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New York Times (22/Jun/1972) - 'Frenzy', Hitchcock in Dazzling Form



'Frenzy', Hitchcock in Dazzling Form

Alfred Hitchcock will be 73 on Aug. 13, but like Luis Bunuel, whom he otherwise resembles but slightly, his talent is only enriched by the advancing years that make most directors fearful and insecure. In the last 12 years he has given us, among other things, "The Birds," "Topaz" (really a one-film anthology of Hitchcock work) and now "Frenzy," which is his 55th film as a director since 1922.

"Frenzy" is Hitchcock in the dazzling, lucid form that is as much the meaning as the method of his films. For Hitchcock, the mastery of style and the perfection of technique are the expressions of a passion that might prompt other men to seek cancer cures, or to construct completely non-utilitarian towers out of pieces of broken glass and bottle tops.

"Frenzy," which opened yesterday at the Palace, Murray Hill and other theaters, is a passionately entertaining film set in a London that, except for the color photography, seems not too different from the setting of his earliest pictures, including "The Lodger."

Like that 1926 film about a Jack the Ripper, "Frenzy" has to do with a sex-crazed, homicidal maniac who, in this case, does away with his victims (all women) with a necktie around the throat. As the newspaper headlines scream about The Necktie Killer, bodies turn up everywhere; in the Thames, in the backs of potato trucks, even sitting at their office desks, understandably somewhat disheveled.

The mystery of "Frenzy," however, is not who the killer is (which is revealed quite early on) but how Hitchcock is going to maintain our interest in what is essentially a trite situation: the problem of the decent enough fellow, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), a former R.A.F. ace whom bad luck has reduced to bartending, who becomes the chief suspect when his ex - wife is murdered.

Hitchcock does it with a marvelously funny script by Anthony Shaffer, with a superb English cast that is largely unknown here, and with his gift for implicating the audience in the most outrageous acts, which, as often as not, have us identifying with the killer. In one agonizing sequence, we are put into the position of cheering on (well, almost) the maniac, who has only a few minutes in which to retrieve an identifiable tie-pin from the clenched fingers of his most recent victim.

Were Hitchcock less evident throughout the film, "Frenzy" would be as unbearable as it probably sounds when I report that the killer has to break the fingers of the corpse. Yet it is something more than just bearable because never for a minute does one feel the absence of the storyteller, raising his eyebrows in mock woe. That pressure is apparent in a spectacular, seemingly unbroken camera movement that takes us, with the camera, down the stairs of the killer's apartment, out the front door, to a position across the street.

It is apparent in the way Hitchcock plays fast but not necessarily loose with film time, that is, in the way he indulges himself in exploring the details of a single murder, yet manages to cover the hero's long court trial in approximately 90 seconds.

It is also there in the exposition delivered in counterpoint to a hilariously inedible, gourmet dinner, served up to the chief inspector (Alec McCowen) by his prescient wife (Vivien Merchant).

She disputes the facts he has had to feed us, while cheerily feeding him pig's feet he can't eat. "Women's intuition," she says cheerfully, "is worth more than laboratories. I don't know why you don't teach it in police colleges."

For "Frenzy," Hitchcock has assembled one of his best casts, including Finch, Barry Foster, Miss Merchant, McCowen, and particularly, Anna Massey (Raymond Massey's daughter), who plays a remarkably sexy London barmaid without being especially beautiful.

"We haven't had a good sex murderer since Christie," says someone in' the film of the necktie killer, and "Frenzy" is the first good movie about a sex murderer since "Psycho."