Frenzy ★★★★

Part of the Alfred Hitchcock Sound Era Films In Chronological Order project.

Sex! Full frontal nudity! Rape! Swearing! Anna Massey's norks! Alfred Hitchcock goes X-rated!

At the start of Frenzy, as Bernard Cribbins and Jon Finch argue about fingering Anna Massey, there is a feeling that Hitchcock's got a bit carried away by the fact that nobody gives a damn about the sodding Hays Code any more and that he can get away with just about as much as he wants.

Once he's got a lot of the swearing and sexual references out of his system, though, Frenzy settles down into a really excellent thriller. Hitchcock's return home shows no less a love for London than his pre-Rebecca films do, but this time he allows himself the opportunity to explore its seedier side - not just in terms of the murders that are taking place but some of the people that populate the city.

Hitchcock initially wanted Michael Caine to play Barry Foster's role, but Caine turned down the opportunity saying that he thought the character was "absolutely disgusting". This was, remember, a year after he had played Jack Carter - one of the most despicable bastards in the history of British cinema. His loss is Foster's gain - he is absolutely terrific as a Cockney wideboy market stall holder turned sexual pervert, rapist and murderer. His prolonged Van Der Valk run probably prevented him from doing as many films as he could have done following Frenzy but I rather think he and we missed out on many more excellent film performances from him.

It's initially hard to warm to Finch as the drunk womaniser, even if he is somewhat down on his luck, and we never really get the opportunity to properly root for him as we have rooted for many other wronged Hitchcock heroes in the past. However, Hitchcock does the right thing, after the first half an hour, in focusing on Foster - his is a far more interesting character and as utterly repellent as he is, casually chewing on an apple after his latest victim breathes her last, he is impossible not to watch - even during the infamous potato truck scene.

Actually, I felt that scene was the most problematic of the film as Hitchcock can't seem to help himself in terms of making it blackly comic, when it really shouldn't be, but no-one could deny its gruesome brilliance. Also, Hitchcock once again has another character outside of the law who is altogether too graphically interested in murder, which is normally fine, but in this case said character doesn't work as well. Vivien Merchant, as the wife of the head copper in charge of the investigation (Alec McCowen) is too busy serving up comedy terrible posh food to her distressed husband, and their scenes are too cloaked in comedy for the concept to work as well.

They don't really weigh the film down too much, though. It's just too well plotted and populated by excellent characters for it to suffer too much from these minor complaints. Watching an 18 certificate Alfred Hitchcock film, though, does give us a glimpse into how his career may have turned out if he had been born 30 or 40 years later. "BASTARD!" would certainly have been heard in cinemas a hell of a lot more, that's for certain.

Steve G liked these reviews