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Film / Frenzy

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

The penultimate film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Frenzy (1972) was adapted by 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 catch Rusk and to clear Blaney's name?


This film features examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Blaney's surname is the rather unsubtle Blamey in the novel.
  • Alliterative Name: Robert Rusk. There's also Brenda Blaney.
  • Amicable Exes: Richard and Brenda. Although they aren't all that amicable—Richard in particular is nasty and bitter. But still, Brenda offers to loan 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 Samaritan: With nowhere else to turn, Richard hides out in Bob Rusk's apartment, whereupon Bob promptly frames him for his crimes.
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  • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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?".
    • 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.
  • Catch-Phrase: Rusk tells each of his victims "You're my type of woman." Then he rapes and strangles them.
  • Clear My Name: Richard is very insistent about this.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Given the choice between wading through grim murder scenes and tasting his wife's experimental cuisine—pig's feet, fish head soup, etc—Oxford always opts for the former.
  • 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 only film to get an R rating. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Bob strangles a woman to death, then 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.
  • 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.
  • Former Regime Personnel: Richard is a former Royal Air Force Officer who likely served during the Suez Crisis.
  • A Glass in the Hand: Dick does this while he's out with Brenda.
  • Happily Married: The Oxfords despite Mrs Oxford's new hobby.
  • Henpecked Husband: 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: A rather pointless scene where two starchy old guys at a pub chat about how The Sociopath thinks and behaves.
  • 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:
    • Richard is such an unpleasant person that he almost deserves getting wrongfully convicted of murder. One wonders what Babs sees in him. However, it's possible Richard could be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold if he does care about Babs and presumably Brenda despite treating her poorly that after learning about their deaths and he's been framed for them, Richard's desire to kill Rusk, the real killer, was possibly not just out of getting back at him for framing him, but also for taking away the two women he was close to from his life.
    • His (ex-)boss at the pub, Forsythe, is a nasty piece of work as well.
  • 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.
  • The Mean Brit: Richard Blaney and his former boss Forsythe.
  • Meganekko: Jean Marsh, as Brenda's secretary Monica, wears glasses with huge, thick lenses.
  • 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 Richard still act like a misogynistic Mean Brit towards Brenda. When Richard learns Brenda and Babs are killed and he is accused for their deaths, it can be assumed Richard, after learning Rusk is the real killer, desired to face the killer not just to clear his name, but to also to avenge the deaths of Brenda and Babs, the two close women who seemed to understood him.
  • Nominal Hero: Richard is only interested in saving his own skin, though after learning his ex-wife Brenda and girlfriend Babs, who were two of the few people who understood him, were murdered, Richard seems not only want to get back at Rusk for framing him, but also to avenge the deaths of those two loves in his life.
  • Not Helping Your Case: After Blaney is wrongly arrested, he acts out and ultimately escapes from prison. He returns to Rusk's apartment and beats up what he assumes to be Rusk sleeping, but it's the corpse of Rusk's newest victim. To add insult to injury, it's in front of 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 death, 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 Barbara 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.
  • 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.
  • Running Gag: The terrible cooking of Inspector Oxford's wife.
  • Serial Killer
  • 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. 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.
  • Spiritual Successor: It mixes two of Hitchcock's frequent recurring storylines—A Serial Killer is on the loose, and a wrongly-blamed man seeking to Clear My Name has to go on the run. Kaleidoscope, his aborted Serial Killer film that evolved into Frenzy, was originally conceived as a prequel to Shadow of a Doubt, and Rusk, as a charming man who's also on a killing spree, definitely has similarities to Uncle Charlie from that film, as well as a few hints of both Bruno Antony and Norman Bates.
  • Verbal Irony: Rusk telling Babs "You've got your whole life ahead of you" as he lures her to her death.