Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)

Revisited Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972), and noted with a shock that this was written by Anthony Shaffer (Why did I forget that? Has it been that long since I've seen it?).

Noted with surprise what the film's really all about--the possibility or impossibility of conducting a normal, healthy relationship between men and women. Couples abound, and even the first victim--or first character we come to know who becomes a victim--heads a marriage arranging service (the putative hero describes himself as one of her failures--her ex-husband, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch). Mr. and Mrs. Blaney's is an unhappy but not necessarily abnormal marriage: two basically decent people whose relationship couldn't survive the pressures of a (as Richard puts it) 'run of bad luck.' Their dinner together establishes that they do care for each other, but even caring can't stop the man from losing his temper.

Running counterpoint is Blaney's relationship with Babs, a barmaid he works with; their relationship is more easygoing and carnal, possibly because Babs is more at Richard's level (Mrs. Blaney seems too classy for him; possibly some upper-middle class princess he had dazzled with his military record). She trusts him too; when he presents his case for innocence, the facts as they are aren't too convincing; it's his likeability--and her affection for him--that wins her over. I don't know if it's intentional or not, but it's possible Blaney pushed her wife away because he thought she was too good for him; it's his screwed-up yet likeable sense of integrity that's doing him wrong.

Set that relatively healthy relationship alongside the more tense, more Hitchcockian Porters. Billie Whitelaw as Hetty Porter is positively full of sensible, if selfish, common sense, and she's furious at her husband's impulsive act of bringing a hunted criminal to their home (never mind if he's an old war buddy). They're moneyed, classy, well-traveled, and about as warm and compassionate (Hitchcock just loves dysfunctional upper-middle-class couples); any decent impulses in them reside in the husband (played by Clive Swift), who, when push comes to shove, readily gives in to his wife.

Maybe the oddest couple in the picture is Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) and his wife. They seem to be pretty much normal, but the wife insists on torturing her husband with baroque dishes out of a gourmet cookbook. It's a wonderfully odd love, with her getting off on the unholy messes she serves on silver platters, and him going through all kinds of contortions (sneaking the soup back in the serving bowl, spitting a pig's foot bone on his plate) to avoid said concotions--you might say they communicate through a kind of gastronomical S & M.

What makes it all funnier is how dated the film's notion of weird food is--duck with cherry sauce? Pig's feet? Child's play (she even serves a 'margarita'--a drink made of tequila, triple-sec, lime, and salt--menu items that are almost de rigeur in Hard Rock Cafe or Ruby Tuesday (double irony, they're just as indigestible when served in those places)).

All of which contrast with Barry Foster as the charming Robert Rusk. He's all friendly bluster and affable respectability, and he seems to have a close relationship with his mother (alarm bells going off in Hitchock afficionados' minds), but it's his otherwise inability to have a normal sexual relationship with a woman that sets this whole film going.

Tonya J: "Maybe the oddest couple in the picture is Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) and his wife. They seem to be pretty much normal, but the wife insists on torturing her husband with baroque dishes out of a gourmet cookbook."

Love those scenes.

What's so sad about the food is that I doubt if anyone really thought it grotesque--I think Hitchcock is sophisticated enough to enjoy such fare (I suppose I need to read his biography to really find out). The problem may be that she seems to be applying English-style cooking to the dishes, boiling them and heating them until  it all seems to have been reduced to the same uniformly muddy grey. Except the Margarita, of course, which looks a bit like baby pee.

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