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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"Do I look like a sex murderer to you?"
DVD ReviewAlfred Hitchcock's homecoming would have to be a macabre one, and Frenzy doesn't fail on that score—it's not confetti and floats, but rather corpses washing up on the shores of the Thames that characterizes Hitch's first film made in the U.K. in decades, after his remarkably fruitful Hollywood sojourn. The walls of the Hays Code had come crumbling down by this time as well, and so for better or worse, this is the first Hitchcock picture with the profanity and nudity he was forbidden from including previously. You get the sense watching this that the director and his entire team know that he's been commodified, and that this is their very self-conscious effort to make A Hitchcock Picture. But it kind of works, as it's full of tension, set pieces, and lots of black humor.
The screenplay is by Anthony Shaffer, who had recently had a great triumph with Sleuth, in the West End and on Broadway, making him clearly the man of the moment to write the next film for the master of suspense. Our hero is Blaney, played by Jon Finch—he's a charismatic fellow, but is down on his luck. He feuds with his boss for sneaking too much liquor, and gets fired from his job as a bartender; he figures he'll put the touch on his ex-wife, who has met with financial success since their divorce by opening what's euphemistically called a matrimonial agency. (It's a dating service, in the prehistoric days before life online.) But there are bigger troubles in store for Blaney—a serial murderer is stalking the women of London, first raping his victims and then strangling them with neckties, leaving the sartorial weapon around their throats, his crime-scene signature. From the first reel, everything points to Blaney being the necktie murderer—hostile, bitter, with motive and opportunity. Can it all be as obvious as it seems?
Of course it isn't. I don't want to give away too much, but Blaney is a hero in the Hitchcock tradition, the good man in a bad spot, out to clear his good name—the character sort of melds the parts played over the years by James Stewart and Cary Grant in Hitchcock movies with the Angry Young Men of the 1950s and 1960s. And in its voyeurism and violence, it's even closer to Peeping Tom than Rear Window is—perhaps there's something especially English about this kind of sexual repression manifesting itself in violence, though the abundance of serial-murderer movies in the U.S. suggests that we're more than pulling our weight here. There are also variations on Hitch's favorite doppelganger motif, and as the manhunt for Blaney plays out, there are echoes of some of the great Hitchcock pictures, especially Strangers on a Train.
There's no shortage of sadism, either, and as was clear in The Trouble With Harry, Hitch thinks that a dead body is the funniest thing in the world—he more than meets quota for rigor mortis jokes with this one. And as much as the film strives to be contemporary, there's something decidedly old fashioned and almost smutty about the sexual content. When a couple checks into a hotel room, for instance, the bellboy knowingly whispers to the gentleman: "Can I get you anything from the pharmacy, sir?" Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, old chap, and all that. And there's also the other side of that kind of sniggering, as the bellboy later remarks: "Sometimes just thinking about the lusts of men makes me want to heave." That could almost be Hitch's own personal code.
Also worth mentioning is a nice turn by Alec McCowen as the Scotland Yard detective on the case—he's not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he is dogged. And the film has its share of gratuitous but amusing asides about the appalling gastronomic pretenses of the detective's wife, serving him up plates of stomach-turning cuisine like braised pig's feet, and bowls of soup with eel heads bobbing about. Yum!
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Colors are a little flat and watery, but that seems to be endemic to films of this period.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Nicely transferred, though the original track seems to suffer from an abundance of ambient noise.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA late flourish from Hitchcock—the profanity and nudity are gratuitous, and this movie doesn't give you the heady buzz that you get from some of his earlier films, when he put many of the same themes through their paces. But it's a darkly entertaining effort, shot through with mordant humor.
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