Tomb of Forgotten Film: Frenzy (1972)

After the last few films I had viewed turned out to be puzzling, troublesome affairs full of opaque meanings, disturbing visuals, and enigmatic themes, I was ready to settle in to a film that was on a more straightforward course. I still wasn’t quite ready to give up the thrills though. So with that in mind I picked a film that I had never seen (and scarcely heard of) but one of the lauded masters of the thriller, Alfred Hitchcock. I knew I would be in for a film that would still have great visual flair and some interesting characters, but what Hitchcock does better than any other director is turn the thriller on it’s ear. In many of his films (i.e. Psycho) you know quite well who the killer is, yet the film still manages to excite and engage. In fact some people love Hitch’s work so much it put’s them in quite a….

Frenzy (1972) starring Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Barbra Lee Hunt, Anna Massey, Alec McCowen, and Vivian Merchant. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 

When he gets fired from his job as a bartender for nicking a drink, Dick (Finch) finds himself broke and low on luck. He doesn’t even have enough money to put down on a 20 to 1 sure bet at the track that his friend Bob (Foster) told him about. To make matters worse, he pays a visit to his ex-wife Brenda (Hunt), now a prosperous London match maker, and makes a fool out of himself at her club when she invites him to dinner. To cap off his day, Dick has to resort to sleeping at a Salvation Army shelter as he has no place else to go.     

Just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, Brenda turns up dead, strangled to death by the Necktie Killer who has been stalking the city’s streets. Dick had been seen leaving her office shortly before she was discovered and soon becomes the prime suspect. He goes into hiding with the help of his girlfriend Babs (Massey), but she is later found dead as well. Framed for murders he did not commit, Dick becomes a victim of circumstance while the real killer gets away, but will justice ever get served. Oh, yes, as certain as Bob’s your uncle. 

The Bugg Speaks

Yes, I know the synopsis tells who the real killer is, but in my defense within 20 minutes of watching he film, the whole audience knows who the killer is. The most wonderful thing about this film is that it really doesn’t matter. With this story based off of the book Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square by Arthur Le Bern, Hitchcock is striking back to the theme of the wrongly accused that he has focused on many times in the past with his films The Lodger, North By Northwest, and, of course, The Wrong Man

By showing the three sides of this tale, the wrongly accused, the actual guilty party, and coppers on the case, Hitchcock illustrates quite effectively how crazy bad one man’s luck could be. Everything that Dick does points the finger in his direction. This is not a man framed (at least not at first); this is a man who framed himself by simply going about his business. He has a heated argument with his ex-wife, and he’s seen leaving her office. His girl brings him his suitcase and is found dead only hours later, and worst of all, his only friend in the world is actually the Necktie Killer. You have to feel sorry for the guy. This kind of luck you can only get when you’ve got no luck at all. 

To really bring the character of Dick to life, it required a man who looked hangdogged and completely defeated by life, and thankfully Hitch found his man in Jon Finch. With the glories of victories in the war long behind him, Dick appears constantly crestfallen, and Finch brings this air to the character from the first moments he appears on the screen. Then as the case begins to mount against him, Finch brings the character down and down, spiraling into his own pit on confusion and despair. The only thing that bothered me about the performance was the lack of reaction to either his ex’s or girlfriend’s deaths. For a character that is so easy to pity, this move made him seem crass, and I just can’t see why this direction was taken. I don’t need him to drop to his knees in a “Why, God, why?!” moment, but I surely expected some kind of emotional response. 

As the antithesis to the beaten down Dick (oh, man there is something wrong with that phrase, but I’m leaving it ‘cause it makes me laugh.), you have the successful dapper Bob played by Barry Foster. We’ve seen Barry before on these pages, but it’s been quite some time since I took at look at Twisted Nerve. It seems that Hitchcock was impressed with Foster’s acting in the Twisted Nerve, which plays out a bit like a cut rate Hitchcockian thriller, and cast him in this film when Michael Caine passed on the role. It seems Caine, who was coming off the success of The Italian Job and Get Carter, did not want to be associated with the role of a serial killer rapist, but nine years later he’d happily take the job as the transsexual murderer in De Palma’s Dressed to Kill. But I digress.

 Foster is the very ideal of the early 60’s swinging London gent with his Savoy Row suits and incredible head of blonde hair, oh, and a penchant of killing nubile young women with his neckties. I really enjoyed his performance; the highlight of which has to be the darkly comic scene wherein he has to peruse one of his victims that he’s stuffed in a sack and thrown into a potato truck. His ordeal of getting the tie pin that she she was clutching out of her rigored fingers is both a very funny bit of physical comedy and shocking as he breaks her fingers to get at the clue he left behind. Couple this scene with the one where he commits rape while grunting “Lovely” over and over, and you’ve got the portrait of a very twisted individual. 

However, even though Foster and Finch were highly enjoyable, I really enjoyed all the time we spent with investigation officer Det. Lt. Bowers played by Alec McCowen. While we do get some fairly rote investigation scenes from him, the real good stuff comes when we follow him home at the end of the day. Chatting about the case with his wife, played by Vivian Merchant, we see how focused and narrow-minded Bowers has become about the facts of the case. Even as his wife brings up many good points that would contradict his suppositions about Dick, Bowers is blinded by what he perceives as an open and shut case. In a nice easy bit of character development, we also learn that Bowers has his own troubled at home. It seems Mrs. Bowers is a terrible cook, and she loves to try exotic and unappetizing dishes. At one point Bowers is describing a truck stop and muses on all the good foods they serve there and the sparkle in his eyes as he daydreams about edible food is almost good enough for me to recommend this film to any man who’s ever had to endure a horrid dish that his wife is quite proud of. Not that I have ever had to do that. I have always enjoyed everything that Ms. Directed has cooked.

Sadly what doesn’t add anything to the proceeding are the ladies. While both appear partially undressed (or at least some body doubles do) neither is very lovely, talented, or interesting. They appear only to further the story along and end up on the slab. It is a pity, and I have to wonder how much better the film might have been with Elke Sommer or the like taking on one of the roles. 

I know I’m going on a bit here, so thanks to anyone who’s still with me. I just have a few more thoughts left. The cinematography, as with most Hitchcock films is beyond excellent. The director of photography was none other than Gil Taylor who had already made a name for himself shooting The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and Dr. Strangelove. He would go on to work on many more legendary films such as Flash Gordon, The Omen, and some film called Star Wars. There are several stunning pieces of camerawork including a tracking shot almost as impressive as the one in Goodfellas and with twice the impact to the story. There are many great angles explored and the camera keeps the film, which clocks in just shy of 2 hours, from ever growing stale. 

I do have some concerns over the score by Ron Goodman who also provided the music for films such as Day of the Triffids and Gawain and the Green Knight. Originally intended to be scored by Henri Mancini, Hitchcock was unhappy with the results and hired Goodman in his place. I would really like to hear the opening theme Mancini composed as I really felt as though Goodman dropped the ball in setting the mood for the piece. While it sounds very, well, British, I don’t really need music to tell me we’re in London when I was clearly see Tower Bridge rising over the Thames in the opening shots. Throughout the film the music is uneven, but I did rather enjoy the tune over the closing credits. I’m certain I’ve heard it before, and it may have been re-used in some other film, but I just can’t put my finger on it. 

In the end (yes, there is an end in sight, folks), Frenzy does not rank up there with the classics that Hitchcock has given us, but even his films that are not quite up to par with the rest of his work are generally better than most other flicks (except Topaz, yuk!). Since it’s one I had never seen it was refreshing to see how Hitch moved into the ‘70’s and began to wrap up his career. It was his first ‘R’ rated film, and his second to last film overall. It took some chances, but still maintained many of the ideas he had long been working with. Thankfully due to the performances of the three male leads, the film becomes something, not quite special, but noteworthy. If you’ve seen a good portion of the master’s catalog, then check Frenzy out. If not, get thee directly to the store and buy a copy of North by Northwest, Vertigo, or Rear Window. 

Bugg Rating 



  1. I saw this years ago, and remember being thoroughly unimpressed, as well as grossed out by the excessive enjoyment of the sadistic side of things. Hitchcock is notorious for "torturing the women" but I've always thought his classics created great female roles/icons due to the actress involved (whether or not Hitch liked it, the character transcended whatever dubious narrative surrounded her). In Frenzy, though - as you point out - the actresses are not picked to transcend anything. They're just dead bodies, and all the men involved seem to have a good old laugh throughout.

    Aside from that, it's just not a very good film.

  2. I've always appreciated that with Frenzy, Hitchcock was going back to his "roots": British working-class culture. It's his second-to-last film, but seems to vividly recall The 39 Steps with its strange British humor. It's a vicious film, no doubt, but its got great Hitchcock sardonicism that returns to the land of his birth. I also love Finch in the film, as one of the least "innocent" of Hitchcock's "innocent accused."

    I wonder what the score would've been like if Hitchcock hadn't estranged Bernard Herrmann back in '64 over Torn Curtain. Herrmann was working out of London at the time, and if he and Hitch had patched things up, I'm sure the score to Frenzy would have be awesome. According to Herrmann, Hitchcock knew nothing of music or how it should be used, and needed a composer who could take control and make the tough and unusual decisions. Apparently, Ron Goodman (an excellent composer on other films) took too many cues from Hitch in making the score.

    Great review Bugg, I think this is one of your bests.


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