The Last Masterpiece: Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy

Author: Raymond Foery

 Frenzy was Alfred Hitchcock’s first British film for over 30 years (although a couple were shot in the UK despite being Hollywood productions) and his penultimate film. It came on the back of several critical and financial failures for the master. Therefore, one could understand if some commentators were stating that Hitchcock had lost his powers as an artist and a filmmaker. Raymond Foery’s new book re-evaluates the film that stands out in Hitchcock’s later oeuvre, doing a great job in ensuring that this film stands out as the lesser known masterwork from a masterful director.


As mentioned this was Hitchcock’s first British film since 1939. He did all the detailed pre-production work in Hollywood, adapted a script he had worked with Anthony Shaffer, went to London, gathered a cast around him around him (if not his dream cast at least a strong one) and began the long filming schedule. The film is set around Covent Garden (before the old market area made way for swankier shops and became more, erm up-market). This was the Covent Garden of Hitchcock’s youth despite its contemporary setting, as he grew up surrounded by similar markets in Leytonstone. The story is about a divorced former RAF officer, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) who has been living on the never-never and finds he has the finger of blame pointing towards him for a series of murders committed in the local area by a serial killer known as the tie strangler.


For the majority of the book the author studies the film from the perspective of Hitchcock as the master craftsman and goes into great detail with regards his filmmaking style and the making of the film from a scene by scene analysis in the order that the film was made rather than the actual chronology of the story. In this way the reader is given a good insight into how a film is developed and made with a particular reference to Hitch’s own individual style of filmmaking and looks at the scenes in terms of scene numbers. The book begins by giving the atmosphere of ennui which Hitchcock was feeling in Hollywood in 1970 following the critical and financial failings of his films from the past 6 years or so before being influenced to adapt a rather pulpy novel, ‘Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square’. Foery’s book is most revealing in places in that it busts a lot of myths, particularly centered around those to do with Hitchcock and women (there is a chapter focusing on this subject alone). Rather than Hitchcock being a misogynist he comes across as a man who liked to surround himself with women: he would not do anything without the approval of his wife and best friend, Alma Reville; he had a long term close working relationship with his personal secretary, Peggy Robertson, another woman who he always entrusted her opinion; he was lifetime close friends with Grace Kelly and many other actresses who worked with him have stood up to defend him. It would seem that much of this trashing came from Donald Spoto’s well known biography, ‘The Dark Side of Genius’ and Foery makes a convincing case in de-bunking Spoto’s book.


Foery spends much of the book focusing on two signature scenes in the film: one with a long exit shot from the murderer’s apartment and another key sequence with the tie strangler’s first murder we see on screen – a sequence that was disturbing and troubling for all involved. The author also focuses on the arduous process of the filmmaking and the struggle that the director was having with his age and ailments and the process of the filmmaking. What Foery points out though is that in many aspects the master has not lost his power as a filmmaker and that the film stands up against his most classic films. The final few chapters of the book looks at the reception of the film on its release as well as its legacy while still de-bunking many of the myths about this most iconic of directors. This book published by Scarecrow Press lives up to its statement that it is the most thorough work on a single work by Hitchcock and has much to recommend even if the author becomes a little repetitive in places. Despite this it is a thoroughly entertaining read for any fan on the films of Alfred Hitchcock and his technique.


Chris Hick


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