|The rape scene in Frenzy puts paid to the dumb theory that women enjoy being raped.|
FRENZY (1972 ) Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer.
Early in this movie of a rape-murderer on the loose in London, and an innocent man accused of the crimes, there is a scene in a bar when a middle-aged bar maid, somewhat anxiously and hopefully, asks a policeman if the killer rapes his victims before he strangles them. "Every cloud has its silver lining, eh, Maisie," responds the police officer. Intentional or not, this ugly bit of business is contrasted later on with a very graphic and disturbing rape-strangulation scene in which it is quite clear that the terrified victim is in no way, shape or form enjoying the experience, and there is also absolutely nothing even remotely erotic about it -- it is pure sadistic woman-hatred and nothing more. [The sequence always makes me burst into tears, frankly.] That the victim, Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), is basically a kind and lovely person [not that this would be okay if she weren't] and that Leigh-Hunt's performance is so intense and skillful, makes it all the more horrible. Some feminists and others were outraged by the sequence, yet I think the scene is necessary to get past the tasteless jokes and show, for once, how awful a crime rape really is. Barry Foster also does a marvelously loathsome job as the murderer.
That being said, Frenzy is an excellent thriller with darkly comic moments. The protagonist, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), ex-husband of the ill-fated Brenda, is not very sympathetic -- deliberately so, I believe -- and always seems much more concerned about himself than the women he supposedly cares for and who are dying all around him. Of course, as in most Hitchcock movies, the murderer has a lot more charm. Finch is perfectly okay in the part, but the best impressions are made by Foster, Leigh-Hunt, Anna Massey as a bar maid and girlfriend of Blaney's, and Bernard Cribbins as her dyspeptic boss. Also notable are Alec McCowen as the inspector assigned to the case, Vivian Merchant as his wife, who foists dreadful "gourmet" meals on him, and Elsie Randolph as a smirking hotel clerk. Billie Whitelaw and Clive Swift (of Keeping Up Appearances) play a couple who have differing opinions as to the guilt or innocence of Blaney, and Jean Marsh is a bottled-up receptionist [a rather tiresome stereotype].
Henry Mancini wrote an evocative theme for this, but Hitchcock wanted something different, which he got from Ron Goodwin, who delivered a stately opening theme redolent of England, and attractively sinister music for key sequences.Foster and Whitelaw were both in Twisted Nerve four years before.
Verdict: Flawed but compelling shocker from The Master. ***1/2.