Frenzy (1972)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Menu Audio
Featurette-The Story Of Frenzy (44:46)
Gallery-Art
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:55)
Booklet
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1972
Running Time 111:04
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (85:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Jon Finch
Alex McCowen
Barry Foster
Barbara Leigh-Hunt
Anna Massey
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Ron Goodwin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
German
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    If Alfred Hitchcock had made only fifty two films, Frenzy would have been the last of them. Had this been his swan song, then it would have been a pretty good and fitting way of going out. Okay, this is not the Alfred Hitchcock of his prime, where something new in the way of film making was presented. What it is is the maestro firmly in retrospective mood, returning in many ways to his roots in England. This was evident not just in the return to England as a setting, and one that he would know very well since his father was a greengrocer in the east end of London, but also in the return to a very common theme in Alfred Hitchcock films - the ordinary man thrown into an extraordinary situation over which he has little control. Indeed, the whole feeling of the film has more in common with his earlier films than his more recent efforts of the 1960s. But that is not to say that Alfred Hitchcock did not push the envelope here just a tad, for Frenzy sees him attacking certain topics that he had hitherto not really approached - foremost amongst them being rape. The film also saw a deal more nudity than had been seen in his films before this one. Another notable point about the film is that this is a long way removed from his usual casting of femme fatales, for this is a very British film populated with utterly believable female characters in particular, that are as far removed from the likes of Grace Kelly or Tippi Hedren as you could just about get. That is not in any way demeaning to the female stars here, who are far closer to the attractive girl next door than the glossy pin-up girls favoured in Hollywood.

    Set in Covent Garden in London, itself an area that has changed substantially since the film was made, this is the story of one ex-Squadron Leader Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), but that is jumping ahead a tad. Amusingly set up by a crowd listening to a speech about the cleaning up of the pollution in the River Thames (incidentally this is where the traditional and famed cameo appearance is made), the city is in the grips of a serial killer known as the Neck Tie Killer. The killer's latest victim washes up on the river bank by the said throng, with the evidence of the method of murder obvious around her neck. Now we jump to a pub in Covent Garden where barman Blaney is helping himself to a drink. His boss Forsythe (Bernard Cribbins) catches him and sacks him on the spot. Cast out into the street, Blaney heads around to his mate Robert Rusk (Barry Foster) who offers him aid as well a a hot tip in a horse race, but Blaney has no money and misses out on the rewards of the hot tip at the good odds of 20-1, although he does get to meet Robert's dear old mum. Richard is not a happy chappie, and heads off to see his ex-wife, Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), at her place of business, for quite what we don't know - maybe solace, but certainly expecting something else to happen since everything comes in threes. After a marginally heated discussion that caught the ears of Brenda Blaney's secretary, they agree to have dinner at Brenda's club. Naturally whilst there, Richard makes further scenes that catch the attention of a waitress. So, now that we have in place all the pieces of the puzzle, all we have to do is put them together in the right order. Oh, did I mention that the next victim of the Neck Tie Killer is none other than Brenda, whilst Richard's current bird, Barbara "Babs" Milligan (Anna Massey), is also destined to be a victim...

    And that really is all you need to know about the story of the film, for that is all we need to make the fairly obvious deduction of who the Neck Tie Killer is, right? This is precisely the conclusion to which Chief Inspector Oxford (Alex McCowen) of New Scotland Yard jumps. But of course Alfred Hitchcock is not going to let us off that easy is he? No sirree, he is not, so he throws in a couple of little twists to keep us guessing, even right down to the final scene of the film where I can guarantee that most who have never seen the film will incorrectly guess who the final victim will be.

    It might not be classic Hitchcock, but this certainly has more connection with his classics than say Family Plot. For a start, this has a much less simplistic plot, for even though the basic framework is fairly simple, Hitch manages to infuse the simple with enough doubts to keep us guessing throughout the film. Just when you think you've got the killer pinned down, Hitch will make you take a long hard look at that decision. You begin to wonder whether you can pin it all down that easily. Well, you cannot, unless you have seen the film before of course. But beyond the story and the intricacies that Hitch infuses it with, there are the little things that add the spice. A nice little dose of comedy gets thrown into the mix here, most notably in the back of a truck carrying potatoes and in the conversations between the suffering Chief Inspector Oxford and his slightly wacky wife. There are also the harsh realities of psychopathic murderers to be dealt with and Hitch really does a superb job of getting the point across that it is very difficult to distinguish them in everyday life. Nobody gives the Neck Tie Killer a second glance until it is too late. Whilst it is never easy to handle something like rape in film, again Hitch handles the task with commendable judgment and with relative sensitivity - although some comments in the documentary are quite interesting in this regard.

    Hitch managed to put together what I would consider to be a typical British film cast - none of them are likely to be seen as screen idols but they give you quality performances that bring out the characters of the film in a very real way, and move the story along in a very believable manner. Essentially, you get quality performance over looks. Jon Finch does a good job as the poor sod out of his element as the noose slowly closes around him, although he does not come across quite as the ex-RAF Squadron Leader in the classic. Anna Massey also does a good job as his girl friend and fellow barperson. No classic, stunning beauty in the Grace Kelly mold, but nonetheless your typical attractive girl next door type that keeps the interest level up, especially in the pub. Alex McCowen is terrific as the suffering inspector, and his scenes as he ponders the outcome of the court case with his wife are perhaps the highlight of the film, offering a delightful British humour to the film. He perhaps is just outshone by Barry Foster however, who really does a great job of selling his character. But where the film really shines is in the cinematography - and Hitch manages some wonderful stuff indeed here. Little things like the shot of the street outside Barbara Blaney's office where there is absolutely nothing going on are brilliant. We all know what is going to happen so why show it? Hitch does not and the film is the better for it. Classic stuff. Classic too is the scene as we follow Babs into the apartment then have the silent pull back down the stairs, down the corridor and out into the street where the walk past of a grocer brings the sound back into the film. These sorts of things are really what make the difference here - Hitch knows that the audience does not have to see everything and the strength of the scenes is no less diminished because of it. Hitch was also not afraid to use the wonderful sounds of silence in the film, and these too are extremely effective.

    Certainly not amongst the real gems of Alfred Hitchcock's output, Frenzy is nonetheless still a good film. It shows Hitch harking back to his earlier days and producing a really solid film in every respect. Of his last creative period (say from The Birds through to his last film Family Plot), this is probably his best film since Marnie. It is well worth spending the time to acquaint yourself with this film - even though I doubt that it holds the same sorts of fascinations after a dozen viewings as it does during that first acquaintance.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    After the relative disappointment of Family Plot in the video transfer department, this older film is unexpectedly miles better in appearance. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The big improvement here over Family Plot is that the transfer is much clearer and much sharper. Indeed, whilst not being super sharp, the transfer has a definitely more modern look in the area of the sharpness and definition. So much so in fact that there is not a single note about any problems in this regard in my review notes. A rarity in itself nowadays. Detail is actually very good and some of the scenes in Covent Garden have an almost documentary look to them, and you could almost be expecting to have some narration voice-over accompanying the images. Grain is not much of an issue here at all and in general clarity is quite excellent. Shadow detail is the only moderate issue in the transfer and this is about the only area where I would say the video is really showing its age. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    The colour is also surprisingly good too. Not that I was expecting, and certainly did not get, oodles of bright primary colours (if you knew London of the late 1960s and early 1970s well enough, you would know that it was not the brightest city on earth). What we do get is a very believable palette of quite vibrant earthier colours and tones, with just the odd bright colour relief here and there. The colour is so reminiscent of the London I knew in the 1960s that I have virtually no complaints whatsoever about what we have here. There are no issues with oversaturation in the transfer, and there did not seem to be any colour bleed problems either. If I was being very pedantic, I could perhaps have wished for a bit more depth to the blacks, but that would be about all I could complain about.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer either, with just a couple of odd instances of aliasing or shimmer in the transfer, such as the tie at 33:21 and the jacket at 35:00. None of these instances was anything more than minor. There were plenty of film artefacts in the transfer, and this is one area where the lack of any restoration work on the source material is obvious.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 85:00. In keeping with the general trend of the releases in the Alfred Hitchcock Collections, it is not a good one at all. It occurs mid-scene as Robert Rusk is walking away from the camera - he pauses for a bit too long and then the scene jumps to a profile-type shot.

    There are a reasonable number of subtitle options on the DVD, and I sampled some of the English efforts. They are possible the poorest I have sampled in the Alfred Hitchcock releases from Universal, with plenty of missing dialogue or incorrectly captioned stuff. Some of the missing or incorrect stuff is crucial as it slightly changes the tone of the dialogue. Not one of the better efforts seen recently.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD; an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I stuck with the English soundtrack only.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The original music score is from Ron Goodwin, and a rather delightful effort it is too. It has a distinctly British feel to it, which enormously aids the film in setting the right sort of mood.

    There really is not much to say about the sound. The sound is somewhat congested and really needs more space to allow the sound a little more bloom. The sound is also showing its age a little in that there is some slight distortion of the sound, most notably at 46:38. Obviously there is nothing in the way of surround or bass channel use here at all.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There is a reasonable collection of extras here.

Menus

    Nothing much to bother about, with the obligatory audio enhancement in common with most of the DVDs from the collection.

Documentary - The Story Of Frenzy (44:46)

    Recapturing some of the form from The Birds, after the slightly less than stellar effort afforded Family Plot, this was an interesting look at the film. It would have been even more interesting if the technical quality was better. The recent interview material is quite grainy and rather poor looking, not aided by some low level noise issues either. There is some obvious aliasing in the transfer, as well as cross colouration and moiré artefacting issues too. If you see how the film extracts look here, you will have a greater appreciation for the quality of the main feature. Presented in a Full Frame format with the film excerpts in their proper ratio, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. What lifts this whole thing though is the content, which is rather interesting. Most notable amongst the content is the fact that Henry Mancini was originally engaged to do the score but was sacked for unspecified reasons (but presumably after turning in what was considered to be an inappropriate score). There is a brief sampling of the opening to the film with his scoring playing over it and it is a much different effort to that from Ron Goodwin - and it has to be said, far less appropriate in my view. Makes you wish that they had given us as much of the Mancini score as possible on an isolated or comparative music score.

Gallery - Art

    More like a photo gallery than an art gallery, since most of the 100 odd stills are photos, this is almost entirely rather mundane. The presentation suffers a bit from cross colouration issues. What lifts this out of the mire though are the photographs that have been unearthed of scenes that never made it into the final film. Now would that be something to see - the deleted footage!

Theatrical Trailer (2:55)

    Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. That is the good bit, for the technical quality is rather charitably describable as very ropey. Indistinct colours, diffuse images and plenty of evidence that it is nigh on thirty years old. In itself it is quite interesting in the usual Hitchcockian way.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    Available reviews of the Region 1 release seem to indicate a very similar quality transfer in all respects. All things therefore being equal, there is nothing to strongly force a preference in favour of one version over the other.

Summary

    Frenzy is one of the best of the late period Alfred Hitchcock films. Whilst a decided harkening back to his earlier British period films, it shows that even with his powers waning, Hitch could still produce a good film. A pity that he did not finish here though. The video transfer is better than I was expecting, whilst the audio transfer is on the whole serviceable enough. Well worth investigating this one, even if repeated viewings would likely diminish the impact.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, October 04, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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