‘Frenzy’: Alfred Hitchcock’s most disturbing sequence?

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A lot has been written in recent weeks about the psychology of “master of suspense” Alfred Hitchcock as depicted in two recent bio-dramas — “The Girl” on HBO a few months ago and “Hitchcock” which is now in theatrical release.

Both pictures touch of the director’s supposed sexual repression as it was reflected in the blonde actresses he obsessed over and the often disturbing stories he chose to tell.

Tonight at the Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport, I’m winding up a monthly Hitchcock festival with “Frenzy” which is, perhaps, the most unsettling film the director ever made, and the one movie in which he was able to be explicitly sexual due to the growing freedom in Hollywood in the late 1960s and 1970s.

A lot had changed in movies between 1960, when Hitchcock shocked the world with the merely suggestive “Psycho” and 1972 when the director’s depiction of sexual violence in “Frenzy” disgusted many moviegoers.

The shower stabbing in “Psycho” opened the door to increasing violence in the 1960s. After the rating system was established in 1968, the R tag designed for adult audiences opened the floodgates so that a movie like 1969’s “The Wild Bunch” could be many times more gory than “Bonnie & Clyde” released only two years earlier.

When the time came for Hitchcock to make his 1972 tale of a serial killer/strangler terrifying London, the director opted to include a murder setpiece (below) that is still hard to watch 40 years later. It was suggested at the time that colleagues and crew members were shocked that the veteran director would go so far in this strangling scene.

Fortunately, “Frenzy” possesses many other qualities that make it one of the best films the director made in that sad final decade of work that included mostly duds like “Topaz,” “Torn Curtain” and “Family Plot.”

Scripted by Anthony Shaffer of “Sleuth” fame, most of the movie is played as black comedy by a first-rate cast that includes Jon Finch, Anna Massey, Vivien Merchant and Alec McCowen. Barry Foster is also very chilling and very funny as the strangler who is revealed early on.  

The movie marked Hitchcock’s first return to his native England to make a movie in many years, and he uses the local color to great effect (above), from a spectacular aerial shot opening through the very colorful market and street scenes.

In contrast to the too-graphic strangling early in the movie, Hitchcock makes another killing much more powerful (and upsetting) through one of the most famous shots in his career. We follow an unwary victim being led up a staircase to her death and then Hitchcock backs the camera down the stairs and out into the street, where the oblivious pedestrians have no idea of what is happening just a few feet away from them.

(For details on tonight’s screening visit www.thebijoutheatre.com)

Joe Meyers

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