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Click above to purchase "Frenzy" at amazon.com

Frenzy

review by Anthony D.

Studio: Universal

Running Time: 116 minutes

Starring Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Alec McCowen, Billie Whitelaw, Anna Massey. Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Vivien Merchant and Jean Marsh

Written by Anthony Shaffer

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Retail Price: $26.99

Features: Theatrical Trailer, "The Story Of Frenzy" Documentary, Production Notes, Production Photos, Cast and Filmmakers' Biographies

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, French Dolby Digital 2.0, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search

From a swooping opening helicopter tracking shot, carrying the viewer to London's fabled Tower Bridge, Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy" grabs the audience by the collar and never lets go until its final ironic shot. Returning to his native England for his 52nd film, Hitchcock not only presents a valentine to the city of his youth, but a fascinating, mesmerizing morbid tale of another "wronged man," a vital Hitchcock theme. The Master's touch took in the permissiveness of 1970's cinema to new heights of suspense with the addition of graphic violence and nudity only hinted at in a Hitchcock film until now.

Pity poor Richard Blaney (portrayed by Jon Finch, looking remarkably like a younger, less boozy, Oliver (Gladiator) Reed), who has not only lost his job as a barman, but is broke and on the lam from the law who believe him to be the notorious "Necktie Murderer;" a killer the likes of London has not seen since Jack the Ripper. Richard's ex-wife, the owner of a lonelyhearts type service, has fallen victim to the hands of the necktie murderer only a day after he has paid her a visit with near-violent results. Her secretary ( a pre- "Upstairs, Downstairs" Jean Marsh) has had the unfortunate opportunity of finding the body, and relating to the police the details of the previous day's encounter with Blaney. Thus fingered, though innocent, Blaney takes his pub-mate girlfriend, Babs (Anna Massey) into hiding with him and convinces her of his innocence in a tender scene in a city park. Only moments later as they go their separate ways, is Babs strangled by this "Necktie Murderer." Of course, we as the audience have seen the real killer in action (Chapter 5), in a lingering, graphic, nearly unwatchable scene of intensity, capped off by a typically morbid touch from Hitchcock.

Blaney's buddy, Bob Rusk (a deliciously malevolent Barry Foster) is the secret sexual psychopath who can only get his jollies through the brutal treatment of women. It seems he has been turned down several times by Mrs. Blaney's dating service because of his proclivities - - though why he would list masochism on his application is beyond me - - yet still appears at Blaney office for an encounter with Mrs. Blaney that will lead to her rape and murder. Barbara Leigh-Hunt is perfectly cast as this damsel in distress, and once seen, her graphic rape and murder linger in the mind. When Rusk takes Babs into his apartment, though, Hitchcock shows severe restraint by NOT allowing the viewer to witness yet another graphic rape/murder at his hands; rather in a remarkable reverse tracking shot, Hitchcock descends a winding staircase traveling through to the outside street filled with the best of Covent Gardens' fruits and vegetables in one of numerous scenes in "Frenzy" pointing up the sexual appetite versus the appetite of hunger.

The inspector assigned to the "Necktie Murderer" case, cannot satisfy his hunger as we see in humorous scenes with his wife (the droll Vivien Merchant), who is studying haute cuisine and trying the results out at their dinner table. Alec McCowen is properly deadpan as he attempts to eat such dishes as a sea creature soup or a tiny quail au raison (served with TWO grapes!). These distinctive dinner table scenes serve not only to lighten the tone of the film but to allow Vivien Merchant the sardonic chance to take credit for solving the crimes.

"Frenzy" is a film to be appreciated by a mature audience with a taste for intense suspense; a chilling concoction cooked to perfection by the master talents of Alfred Hitchcock and company.

That opening shot demonstrates just how remarkable Universal's anamorphic widescreen transfer of "Frenzy" really is: from the turgid tones of the Thames to the brilliance of the clear blue sky to the dusty hues of the buildings on the shore, all is clearly seen and well-defined. Rarely does an imperfection mar the remainder of the film, though in one particular scene, in the back of a potato lorry does the film seem to be too dark. It is only a momentary instance, though through the murkiness not much can be made out. Fortunately it is not a pivotal moment in that particular scene (chapter 11) which carries as much action and black humor as other scenes. Fleshtones are nicely rendered as are the muted tones of the interior scenes. Even the clothing seems to reflect the imagery of food: Bab's is clothed in a dress the color of a ripened peach, while Blaney's ex-wife is clothed in a luscious Key Lime green. All colors are faithfully presented. I saw nary a trace of aliasing, the credit sequences are quite legible and edge enhancement is not noticeable in the film's faithful 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

For a 2.0 mono track, "Frenzy" delivers a pleasant listening experience. At one point there may be a slight wobble in the film's soundtrack, clocking in during Chapter 10 as Rusk takes his next victim up the staircase to his apartment. One can also take in a French language "Frenzy," as the disc is equipped with a 2.0 mono French track as well. Every word of Anthony Shaffer's (Sleuth, Death on the Nile) dialogue is crystal clear. The film's score, by Ron Goodwin, is at times martial, at times humorous and at all times British. From the regal opening notes, the score often alluded to the pomp and majesty of the compositions of Elgar, best known stateside for his "Pomp and Circumstance." It is a fitting score to Hitchcock's film, even if Goodwin was not the first composer hired; as viewers find out in the Special Features.

We find out in one of the better made for Universal video documentaries, "The Story of "Frenzy", that Henry Mancini was originally signed to write the score, and his composition for the film's credit sequence is presented within "The Story of Frenzy." (Universal must have had a bout of lack of creativity on this title; where's the pun? Where's the sardonic humor?) Mancini's score is nowhere near the level of majesty and power heard in Goodwin's, and fortunately Mancini's compositions were scrapped in favor of Ron Goodwin's. Though it is not related in the documentary, Mancini's score shows up in a later film: Tobe Hooper's vampires from space epic, "Lifeforce" makes full use of this great score, which is also set in London. "The Story of Frenzy" is a very good addition to the disc, as it features interviews with the major actors involved in the production: Jon Finch (looking far better, and younger than in the film), Anna Massey and Barry Foster all contribute excellent memories of the filming. Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer dispenses useful information, though what Peter Bogdonavich is doing here is anybody's guess. The poster and production photos are arranged nicely; if they tend to focus on the more morbid aspects of the film, and Alfred Hitchcock's trailer, featuring the master himself, is quite humorous, though in rough condition.

For a fast-paced evening of Hitchcockian viewing, one should find "Frenzy" on the bill-of-faire. It's fine mixture black humor and gripping suspense maintains Hitchcock's moniker as the "Master of Suspense," and bears up well with repeated viewings. Although he was to direct only one more film after this, the under-appreciated "Family Plot," "Frenzy"should be regarded as a new high for Hitchcock, coming as it did on the heels of the commercial failures of "Torn Curtain" and "Topaz." Universal has once again done a great justice to the works of Hitchcock with its finely honed presentation of "Frenzy."

(5/5 - NOT included in final score)

(4.5/5)

(3/5)

(3/5)

(4/5, NOT an average)

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