Frenzy (1972): Hitchcock’s Return to Form, London-Set Thriller, Last Commercial Film

Frenzy marked Hitchcock’s return to England after a two-decade absence, during which he made numerous masterpieces in Hollywood.  His last film to be shot in London was “Stage Fright,” in 1950.

“Frenzy” is Hitchcock’s most commercially successful film since “Psycho,” in 1960.

“Frenzy” turned out to be Hitchcock’s next-to-last feature.  His very last work was “Family Plot,” four years later, in 1976; he died in 1980.

“Frenzy” has no major male or female stars—it’s more of an ensemble piece, casting some of the U.K. most estimable stage actors, such as Alec McCowen, Anna Massey, and Billie Whitelaw

“Frenzy” contains a larger number of food scenes, and eating features more prominently in the plot, literally and metaphorically, than in any other Hitchcock film.

All the victims in “Frenzy” are women, beginning with the body floating in the river in the first scene, and ending with the murder of the main actress in the plot, played by Anne Massey.

“Frenzy” combines dark, morbid humor with thrilling horror.  Critics were divided at the time about the scene, set in a truck carrying potatoes, searching for the incriminating tie pin in his victim’s hand.

“Frenzy” is a cold, cynical film, in which all the relationships are defined by deceit, disloyalty, and betrayal.

Anti-Hero

“Frenzy” is one of Hitchcock’s most detached pictures, in which the protagonist is far from being heroic, despite being innocent of the rapes and murders he’s accused of. Angry, poor, unemployed, and alone, he is driven by bitterness about his life and relentless need for revenge at all costs.

“Frenzy” revolves around one of the most frequent themes in Hitchcock’s work: The innocent man accused of murders he did not commit.

“Frenzy” contains the longest, most gruesome violent scene, the rape and murder of Barbara Blaney, in Hitchcock’s work.

Hitchcock’s Cameo

Hitchcock’s cameo appearance is seen about 3 minutes into the film, standing amongst a crowd, wearing a bowler hat.

During the politician’s self-congratulatory speech, one member of the crows withholds his applause, Hitchcock himself. Dressed in a dark suit, he knows more than the phony politicos about the persistence of pollution in the river.

Detailed Synopsis:

A serial killer terrorizes London by raping and then strangling women with a tie. Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), a Covent Garden produce merchant, is the murderer. However, circumstantial evidence, engineered by Rusk, implicate Rusk’s friend Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), who becomes a fugitive, the wrong man attempting to prove his innocence.

Newly fired from his pub job, Blaney visits his ex-wife, Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), at her matchmaking business. They briefly argue, but she invites him out to dinner. Broke, he ends up spending the night at a Salvation Army shelter; while there he discovers that Brenda had slipped money into his coat pocket.

Rusk arrives at the office of Brenda, who had previously refused him as a client due to his sexual peculiarities. When she spurns his advances, he rapes and strangles her with his tie. After Rusk leaves, Blaney arrives to see Brenda, only to find the office locked. Suspicion falls on Blaney after Brenda’s secretary tells police that she saw Blaney leaving the building just as she was returning from lunch.

Blaney meets up with Barbara “Babs” Milligan (Anna Massey), his girlfriend and former pub co-worker.  After learning about Brenda’s murder and that Blanney is the suspect, they hide out at the flat of a friend, who offers them jobs in Paris.

Babs returns to the pub to fetch her and Blaney’s belongings, intending to meet him the next morning to go to Paris. At the pub, Babs runs into Rusk, who offers her his flat for the night; after leading her there, he rapes and murders her (off-screen).

That night, Rusk hides Babs’ body in a sack and stows it in the back of a lorry hauling potatoes. Back in his room, he discovers his distinctive tie pin (with the initial R) is missing, and realizes that Babs must have torn it off. Knowing the tie pin will incriminate him, he goes to retrieve it, but the lorry starts off while Rusk is still inside.

Rigor mortis has set in, forcing Rusk to break Babs’ fingers to get the pin. Disheveled and dirty, he gets out when the lorry stops at a roadside cafe. Babs’ body is discovered when it falls off the truck onto the road.

Blaney, now the prime suspect in the murders, seeks out Rusk’s help. Although the police are actively searching Covent Garden, Rusk offers to hide Blaney at his flat. Rusk goes there first with Blaney’s bag and plants Babs’ belongings inside it. He then tips off the police, who arrest Blaney and find the clothing.

Blaney is convicted, but he strongly protests his innocence and accuses Rusk. Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) reconsiders the evidence and secretly investigates Rusk. Oxford discusses the case with his wife (Vivien Merchant) in several comic relief scenes that concern her pretensions gourmet cooking.

In prison, Blaney deliberately injures himself and is taken to the hospital, where his fellow inmates help him escape. He intends to murder Rusk in revenge. Oxford, learning of Blaney’s escape, suspects he is heading to Rusk’s flat and goes there.

Blaney arrives first and finds the door unlocked. He strikes what he assumes is the sleeping Rusk with a tyre iron. However, the person in the bed ist the corpse of Rusk’s latest female victim.

Oxford arrives as Blaney is holding the tyre iron. He begins to proclaim his innocence, when a banging noise coming up the staircase interrupts them. Rusk enters, dragging a large trunk into the flat.

The film ends with Oxford’s urbane comment, “Mr. Rusk, you’re not wearing your tie.” Rusk drops the trunk in defeat.

The credits roll in front of the trunk, with its cross motif.

Cast

Jon Finch as Richard Ian “Dick” Blaney
Alec McCowen as Chief Inspector Timothy Oxford
Barry Foster as Robert “Bob” Rusk
Billie Whitelaw as Hetty Porter
Anna Massey as Barbara Jane “Babs” Milligan
Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Brenda Margaret Blaney
Bernard Cribbins as Felix Forsythe
Vivien Merchant as Mrs. Oxford
Michael Bates as Sergeant Spearman
Jean Marsh as Monica Barling
Clive Swift as Johnny Porter
Madge Ryan as Mrs. Davison
Elsie Randolph as Gladys
John Boxer as Sir George
George Tovey as Neville Salt
Jimmy Gardner as hotel porter
Gerald Sim as Solicitor in pub
Noel Johnson as Doctor in pub
Rita Webb as Mrs. Rusk (uncredited)
Michael Sheard as Jim, Rusk’s friend in pub (uncredited)

 

Teaser trailers show a Hitchcock-like dummy floating in the River Thames and Hitchcock introducing the audience to Covent Garden via the fourth wall.

Michael Caine was Hitchcock’s first choice for Rusk, but Caine thought the character was disgusting and didn’t want to be associated with the part. Foster was cast after Hitchcock saw him in Twisted Nerve (which also featured Frenzy co-star Billie Whitelaw).

Vanessa Redgrave turned down the role of Brenda, and Deep Red’s David Hemmings (who had co-starred with Redgrave in Blowup) was considered to play Blaney.

Credits:

Directed, produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer
Based on Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square by Arthur La Bern
Music by Ron Goodwin
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor, Leonard J. South
Edited by John Jympson
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: 21 June 1972
Running time: 116 minutes
Budget: $2 million
Box office: $12.6 million