FRENZY Directed by ALFRED HITCHCOCK Screenplay by ANTHONY SHAFFER
In case there was any doubt, back in the dim days of Marnie and Topaz, Hitchcock is still in fine form. Frenzy is the dazzling proof. It is not at the level of his greatest work, but it is smooth and shrewd and dexterous, a reminder that anyone who makes a suspense film is still an apprentice to this old master.
Frenzy is the first film that Hitchcock has shot in England for more than 20 years. Like a prodigal at home again, he lets his camera roam lovingly across LondonTower Bridge to Covent Garden, Hyde Park to Scotland Yard, where Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) is trying to solve the unsavory murders of a dozen London women who have been strangled with a silk tie.
The latest to fall victim to the strangler are the ex-wife (Barbara LeighHunt) and the girl friend (Anna Massey) of a former R.A.F. ace, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch). The screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, author of the Broadway thriller Sleuth, almost too painstakingly builds up the circumstantial evidence that points to the ex-flyer as the killer. After Blaney is in custody he finds out what the audience has known all along: that he has been framed by his good pal Bob (Barry Foster).
The film has some shaky motivation and more than a fair share of trickery, but Hitchcock is such a superb storyteller that few viewers will even notice till well after the final fadeout. What they will notice is the perversity of the film. In one mind-boggling sequence, Bob tries to pry his diamond pin from the stiff fingers of the corpse that he has stashed inside a potato sack.
The actors are all proficient; Foster's flamboyant Bob, picking his teeth with that tie pin, is particularly telling. There are also Hitchcock's usual moments of high comedy, here involving Inspector Oxford and his wife, who is taking a course in gourmet cookery and assaults her husband's stubbornly English palate with a selection of highly sauced dishes. It is an old joke that would have worn pretty thin but for the performances of Alec McCowen and Vivien Merchant, the most elegant comic acting seen in movies in a long while. " ·Jay Cocks
Alfred Hitchcock professed to be indignant at being misquoted. "It has been said that I called actors cattle. I would never say such a rude, insulting thing," he told TIME'S Gerald Clarke last week. "What I probably said was that all actors should be treated like cattle."
At 72, the world's most famous film director may waddle a bit more slowly and his double chin may now be subdivided into a triplex, but no one, particularly an actor who strays into his corral, can doubt that there is still only one brand on a Hitchcock film.
Hitchcock writes, films and edits a pictureon a screen some place behind his hazel eyeslong before the cameras are loaded. "I can make a film on paper," he says. "I never improvise." The grisly scene in Frenzy in which the killer wrestles with a dead body in a potato sackalmost certain to be enshrined by the Cahieristswas dictated by Hitchcock to his secretary one day at lunch, with every stomach-curdling movement laid out in exactly 118 takes.