This is a film which gets better with every viewing. The bombastic opening with Ron Goodwin’s music and a sweeping camera shot through the open Tower Bridge to a discussion on the banks of the Thames about pure water comes to a sudden end when the nude body of a strangled woman washes into view.
We meet Dick Blaney (the sadly missed Jon Finch, whose screen career probably reached its peak with this and his Macbeth, for Polanski, the previous year) a former RAF pilot down on his luck, and Babs, his barmaid girlfriend (Anna Massey). Blaney loses his job through boozing and bumps into an old friend, Robert Rusk, who runs a pitch in the Covent Garden food and vegetable market (Barry Foster, who takes a step away from solving crimes as Van der Valk as the bad guy here).
What makes Frenzy one of the better Hitchcock films is the mix of pure horror (the rape and murder of Blaney’s wife, early on, still causes chills), comedy (Alec McCowen’s delightful detective and his wife (Vivien Merchant) and their food scenes; the couple in the hotel discussing ‘The Cupid Room’), and the sheer detail – London’s unusual streets are photographed with affection in this first film by the Master in England for twenty years; and that track back from Massey’s room is pure genius.
Anyway, the performances are top-notch: Foster is superb, and he got lucky with Michael Caine passing up the part; Finch is also exceptionally good as the innocent who seems guilty through circumstantial evidence. Much has been made of the fact that Foster seems the more sympathetic character, even when we have seen his dark side in gruesome detail, but I’m not convinced that was the intention. He’s something of a Jekyll and Hyde, a dangerous character, but not likeable. It’s the black comedy of some of the situations he is in (such as the potato wagon) which may make him seem likeable, but he is a truly repellent individual.
There’s also a young and stunning Billie Whitelaw in the cast. She was an excellent actress and she is icily brilliant here.