After the disappointing commercial and critical reception to Marnie (1964) and Torn Curtain (1966), Hitchcock began developing an original project — a low budget film about a necrophiliac serial killer in New York. The project's title alternated between "Frenzy" and "Kaleidoscope".
In his biography of the director, John Russell Taylor wrote:
The initiation of the project brought about a curious reunion. Hitch had scarcely seen the British playwright Benn Levy since 1932, when they had had their falling-out over Lord Camber’s Ladies. Now, thirty years later, he invited Levy out to work on this new script. Hitch himself went to New York and spent three months researching locations: there was to be a murder in Central Park, another action scene in Shay Stadium (where Hitch undertook, improbably, to explain the mechanics of baseball to Peggy Robertson), and a pursuit across the mothball fleet. Somehow the action seemed to keep coming back always to water in one form or another. "Don’t you think there’s rather a lot of water in this story?" Hitch asked Levy at one point. Levy said he should use his old principle of making a virtue of necessity: emphasize it and call the film Waters of Forgetfulness or something of the sort. After Levy had spent several months in America working on the script, he returned to Britain, and Hitch proceeded to go through a lot of other writers, bizarrely assorted, including Howard Fast and Hugh Wheeler. But though there were great sequences in the story as worked out, they just could not get over the "third act" problem — however it was developed, it always ended in the cliché of the policewoman decoy to capture the killer. "No, no," said Hitch, "that’s the way they do it in the movies!" There seemed no more to be said, and the project was shelved.
The script developed into a story about young bodybuilder who lures women to their deaths near water, with the first murder taking place at a waterfall. The New York police then use an undercover policewoman to try and trap the killer in a scene that takes placed on a mothballed warship.
When he sent a copy of the script to François Truffaut, the French director expressed his discomfort with the level of violence and sex Hitchcock was planning to show in the film: "It does not worry me too much because I know that you shoot such scenes with real dramatic power, and you never dwell on unnecessary detail."
Hitchcock had closely followed the careers of the French New Wave and the Italian Neorealist directors, particularly Truffaut and Michelangelo Antonioni, and he intended to shoot Kaleidoscope in a naturalistic style, partly influence by Antonioni's 1964 film Il Deserto Rosso (Red Desert). To this end, he enlisted photographer Arthur Schatz to take stills and help shoot test footage in New York, using a small group of unknown actors. According to Dan Auiler, four reels of film were shot:
This footage, shot without sound and, to this day, still unknown actors, is an incredible glimpse into what could have been. Surely, this is remarkable stuff that would have altered our perception of Hitchcock's final decade. The impact on cinema would have been substantial. Hitchcock would re-emerged at this late point in his life at the forefront of style.
Ultimately, Lew Wasserman and his fellow executives at Universal felt strongly that Kaleidoscope was too uncommercial and Hitchcock was persuaded to put the project to one side in favour of starting production on Topaz.
Hitchcock would later reuse the title Frenzy for his 1972 adaptation of Arthur La Bern's 1966 novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. Coincidentally, La Bern's novel featured a serial killer based heavily on Neville Heath.
Segments of test footage, shot without audio:
(c) Universal Studios
Pre-production stills, likely taken by photographer Arthur Schatz...
Screen grabs of shot footage from the "Dial H for Hitchcock" documentary...
Screen grabs from the BBC "Reputations" documentary...
Footage from "Kaleidoscope Frenzy" has appeared in the following Hitchcockian documentaries...
- "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, chapter 17.
- "Hitchcock's Secret Notebooks" - by Dan Auiler, page 443.