Alfred Hitchcock loves making people look dumb as they get riled up over half-information. His 1954 film Rear Window toys with that concept and nearly throws its characters under the bus as they let mere speculation get a man in trouble for murder. Spoiler alert: he did it, of course.
In Hitchcock’s spiritual companion piece to Rear Window, his penultimate picture, 1972’s Frenzy, the director takes that stupidity off the main characters and places it on those surrounding him, allowing them to completely look imbecilic.
In London, there’s a serial killer dubbed the “Necktie Strangler”, who rapes his victims and then strangles them with his tie. He’s been at large for awhile now, with police unable to gather any leads on the man.
We spend the first bit of the film getting to know our main character, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), who gets fired from his job at a pub, and is trying to patch up his rocky relationship with his ex-wife, Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt). Richard visits Brenda at her matchmaking office, where they have a big argument heard by Brenda’s secretary.
Richard is good friends with a man named, Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), who offers to help him with his financial troubles. We get the idea that Rusk is a really good friend, but in reality, he’s the Necktie Strangler. One day, Rusk goes to Brenda’s office to seek her services, but when she turns him down due to his sexual peculiarities, he makes her his next victim.
I thought they wouldn’t kill off such a fully developed character so early on, but then I realized this is Hitchcock and anything is possible. And also, there’s Psycho.
Rusk flees the scene, but immediately afterward, Richard shows up to his exes’ work, but the door is locked so he leaves. Brenda’s secretary sees him leave and then eventually discovers Brenda’s body inside. Remembering the argument from the day before, she decides that Richard is, in fact, the Necktie Strangler. Now he has to prove his innocence as all the evidence is stacked against him in the most unfortunate way possible.
Apparently nobody in this movie knows the word “alleged”, because they all talk as though there can be no other suspect besides Richard. In fact, after so many months without a single suspect, they don’t question the absurdity of all this evidence that’s come pouring in at once.
Hitchcock does a great job not making Richard’s coincidences feel contrived, as they’re never too big or too implausible. The director may show his hand early on, as we know who the real killer is, but he still keeps us in suspense in how he executes the rest of the story.
He knows the power of the audience knowing something the rest of the characters don’t. And the funny thing is, in this situation, the only person who can see the whole truth is the killer, himself. The story is filled with nuanced details and thematic subtext that rivals and often bests even Hitchcock’s most implicit films.
Frenzy may be hard to watch at times, but on the other hand it possesses some of the director’s funniest moments. Hitchcock perfectly manages the balanced tone he’s going for, which keeps the harsh realities candid while underlying everything with just the right amount of wit. Often forgotten about in his prolific career, his second to last film is one of his best.