Frenzy ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

This is generally considered the best of Hitchcock’s late period. I think that’s about right. This thriller about a serial killer and the hapless man who is wrongly suspected of the crimes is tightly-wound, well made, and has some interesting ideas. It’s something of a throwback for the master with an added dollop of early Seventies naughtiness. While not entirely a return to form—it does have some point-of-view problems which lead to a somewhat deflated third act, it’s more substantial than Family Plot, and far more entertaining than Topaz or Torn Curtain.

Much of the film centers on Richard Blaney, played by Jon Finch, a ne’er-do-well right bastard with a nasty temper who’s widely suspected of being the necktie killer, a serial killer and rapist at large in London. I really love Finch’s performance here. He dares us to despise this guy. There’s something really intriguing about his almost willful lack of charm. It’s as if he’s negging the audience. We root for him because he’s innocent, yet he refuses to give us any other reason to like him. While he’s the main protagonist, there’s also long sections of the movie from other points of view, including a long scene of the killer (who is revealed to the audience fairly early on) retrieving evidence and a few scenes from the Scotland Yard investigator’s POV.

Though I generally prefer the Finch centered parts of the movie, the scene with the killer trying to recover from a big mistake is probably the strongest scene in the movie. It’s classic Hitchcock indicting the audience by making us root for the evil guy. I don’t think anyone in the audience really wants this killer to get away with his crime, but Hitchcock knows that if he presents a scene of someone struggling through obstacles to achieve a certain goal, we’ll instinctively root for that goal. So on some level, in the moment, we want this creep to get his evidence back. It’s reminiscent of Norman cleaning the crime scene in Psycho, or Bruno going after his lighter in Strangers on a Train.

The scenes with the investigator are less successful. His role is expanded too much and too late into the picture. We don’t see enough of his investigation strategy prior to the apprehension of Blaney. His process of uncovering the error, as a result, unfolds too quickly, and is less dramatic than if we had gotten his point of view when he was getting into the error in the first place. That he discovers the error prior to Blaney’s prison break cuts much of the tension from that scene, and the ultimate climax is then underwhelming. The point-of-view switches I think just makes it too difficult for the story to gather the momentum it needs for a proper payoff.

If there’s one thing that these three protagonists have in common it’s a sense of emasculation. Most disturbingly, with the killer himself—an incel before that term was a thing. He’s driven by his dark desires that he’s unable to consummate, brutally symbolized by his trademark: a man’s necktie. Blaney is less violent and gruesome, but still displays a sharp temper, and his anger is clearly a result of the shame he feels at his own dependence on the women in his life. His conditions in life require him to rely on both his ex-wife and his current girlfriend, and he’s pretty open with how he feels about that. The inspector, of course, leads a much more refined life, and his issues with his wife are far more benign. Yet even his old-fashioned domestic arrangement—he works while his wife stays home and prepares dinner—is upended by an independent streak in the wife. She insists on experimenting with gourmet fine-dining recipes that he finds inedible. At first it seems that she’s just oblivious to his wants, but eventually she reveals: I know what you want is steak and potatoes, but that’s not what you’re going to get.

Speaking of the inspector’s meals, there’s a lot of appetites on display here. Food is all over the place. I should note that there’s actually very little frenzy. Frenzy refers to a temporary state of unrestrained excitement. One character is thoroughly insane and the others, despite lapses in temper are pretty steady. What the title may refer to though is that repressed voraciousness that does seem to be lurking beneath the surface with everyone, though some hide it better than others.

There’s a lot here to admire despite some of the problems it has toward the end. I think it probably is Hitchcock’s best movie since The Birds.

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