This review was written 41 years too late
The arse-up floating body of a dead woman washes onto the banks of the Thames near the old County Hall building, prompting various responses from onlookers along the lines of “Ooh isn’t it dreadful?” and “What I’d like to know is what are the police doing about it?” – horrible British responses, both out of time with early 70s Britain and a depressing representation of a people talking just in responses.
It was this Britain Hitchcock returned to at the end of his career when, aged 73, he apparently wanted to capture on film the London of his youth before it changed forever. So what we have here is a splendid visual document of London – a sweeping aerial opening down the Thames shows the remnants of a once-thriving port; Covent Garden when it was still a working market – and an average thriller, lifted by some trademark flourishes from a declining master.
Barry Foster is Robert Rusk, a Covent Garden market trader who comes across as a slightly more upmarket Jack Harper from On The Buses, complete with tedious, chirpy banter (“Trust your Uncle Bob”, “Bob’s Your Uncle”, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” and so on) and a natty line in suits – and ties. For Rusk is the mysterious Neck Tie Murderer – a killer and rapist terrorising women in the capital.
Hitchcock reveals this early in the picture, and at the same time we meet Richard Blaney (the late Jon Finch), a down-on-his-luck friend of Rusk’s whose ex-wife becomes a victim, thus marking him as the number one suspect.
Blaney flees briefly before being captured and banged-up, while Rusk carries on killing only to leave incriminating evidence on a victim, leading to a none-too suspenseful scene in the back of a potato truck where Rusk snaps the victim’s fingers to pull a tie-pin from her rigour grasp. As tension goes in films, potato-based escapades are few and far between.
It’s easy to see why.
Around all this, Alec McCowen‘s copper tries to piece everything together as the body count continues to rise.
The film suffers terribly from being a 1950s British film set in 1972 London. Characters talk like they are from a previous era; it’s as if the swinging sixties never happened. About the only nod to being a “modern” film is a few brief instances of nudity and an unpleasant rape scene. It is also devoid of any real tension since we know who the murderer is early on and Jon Finch’s innocent Blaney is such an unlikeable loser, you don’t really care that he’s been fingered for the crimes.
On the plus side, there are some stylish visuals – a tracking shot backwards down a flight of stairs, a freeze-frame on a victim’s eyes at the point of death – and some quality acting from Billie Whitelaw and especially Anna Massey, who in stark contrast to her role in the best London-set serial killer film Peeping Tom, plays a brassy barmaid with appeal.
Frenzy’s biggest let down is its ending, however. While Alec McCowan gets to deliver a witty last line, the complete lack of excitement or tension as the real killer is identified and cornered by Blaney gives a clumsy and jarring conclusion, leaving you to ask, “Is that it?”.
Yep, it is.
See Hitch introducing the film in the trailer