Frenzy is a 1972 thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and is the penultimate feature film of his extensive career. The film is based upon the novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square by Arthur La Bern, and was adapted for the screen by Anthony Shaffer. La Bern later expressed his dissatisfaction with Shaffer’s adaptation. The film stars Jon Finch, Alec McCowen and Barry Foster and features Billie Whitelaw, Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Bernard Cribbins and Vivien Merchant. The original music score was composed by Ron Goodwin.
Frenzy was Hitchcock’s first film to earn an R-rating in the United States, as Psycho was originally released unrated.
The film has become well known for a couple of grisly key scenes. The rape and murder of the Brenda character, played by Barbara Leigh-Hunt, makes use of numerous short edits in a similar fashion to the Janet Leigh shower scene in Psycho, and this serves to heighten the images of violence and horror.
Only one murder is depicted onscreen, as screenwriter Shaffer convinced Hitchcock that to show a second murder would be redundant. The murder of the barmaid Barbara Jane “Babs” Milligan occurs off-screen, although the audience sees her entering the killer’s apartment and is left with a clear message that she will be murdered. The audience next sees the killer carrying a large sack and placing it onto the back of a lorry where it sits unobtrusively among a load of unsold potatoes ready to be transported back to Lincolnshire. He soon recalls that as he was strangling her, Babs had torn a pin from his lapel. He climbs on to the lorry to retrieve the pin from Babs’ dead fingers, only to find the lorry starting off on its journey north. The killer desperately scrabbles through the sack of potatoes to find the dead woman’s hand. As rigor mortis has set in, he is unable to prise the pin from her grasp until he has broken her fingers. This sequence is also composed of numerous edits to create tension and remains one of this film’s most identifiable scenes.
As in several other previous Hitchcock films, the audience is fully aware of the identity of the killer (Bob Rusk, played by Barry Foster) very early in the proceedings, and is also shown how circumstantial guilt is rapidly built up around an innocent man (Richard Blaney, played by Jon Finch). Blaney is duly apprehended by the police and jailed, all the while maintaining his innocence. The investigating detective reconsiders the previous events and begins to believe that he has arrested the wrong man. In several scenes showing the detective’s domestic situation, comedy is used to heighten the grisly nature of the death scenes.
The detective and his wife discuss the case and the wife gently points the detective in the right direction with a series of simple but appropriate questions and comments. The innocent man escapes from prison, and the detective knows that he will head to Rusk’s flat at Covent Garden, so immediately goes there. Blaney has already arrived to find that the door to Rusk’s flat is unlocked. He silently creeps in and sees what he presumes to be the top of Rusk’s head, asleep in bed; he strikes the body with a metal bar. Just then the audience is shown the truth: it is not Rusk in bed, but another woman whose hand slips out from under the covers. Blaney pulls the covers back and there both for him and the audience it is confirmed: the strangulated face of another victim.
Suddenly the detective bursts through the door while Blaney is still standing over the corpse in shock holding the metal bar. Blaney protests his innocence to the detective but the expression on the policeman’s face is clearly one of doubt; just then they both hear Rusk carrying something large and heavy up the staircase. The detective then realises Blaney is innocent and the two men wait in the flat for the killer, the detective hiding behind the door, whilst Blaney simply stands by the bed. When Rusk arrives, he has a large trunk with him, to carry away the dead body, and with the body lying in the bed, his guilt is finally obvious. The film ends with Chief Inspector Oxford’s line, “Mr. Rusk, you’re not wearing your tie”. The abrupt ending of the film leaves the audience to understand that Blaney will be released, Rusk will be arrested and eventually sent to prison for life.
After a pair of unsuccessful films depicting political intrigue and espionage, Hitchcock returned to the murder genre with this film, which tells the story of a serial killer who rapes and strangles several women in London. The narrative makes use of the familiar Hitchcock theme of an innocent man overwhelmed by circumstantial evidence and wrongly assumed to be guilty. Many critics consider Frenzy the last great Hitchcock film and a return to form after his two previous works, Topaz and Torn Curtain.
Hitchcock set and filmed Frenzy in London after many years making films in the United States. The film opens with a sweeping shot along the Thames to the Tower Bridge, and while the interior scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios, much of the location filming was done in and around Covent Garden and was an homage to the London of Hitchcock’s childhood. The son of a Covent Garden merchant, Hitchcock filmed several key scenes showing the area as the working produce market that it was. Aware that the area’s days as a market were numbered, Hitchcock wanted to record the area as he remembered it. According to the making-of feature on the DVD, an elderly man who remembered Hitchcock’s father as a dealer in the vegetable market came to visit the set during the filming and was treated to lunch by the director. The area as seen in the film still exists, but the market no longer operates from there. The buildings seen in the film are now occupied by restaurants and nightclubs, and the laneways where merchants and workers once carried their produce are now occupied by tourists and street performers.