body that is being extremely uncooperative.  In PSYCHO, it was an automobile that hesitated sinking in a swamp.  In FRENZY, the action takes place in the back of a potato truck.  FRENZY also has the “wrong man” theme, following the murderer as nefarious deeds are plotted, and creating a distance between violent actions and the perception of the Viewer.  It also has a wonderful final “tag” to close the movie.
A brilliant method that moves the exposition discussions of the police investigation forward is having these revelations while trying to digest highly inedible meals.  Alec McCowen and Vivien Merchant as the Chief Inspector and his wife are so much fun to watch in these sequences.  And the best part is that they deliver information the Viewer needs to know without stopping the movie or slowing the pace.  I looked forward to each dinner scene.
The entire cast is just great.  In addition to McCowen and Merchant, there are Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Anna Massey, Michael Bates and Jean March who all provide memorable performances.
When I first saw FRENZY at a double-feature retrospective, the audience was completely engaged and entertained.  People called out to characters who were about to be placed in harm’s way, they gasped at the infamous strangulation scene, they laughed at the Chief Inspector trying to eat the food his wife had provided, and they laughed and applauded at the final line of the movie.  I’ve seen FRENZY at least five times since.
Would FRENZY have led to a new Hitchcock trend in filmmaking?  We’ll never know.  His last film, FAMILY PLOT, was a return to the more cozy style of shows like THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY.  I would have liked to see him explore that rougher and darker side again, though.  It fit in perfectly with filmmaking trends in the 1970’s.

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