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Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Edition Vol. 14: Hitch's violent, weird late-era mystery....
Universal / 143 Minutes / 1969 / Unrated / Street Date: October 30, 2012
[As preparation for our comprehensive review of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, we're investing each of that massive Blu-ray sets films one by one chronologically. If you missed them, check out our reviews of Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho. The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, and Topaz.]
I had heard Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy described as 'flawed Hitchcock.' Well, it seems to me that flawed Hitchcock is still better than even the best a Hitchcock imitator could ever hope to come up with. And yet, while I think Frenzy is ultimately successful, I could see some cracks in the veneer. However, it's not flawed Hitchcock, it's flawed because of Hitchcock. Confused? Let me explain.
Even though Hitch had pretty much cornered the market on weirdos and the macabre, there's something darker and more disturbing at play in Frenzy than any of his other films. It was the first film of Hitch's to garner an R rating (although Psycho would eventually be given the R years later when it was submitted for re-rating to the MPAA for home video). The scenarios Hitch explores in Frenzy, including the rape and murder of women, can be so repulsive at times that it quite frankly seems beneath him. Yet despite the ugly subject matter, that Hitch is able to make Frenzy as good as it is remains a credit to his talent.
Hitchcock's mastery of manipulated suspense is on able display in Frenzy, and the film contains a well-known Hitchcock trademark. I had heard a quote from Hitch, and I'm paraphrasing here, that stated if there's a bomb under a table and it just explodes without any warning for the audience, it'll give them a good, quick scare but nothing else. But by letting the audience know ahead of time that there is indeed a bomb under the table, but not telling them when it's going to explode, the audience becomes tied up in anguish and anticipation, while still getting the jolt once it explodes. He proved this point many times throughout his career, and one of the most simple, yet most successful examples can, I think, be seen in Frenzy.
As one of the murder victims is about to be discovered, there's quite a suspenseful buildup of anticipation. You know that a character is going to walk in and scream when he/she sees it, of which there's absolutely no doubt. But the way Hitch does so much more than this is what made him the master. Rather than follow the person that will eventually make the discovery, we (the audience) are left outside, just watching a static alleyway. There's a long, silent wait for the inevitable that tightens the stomach and keeps the nerves on end. The fact that we're basically looking at nothing doesn't matter, our attention is completely focused on what's happening offscreen, and this is part of Hitchcock's brilliance. Other directors would most likely take us inside the building to show us what the character sees, going for the shock shot rather than a more subtle, true form of suspense.