“I wrote 63 songs this year. They’re all about Jeter.” Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls’ Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don’t forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » Culture and Criticism

Film Fiber: Frenzy brings it all back home (and shouldn’t)

Submitted by on February 2, 2013 – 12:02 PM15 Comments

(or, “Hitchcock Completism Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be”)

Frenzy is adequate. It’s not great; it’s not quite good, even. Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate film is miles better than the stillbirth that preceded it in his oeuvre, Topaz, and may have enjoyed better reviews that in deserved as a result, its actual merits swamped by a wave of relief that the old man hadn’t actually lost it.

He hadn’t, or not completely, and I propose that the issue with Frenzy and other post-The Birds Hitchcock films is not the director himself, but the changing times. In the ’60s and ’70s, the culture grew more permissive as to what film could show and viewers could handle onscreen; the days of brainstorming ways to tone down the blood in Psycho‘s shower scene had passed. Hitchcock thrived, I think, under those constraints. He “mastered” dread by merely suggesting it, playing on the unseen and barely understood.

By 1972, of course, you could put a bunch of breasts in your film and not end up in a sticky back room on 42nd Street. You could ladle on the literal gore and pathology. Hitch shouldn’t have, because this is the result:


This is Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt). She’s just gotten strangled by the “Necktie Killer” who’s terrorizing London; her ex-husband Richard (Jon Finch) is about to get framed for it and go on the lam while the real murderer, Richard’s friend Bob (Barry Foster), blithely continues raping, strangling, and having wonderfully creepy dyed frizzy hair. Foster and Leigh-Hunt both kick ass in the mortal struggle that leads to Brenda’s death, and the scene is shot and edited tightly for maximum discomfort. And then: a cartoonish hold on what I am pretty sure is a stunt tongue. And it’s not even the only stunt tongue!

The movie as a whole is mostly well acted (I hate to speak ill of the recently dead, but Finch, who passed last month, relies on his wardrobe for charisma and doesn’t jump his lines right), and fun to look at period-wise, but the plot isn’t fresh enough to make up for a bloated length and an overall sense that the movie just…doesn’t get it. The music cues are consistently juuuust a hair off, a bit too cheery and dated. The running gag with the inspector’s wife’s misguided attempts at French cooking kind of grew on me — it’s a sweet relationship that feels lived in, particularly Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen, a shot of dry sherry) hocking an inedible bite of pig’s foot through a circle he forms with his finger and thumb, and it reminded me of the clueless “and to drink, Peru!” mom in Better Off Dead. But it’s typical of the set pieces that, taken together, bog Frenzy down; the famed potato-truck scene, for one, is overacted and slow. Foster is doing his best to create tension, but instead of rooting for the ostensible villain, you spend the time wondering (again…you’ll have wondered it during Brenda’s murder as well) why none of his victims has just wrenched the tie pin off and stabbed him in the face. Or why Richard’s friend’s wife is okay with Richard staying on their couch when she suspects him of the necktie slayings, but when he allegedly commits another murder while staying with them, that’s when she gets fed up? Or how Richard is getting sentenced to life in prison the same day he got arrested?

That in turn leads to an inessential escape-from-the-hoosegow-infirmary subplot involving stripey pajamas…my notes at this juncture read, and I quote, “WTF pre-Thatcherian Marvel-reject shit is this?” Fortunately, it’s all gotten control of for the ending, which is a typical Hitch drop-the-mic line from the inspector, but on balance, Frenzy isn’t an essential part of your nutritious cinema breakfast. It’s not awful, and if you’re going through the entire Hitchcock IMDb entry in order for some reason (weirder projects have been undertaken), this will seem like a steak dinner after shite like Torn Curtain. As I mentioned before, it seems to embody a certain difficulty Hitchcock had with carrying a coherent “brand,” for lack of a better word, forward into a more culturally and visually liberal era; this isn’t uninteresting, and there’s some fun acting here as well. Qua film? Not necessary, and not in my opinion the imposing swan song others may have seen.

What is film fiber? It’s the movies I feel it’s necessary to have watched in order to participate in the cultural conversation. Canon, in other words, and whether it’s good or enjoyable isn’t the point. The point, as our exasperated sophomore-English teacher noted on the subject of The Scarlet Letter: “You can hate Pearl all you want, but if you can’t tell me what she means, you’re going to fail this class.”

For more bowls of Film Fiber, click the “Film Fiber” tag below.

Next up on Film Fiber, and I should note that these seldom remain accurate because I have an untreated queue-shuffling compulsion, but anyway, in theory it’s: The Magnificent Seven




  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Wow. Stunt tongue. Wow, that is…wow.

    C’mon, you can’t tell me that nobody on that set could see what that tongue looks like. Completely, precisely, indubitably like.

  • attica says:

    My family made this an out-at-the-movies night during its theatrical run. I was, what, 11? Maybe 12 — we didn’t get ’em unitl they’d been out awhile in my town. (My ‘rents cared not a whit about kid-appropriate ratings such as they were back in the day.) Seeing all the boobs was surprising enough, seeing nakedness conflated with violence against women was…not. Sigh. Still, as a thriller, it worked on me as a not especially discerning kid. I haven’t seen this movie since, and I don’t suppose I will unless I come across it during a bored-surf.

    Yeah, tongues don’t really do that, do they?

    In other news: Barbara Leigh-Hunt! Lady Catherine DeBourgh! Hee!

  • Georgia says:

    It’s been a few years since I’ve seen The Magnificent Seven, but I recall liking it quite a lot. Though I think I liked Seven Samurai even better. Curious to see your take.

  • Sandman says:

    In other news: Barbara Leigh-Hunt! Lady Catherine DeBourgh! Hee!

    @attica: I know, right? ::high-five::

    @Jen S 1.0:

    C’mon, you can’t tell me that nobody on that set could see what that tongue looks like. Completely, precisely, indubitably like.

    Why do I get the feeling that David Cronenberg has watched this movie waahaay too many times?

  • HielanLass says:

    Ooooh, Magnificent Seven! Can’t wait! (Please tell me I’m not the only girl who finds Brynner and McQueen insanely hot in this movie… please?)

    So, topic.
    Yeah, after “The Birds” it’s all downhill for Hitch, I’m afraid – “Family Plot” and “The Trouble with Harry” are actually painful (and that’s not even factoring in how dated they are).

  • Cora says:

    This is actually one my “staple” movies. I like to watch it every three to five years, because I bring more to it as I age. It’s fun because it’s such a product of its age (green polyester double-knit!! that fabulous orange suit!! those awful chunky white heels!!), what with the Inspector’s wife describing, making, and tasting a “margarita” back then, and then wondering what in the hell they would think of the huge glistening things they used to serve at Chi-Chi’s.

    Any other House of Elliott fans out there who squee!! when Jean Marsh utters her unbelievably prissy response of “Quite.” to the detectives description of nasty sex killing? Oh. Just me, again, I guess.

    And speaking of The Hair That Makes The Movie, OMG Tommy Lee Jones in The Eyes of Laura Mars. It is a stone groove.

  • Seankgallagher says:

    I am in the camp that doesn’t like this film, though I disagree on one point; I don’t think it’s very well acted. I haven’t, to the best of my knowledge, seen these actors outside of this film, so I can’t comment on their abilities or lack of them (as opposed to Torn Curtain and Topaz, where I know Paul Newman and Michel Piccoli, respectively, were defeated by lame scripts), but I cringed at the guy playing the killer, as he was just bad.

    By the way, did I miss your write-up on Stalag 17, or is that what you meant by your “these seldom remain accurate” caveat at the end?

  • Janie S says:

    But … but … The Magnificent Seven is a FUN movie! It has Yul Brynner! And Steve McQueen! And the Man from U.N.C.L.E.!

  • rab01 says:

    Thank you for watching this one so I won’t feel tempted.

    I’m not sure that watching the Magnificent Seven as film fiber can work too well. It’s more a bowl of Frosted Flakes than Shredded Wheat. I enjoyed it fine (TBH more than Seven Samurai, from which I felt too distanced even if it is a much better movie) but it’s not exactly, you know, deep.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Sean, you didn’t miss it, and yes, that’s what I meant. Lord knows what the queue will hork up next. (I could always force down “Intolerance” on Netflix Instant, but…somehow I just never do.)

    @rab, it’s not so much that the movies are all, or are all expected to be, an obligatory slog. It’s that I feel duty-bound to watch them. They’re homework. Not all homework is unfun or a chore, obviously, so there you go…but it’s more to do with the attitude going in than the experience during, if that makes sense. I was all folded-arms in front of “Casablanca,” too, but to my relief, it ruled.

  • Ginny Beatty says:

    I haven’t seen this one in awhile (I do recall being icked out by the graphic-ness of the violence), but in reading some of the comments about the fashion/time of it, I was reminded of a favorite of mine for giggles: Coogan’s Bluff with Clint Eastwood… It is so awesome that for reasons unclear he has to keep going to this wacky, LSD-soaked nightclub called “The Pigeon-toed Orange Peel” — which actually has a big, psychedelic video screen and go-go dancers and it’s own autonomous theme music that pretty much consisted of a driving disco-rock beat and repeating “Pigeon-toed Orange PEEEEEEL… Pigeon-toed Orange PEEEEEEL”

  • Cora says:

    @Ginny, OH MY GOD, girl! Never heard of it, so I went to YouTube and typed in “pigeon toed” and the third autolink was “pigeon toed orange peel” (always a good sign). Clicked, clicked, and wham. Man, what I would give to have been a fly on the wall of THAT screenwriting meeting: “Hey, Frank, while we were scoping out locations in Nevada, I overheard this really great conversation between two sheriffs about all the GAHDDAMMN HIPPIES that live godless lives of debauchery in New York City. Shall we?”

  • Kat From Jersey says:

    Hitchcock’s best years were definitely behind him at this point. This movie reeks of the early 1970’s. There was a certain grittiness and edge to a lot of movies made at this time, and it works for many of them, but it’s just not Hitchcock’s thing. He does best with cool Grace Kelly-type blondes and smooth besuited men like Cary Grant.

    @HeilanLass… Brynner and McQueen… so, so hot!

  • soylent_greenis says:

    As bad as it is, Frenzy did at least inspire my friend and I to spend years saying “lovely” to each other in a dirty cockney accent.

  • Jaybird says:

    Soylent nailed it. So to speak. The single most vivid memory I have of this whole movie is Foster all thrusty and “Loooooveleeeee! Loooveleee!”, like Sean Bean in a particularly rapish mood. Eccchhh.

Leave a comment!

Please familiarize yourself with the Tomato Nation commenting policy before posting.
It is in the FAQ. Thanks, friend.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>