While I would say I’m a classic movie fan, I have to admit that it takes a bit of extra effort to get engaged with one I’ve never seen before. Also, I’m not a big fan of movies set in England (which may have been influenced by me not enjoying London when I visited back in 2014, but I digress).
So 1972’s Frenzy, following the pursuit of a serial killer in London, didn’t seem like it would be a movie up my alley. But it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock so I decided to give it a go. I found myself a bit bored throughout the first 30 minutes, but then magic struck after the brutal murder of one of the serial killer’s victims. The killer, Robert Rusk, leaves the workplace of his latest murder victim just as Richard Blaney is strolling in. We expect Blaney to discover that his ex-wife has just been murdered, but then will be mistaken for the murderer himself.
This doesn’t happen. Instead, Richard strolls in and can’t seem to open the office door because it is locked. He walks downstairs and leaves while his ex-wife’s secretary spots him leaving and walks inside. In that brief moment of recognition, we’re hooked and know immediately what’s in store for us in the remainder of this thrilling caper that only the master of masters Albert Hitchcock could orchestrate.
One thing that Frenzy does brilliantly is misdirecting the audience into initially believing Richard could be the serial killer, who strangles his victims with neckties. We see Richard dressing up with the same version of a tie that was used to strangle a previous victim, and then watch Richard as he steals a swig of liquor before getting fired, an action that immediately makes us think Richard is a detestable, unlikable figure.
Contrast that with the dapper, charismatic Robert Rusk, who can talk a mile a minute and is willing to lend Richard a helping hand in his time of need. Heck, Robert even introduces Richard to his mom, what bloke couldn’t love a person who treats their family well! But later, the brutal rape and murder happens, with Robert’s coolness revealed to be a chilling facade for his psychopathic tendencies.
Misdirection is a very delicate balancing act, and failure to keep things steady can break audiences’ disbelief. Hitchcock pulls it off, and we’re on a thrilling journey for the remainder of the film. Each scene is carefully crafted and framed with moments of intrigue and suspense being equally balanced by necessary bits of humor, which come in hearty supply form Chief Inspector Oxford’s dinner interactions with his wife. But the film isn’t afraid to go brutal and dark with its terrifying murder and assault scenes.
In the film’s climax, we see Richard trying to get rectification from Robert, and we’re misguided once again, thinking he won’t get it. But as Robert trudges up the stairs, we’re filled with relief that he has been caught, and a brief bit of sorrow that this thrilling journey has come to a close.