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Film / Frenzy

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"Mr. Rusk, you're not wearing your tie."
Chief Inspector Oxford

The penultimate film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Frenzy (1972) was adapted by screenwriter Anthony Shaffer from Arthur La Bern's 1966 novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. It's notable as one of the rare films Hitchcock shot in his native Britain after moving to Hollywood in 1939.

Our "hero" Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) is down on his luck; just as he's fired from his job at a London pub, his estranged wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) becomes the latest victim of a necktie-wielding rapist and Serial Killer. Because of a witness's mistake, Blaney is now the prime suspect, with only a few of his friends believing in his innocence. When he's left without his allies and implicated by actual murderer Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), Blaney is left to the mercy of the police, led by Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen). Will Oxford discover the evidence to catch Rusk and clear Blaney's name?

No relation to the 1990s PlayStation shooter.

This film features examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Blaney's surname is the rather unsubtle Blamey in the novel.
  • The Alcoholic: Blaney has a glass of alcohol in his hand in most of his scenes. Early on in the film, Forsythe fires him from the pub for helping himself to the spirits first thing in the morning.
  • Alliterative Name: Robert Rusk. There's also Brenda Blaney.
  • Amicable Exes: Played with in the case of Richard and Brenda. Richard is nasty and bitter towards her, but she offers to lend him some money.
  • Anti-Hero: Richard Blaney.
    Alfred Hitchcock: (on why he liked the novel) I was attracted by...the central figure, an Air Force man who is always a loser. Today is the day of the nonhero, isn't it?
  • As You Know: Used word-for-word by Blaney when he tells Rusk at the start of the film that he hasn't visited his ex-wife in a while.
  • Bad Boss: Forsythe, the publican who fires Blaney at the start of the film and later informs the police that he thinks he's the killer. It's also implied that he is trying to coerce Babs to sleep with him.
  • Bad Samaritan: With nowhere else to turn, Richard hides out in Bob Rusk's apartment, whereupon Bob promptly frames him for his crimes.
  • Big Bad: Bob Rusk, a Serial Killer who frames Richard for his the former's own murders, and the one responsible for killing numerous women.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The hero is a Self-Centered Jerkass, while the villain is an Ax-Crazy, sociopathic rapist Serial Killer.
  • Black Comedy: Some very, very dark comedy in this movie.
    • In the opening scene, a politician's speech is interrupted by the nude body of a woman, strangled with a tie, washing up out of the river. The politician's response is "I say, that's not my club tie, is it?".
    • Note the scene where Rusk is bouncing around in a moving potato truck, scrambling to remove his tie pin from the clutches of a corpse in rigor mortis. The potato truck takes a curve, and the corpse's foot swings up and smacks Bob in the face.
    • Mrs. Oxford snapping sticks of crisp bread in two as her husband talks about how the killer had to break a corpse's fingers.
  • Black Comedy Rape
    Solicitor in Pub: We were just talking about the tie murderer, Maisie. You'd better watch out.
    Maisie the Barmaid: [salaciously] He rapes them first, doesn't he?
    Solicitor in Pub: Yes, I believe he does.
    Doctor in Pub: Well, I suppose it's nice to know that every cloud has a silver lining.
  • British Stuffiness: In contrast to the various Mean Brit characters, there are a few of these, like Mr. and Mrs. Porter and Monica, Brenda's uptight secretary.
  • Calling Card: The humble necktie.
  • Casting Gag: Babs is played by Anna Massey from Peeping Tom.
  • Catchphrase: Rusk tells each of his victims "You're my type of woman." Then he rapes and strangles them.
  • Character Name Alias: Blaney and Babs check in at the hotel under the name of "Mr and Mrs Oscar Wilde".
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Rusk's tie pin. Just before killing Brenda, he removes it from his tie. It becomes an important plot device later, when he realizes that he has lost it after disposing of Babs's body into a potato lorry.
    • The potato lorry. Rusk discusses in a pub about the potato business. He says that he has to send a truckload of potatoes back to Lincolnshire tonight. Later, he hides Babs's body in this truckload.
  • Clear My Name: Richard is very insistent about this.
  • Clothing Combat: Serial Killer Bob Rusk (a.k.a. 'the Necktie Killer') strangles his victims with a necktie.
  • Creator Cameo: Hitchcock as usual, this time in the crowd looking at the body in the river. Before the body is spotted, he stands out during the politician's speech as the only person not applauding.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Brenda's murder remains one of the most horrific, disturbing depictions of violence in film history.
  • Darker and Edgier: Hitchcock's second film to get an R rating, and his only bona fide R-rated picture. This might well be because it was the first film Hitchcock made after the Production Code had been abandoned and ratings were instituted. If he could have filmed Janet Leigh naked he probably would have. (The only other two Hitchcock films to be rated R were Torn Curtain in 1968, allegedly for a scene where one of the heroes falsely shouts "FIRE!" in a theatre and causes a panic, something no less than SCOTUS saw as potentially illegal as both dangerous and false, and Psycho in 1984, during a particularly reactionary period in the MPAA system's history when more modern slashers were causing a moral panic, resulting in an unusually high number of official X ratings at the time—a sizeable school of thought believes that it could qualify for a hard PG-13 if rated today.)
  • Dead Man's Chest:
    • The killer hides a body in a sack that he dumps in the back of a lorry full of sacks of potatoes. He then realises that his tie pin is still clutched in the dead woman's hand and has to retrieve it from the back of the moving lorry.
    • In the climax, Oxford and Blaney are interrupted by Rusk dragging a large trunk into his flat, and the implications of what's inside it are clear.
  • Dies Wide Open: And with tongue sticking out.
  • Digital Destruction: One reviewer of DVDs and Blu-Ray Discs received a screener copy of the Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection Blu-Ray set, and noticed that this movie's original opening credits sequence had disappeared in favor of one riddled with misspelled names. After his critiques on the set became widespread among film fans, Universal delayed its retail release by about one month, to correct this and other errors.
  • Disposing of a Body: After killing Babs in his flat, Rusk has to get rid of her body. He throws it away in a potato lorry. In the end, he kills another girl in his flat and brings a chest to hide the body.
  • Dramatic Irony: Filled to the brim with it. A lot of it derives from the audience knowing the killer's identity.
  • Driving a Desk: Very noticeable as Babs and Richard ride in a taxi.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The film gets this out of the way by showing the London skyline in the opening credits. Other than that, it avoids showing the usual landmarks.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Frugal or not. Before Bob strangles a woman to death, he picks up her apple from her desk and eats it.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The aerial Oner of the Thames slowly zooming onto the Tower Bridge during the opening credits. Hitchcock had wanted to open Psycho with a similar shot of Phoenix before plans were scuttled, so he must've relished being able to do it for real here.
  • Fallen Hero: Richard is an ex-RAF officer veteran of the Suez Crisis who was said to have been decorated and even hailed as one of the "Chivalrous Knights of the Skies," but he's been reduced to British Stuffiness. The beginning of the film strongly suggests that he is the murderer. Subverted, when he is revealed to be innocent.
  • Fake Shemp: When Barry Foster pulls down Barbara Leigh-Hunt's top, revealing her breasts, a body double was used.
  • Fan Disservice: This is the first and only Hitchcock film to feature nudity. Not in a very inviting context, though.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Bob Rusk, when he's killing people. He has an air of charm and friendliness around him but it's clear he's up to something bad.
  • The Film of the Book: It's a Pragmatic Adaptation of Arthur La Bern's 1966 crime novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square, updating the book's post-World War II setting to The '70s and adding the scenes of Oxford sampling his wife's cooking for comic relief.
  • Fingore: One of Rusk's victims managed to grab his pin, forcing him to break her fingers to get it back. Even though she's dead, it's pretty wince-inducing.
  • Foreign Queasine: Given the choice between wading through grim murder scenes and tasting his wife's French gourmet cuisine—pig's feet, fish head soup, etc—Oxford always opts for the former.
  • A Friend in Need: Johnny Porter hides Blaney in his flat, even if he is accused by the police to be a serial rapist and killer.
  • Fugitive Arc: When he reads the newspaper at the Coburg Hotel, Blaney realizes that the police is after him. So he hides at Johnny Porter's flat, then at Rusk's, where the police arrests him.
  • A Glass in the Hand: Dick does this while he's out with Brenda.
  • Good is Not Nice: Richard is an unpleasant piece of work, but is indeed an innocent victim Wrongly Accused of murder.
  • Gratuitous French: Mrs Oxford always gives the original French name of the very delicious dishes she prepares for her husband.
  • Happily Married: The Oxfords despite Mrs Oxford's new hobby.
  • Henpecked Husband:
    • Brenda has paired off a man and a woman with a shared interest in beekeeping, but as the newly-matched couple leave her office, the woman reveals herself to be an overbearing control freak who wants her new husband to clean the house before she wakes up like her deceased first husband did, while the man is too timid to raise any objections.
    • When Richard is hiding out with the Porters, Johnny correctly deduces that he couldn't possibly have killed Babs, but his wife Hetty forces him to kick Richard out anyway. Fittingly, Johnny is played by Clive Swift, whose role on Keeping Up Appearances made him the page image for this trope.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Even before he was framed for murder, Richard Blaney already developed a bad reputation for his attitude towards others and his messy divorce. They are only added as possible motives for Blaney being the killer.
  • Info Dump: An early scene in a pub, in which two men chat about how The Sociopath thinks and behaves, serves as this.
  • In the Style of: Hitchcock wanted the opening credits to look like the beginning of a London travelogue, hence the proud City of London official crest at the start and the regal, British-sounding music. He hired Ron Goodwin to redo the film's score after rejecting Henry Mancini's music in part because of Goodwin's work on the old Peter Sellers sketch Balham, Gateway to the South.
  • Jerkass:
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Both Forsythe and Hetty Porter hate Blaney, but their hatred is justified thanks to Blaney's poor work performance at the former's pub (whether or not he intended to pay for the drink, the fact that he was helping himself to the spirits before opening time is in itself reasonable grounds for dismissal) and Blaney's past emotional abuse (to a point of outright cruelty) towards Brenda, which resulted in their messy divorce. Blaney's attitude problem in general has likely earned him the dislike of most of his acquaintances.
  • Lethal Chef: Mrs Oxford. Everything she cooks tastes bad, in particular her French gourmet cuisine. Even a cocktail made by her is impossible to drink.
  • The Matchmaker: Brenda's job. Her record is patchy at best; when Richard shows up at her office, she has just paired off a man and a woman with a shared interest in beekeeping, but as the newly-matched couple leave her office, the woman reveals herself to be an overbearing control freak who plans to shape her new husband into a clone of her deceased first husband, while the man is too timid to raise any objections.
  • Monster Misogyny: Chief Inspector Oxford sums up the Necktie Killer/Bob Rusk this way, saying that serial sex-killers "hate women, and are mostly impotent". Richard Blaney himself is something of a misogynist, implied to be because of his failed relationship with Brenda.
  • Morality Pet: It seems Richard's ex-wife Brenda and his girlfriend Barbara are this each to Richard, even though he still acts like misogynistically towards Brenda. It could be argued that he goes after Rusk at the end in order to avenge their deaths in addition to clearing his name.
  • Nominal Hero: Richard Blaney. He's an unpleasant Jerkass, but not a serial killer.
  • Not Helping Your Case:
    • Blaney honestly only has himself to blame for a lot of his predicament. He keeps doing things that appear suspicious, like getting mad at his ex-wife in public, going to her office just minutes after she is murdered, and asking to clean his clothes when he gets to the hotel.
    • After Blaney is wrongly arrested, he acts out and ultimately escapes from prison. He returns to Rusk's apartment and attacks what he assumes to be Rusk sleeping, but it's the corpse of Rusk's newest victim. To add insult to injury, he does this in front of Inspector Oxford; fortunately, Rusk shows up in a way to finally implicate himself.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Rusk's murder of Babs occurs offscreen.
  • Oh, Crap!: Rusk, when he's finally caught red-handed by Oxford.
  • The Oner: Three of them, all pretty chilling:
    • After Brenda's murder, the camera stays on the street as her secretary returns from lunch, followed by about 30 seconds of dead air until she screams, having discovered the body.
    • Rusk invites Babs into his apartment, after we already know he's the killer. The camera again remains outside, then retreats down the stairs and out of the building, where several people walk by oblivious to the murder happening right next to them.
    • Blaney's trial is viewed from behind soundproof doors, with the viewer only able to hear the occasional bit of dialogue when someone opens them. They swing shut just before the sentence is read, followed by Blaney screaming "IT'S RUSK!" loudly enough to be heard through them.
  • Police Are Useless: Subverted; Oxford is the only one to suspect Richard's innocence from the start. One of very few subversions of this in Hitchcock's work, as he was famously afraid of cops.
  • Precision F-Strike: Taking advantage of the film's R-rating, "shit" is uttered a few times.
  • Rape as Drama: Rusk rapes his victims before murdering them.
  • Red Herring: The beginning of the film suggests that Blaney is the killer. A body is found in the Thames. The crowd notices the victim was strangled with a tie. Cut to Blaney tying his tie. Then, Blaney is showed to be bitter, alcoholic, and violent. In a scene in a pub, two patrons talks about the behaviour of a serial killer next to Blaney. Blaney's behaviour in the pub matches quite well with the description of the serial killer.
  • Revenge: After realizing Rusk is the one who framed him for the killings (including the death of the two loves in his life Brenda and Babs), Richard Blaney at the climax escapes from prison to confront Rusk to avenge himself and presumably the deaths of his two female friends.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • The scene where Blaney visits Rusk at the fruit market after losing his job at the pub. On first viewing, it's just some exposition about Blaney and his life. On rewatch, when you pay close attention to Rusk, he seems to be dropping hints about his intentions. He's the one who suggests to Blaney that he should see his ex-wife, and he also says something about how beautiful Babs is. Rusk may have been planning his next murders and the framing of Blaney for a while.
    • Since we don't really learn Rusk's last name until later in the film, on first viewing we don't catch the significance of Brenda calling him Mr. Robinson when he shows up at her office.
  • Running Gag: The terrible cooking of Inspector Oxford's wife, part of a background theme of foodstuffs being uncomfortably associated with murder and crime (the killer operates near Covent Garden, at the time a major food market; the body hidden among the potatoes; the breadsticks mentioned above - there was even a trailer drawing attention to the theme, with Hitchcock remarking "Here you may buy the Fruits Of Evil, and the Horrors of Vegetables..."
  • Serial Killer: The Big Bad, of course. His victims are all women he rapes and then murders violently.
  • Sexless Marriage: It's obliquely implied that a lack of intimacy was one of the reasons the Blaney marriage failed. Richard says of Brenda's matchmaking job: "If you can't make love, sell it!"
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Richard Blaney is an ex-RAF officer whose Jerkassery is caused by his experience during his service which is said to have included Suez. It is likely he suffered PTSD, causing him to become very aggressive.
  • Shout-Out: The novel that Shaffer adapted into the film is named after the lyric that was borrowed from the 1912 song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary".
  • Signature Item Clue: Narrowly averted. A murder victim grabs Rusk's distinctive cross pin at the last minute. He notices only after dumping the body. He retrieves the pin before anyone else can find it, but the trouble he has in retrieving it creates new, albeit less definite, evidence.
  • Spanner in the Works: Barbara steals Rusk's tiepin as he kills her; his attempt to pry it from her cold dead hands helps provide the evidence to finally send him away.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the novel, Rusk's final victim is Brenda's secretary Monica.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Rusk and Blaney are talking at the market. A policeman shows up and says a few words about the necktie murders. Rusk wants to introduce Blaney to the policeman, but Blaney has already disappeared.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Since everybody is convinced that he is a murderer, Blaney decides to go Vigilante Man and murder Rusk.
  • Verbal Irony: Rusk telling Babs "You've got your whole life ahead of you" as he lures her to her death.