From the master of shock! A shocking masterpiece!
Shaffer was already enjoying success with his stageplay Sleuth which was now playing at the West End and Broadway when he received a phone call from Alfred Hitchcock. It was New Years Eve 1970 and Shaffer and his family were now in New York as Sleuth had opened at the Music Box Theatre in the November. At first Shaffer thought the call was from a friend playing a prank but realised the truth of it when he received in the post a copy of a novel by Arthur La Bern called Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square.
Shaffer soon met with Hitchcock and they started planning Hitchcock's next film which was to be based on La Bern's novel and was to be called Frenzy. This early encounter was almost the last as Shaffer at one time told him about a hole he found in the great director's film North By NorthWest. He pointed out that there was a hole in the plot in the scene where Cary Grant tries to board the train to which wouldn't make sense. Hitchcock told him that this was what he called the 'ice box syndrome' in which an audience would be plagued and arguementative about the plot so they would have to go back and watch the film again, thereby doubling his audiences! Shaffer, amused by this, asked: "How many ice-box syndromes do you want me to put into the screenplay of Frenzy?!"
Arhtur La Bern was a journalist and a crime reporter and later an author. He has written biographies of George Joseph Smith, the notorious 'brides in the bath' murderer and about Haigh, the 'acid bath murderer' in the book The Mind Of The Murderer. His novels include It Always Rains On Sunday, Good Time Girl and Paper Orchid. Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square was first published in 1966 and later reprinted as Frenzy when the film was released.
Shaffer and Hitchcock spent some six weeks visiting various locations in London where Frenzy was to be filmed. Hitchcock hadn't made a film in the UK for over twenty years. About the locations, Hitchcock said: "It was simply a matter of going back to the ground I knew so well." Hitchock had been brought up in London and worked as a boy with his father who sold fish and poultry to the ocean steamers and he would travel up and down the Thames on the boats. Although they were on location, they still hadn't written a word of the script and Hitchcock told the press that they were working from three pages of notes on the book.
The locations that were finaly used included the thriving Covent Garden market (sadly, no longer there), The Globe pub in Bow Street and the buildings on Henrietta Street which would serve as Bob Rusk's flat. Other parts of London like Bayswater, Knightsbridge and a small alley-way off the busy Oxford Street were also used, as was the exterior of the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane.
After finding the suitable locations, Hitchcock planned virtually every shot, drawing it as a story board that looked like a comic strip. This was a process he used for most, if not all, his films. Shaffer's script was ready in May 1971. Shaffer: "When Hitch got his finished script he considered the picture 99-percent finished. But, of course, he still had to shoot it."
By June 1971 Frenzy was still uncast and shooting was scheduled for August. Hitchcock was interested in casting Michael Caine for the role of the neck-tie murderer Bob Rusk. Caine did meet with Hitchcock just so he could meet him, but refused the part of Rusk. Caine: "I didn't want to be associated with the role." Instead, Hitchcock cast unknown British actor Barry Foster, who looked and sounded like Caine, in the part. Hitchcock also offered the part of Dick Blaney to David Hemmings and the female parts to Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave but these were taken by Jon Finch, Anna Massey and Barbara Leigh-Hunt. Anna Massey had in fact gone to audition for the part of Miss Barling but Hitchcock offered her the role of Babs Milligan instead. Also on the casting sheet were Alec McCowen, Jean Marsh, Vivien Merchant, Bernard Cribbins and Billie Witelaw.
Hitchcock commented on why the cast he chose weren't big, international stars that you would expect from his films: "When you do a mystery starring Cary Grant everybody in the audience knows from the outset that he can’t be the villain.”
Filming started in the August through to October 1971 with Hitchcock, cast and crew getting quite a bit of attention from the public as they filmed in the busy streets. At one point an elderly man came to Hitchock and told him he had known his father which delighted the director. For the interior scenes - Bob's flat, the hotel suite, etc were all shot at Pinewood. The famous cinematographer Gil Taylor, who had previously worked on Hard Day's Night, Dr Strangelove, Repulsion, and later The Omen and Star Wars, was part of the production team putting Frenzy together. It's said the film was shot in 55 days.
The memorable soundtrack, including the unforgettable majestic theme tune which opens the film, was composed by Ron Goodwin who had many credits including Village Of The Damned, The Trials Of Oscar Wilde, The Day Of The Triffids, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, Where Eagles Dare, Monte Carlo Or Bust, Battle Of Britain, One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing and Force 10 From Navarone. Hitchock had originaly hired Henry Mancini to do the soundtrack but was quickly replaced as Hitchcock didn't feel his music was fitting with the pictures. Mancini's own opening theme for Frenzy has been released on various compilation soundtrack CD's.
Despite the fact Hitchcock had once been quoted as saying "Actors are like cattle" only to elaborate years later when he corrected this by saying "I didn't say actors are like cattle - I said actors should be treated like cattle," the time filming Frenzy was a happy one for the cast and production unit. To write here the many various quotes and stories given by the principle actors about their time with Hitchcock would probably run to several pages or, at the very least, a website of it's own! It is safe to say though that most felt that Hitchcock was an approachable, intelligent, funny and father-like figure on set.
Anna Massey: “He made a lovely atmosphere on the set. It was good fun – good, ironic fun.” About that famous quote of Hitchcock's refering to actors being treated as cattle Massey commented: "“Well, if he does, which I doubt, I am glad to be one of the herd.” Bernard Cribbins: "Hitch was a joker and very easy to work with." Barbara Leigh-Hunt adds: "I’ve many memories of filming for Mr Hitchcock – many amusing, many fascinating in the revelation of his craftsmanship." Alec McCowen also had a good word to say: "He'd start every day with a cabaret. He was a joker; he talked in jokes. Making the film was a sort of joke."Jon Finch recalled how the actors were allowed to make suggestions with the script if they felt a line or two didn't fit well. Finch would often make notes and would pass these on to the patient director, until one day Hitchcock said: "I said you could make suggestions not rewrite the whole script!" Jean Marsh, who played the straight laced Monica Barling remembers: "We used to have wonderful arguments. I used to go into his caravan on the set, and we argued about politics, food and everything. "
An interesting note is that Jon Finch did his own stunt in the scene where Blaney throws himself down the steps in the prison. Finch was able to do this quite professionaly as he had served in the Parachute Regiment for 18 months when he was younger.
Shaffer did comment later about the dialogue used in the film being outdated even then, but that's how Hitchcock wanted it. It seemed as if Hitchcock was trying to recreate the London he knew as a boy. Shaffer told Terry Grimley at The Birmingham Post in 1999: ""He was very supportive. He could be tough but I very much liked working with him and he was very interesting, obviously, because he knew exactly what he wanted."
Hitchcock may have been trying to recreate some themes and scenes from his previous works too. Hitchcock had made films featuring Jack the Ripper-type killers before, including The Lodger in 1926, a silent movie about a series of murders in London and a mysterious man who appears to be guilty of the crimes. Also, the opening scene in Frenzy, where the body is floating down the Thames with a tie around her neck, is reminiscent of his 1937 offering Young & Innocent, where a young woman’s body is washed up on the seashore strangled by the belt from an overcoat.
Frenzy was eventually released in the US in June 1972 and in the UK the following month. The positive notices in the press were praising Hitchcock's new film, giving him the lift from some of the poor reviews he had received in recent years. Time Out magazine said in it's June 1972 edition: "In case there was any doubt, back in the dim days of Marnie and Topaz, Hitchcock is still in fine form. Frenzy is the dazzling proof. It is not at the level of his greatest work, but it is smooth and shrewd and dexterous, a reminder that anyone who makes a suspense film is still an apprentice to this old master." The New York Times ran a similiar report: "Hitchcock does it with a marvelously funny script by Anthony Shaffer, with a superb English cast that is largely unknown here, and with his gift for implicating the audience in the most outrageous acts, which, as often as not, have us identifying with the killer."
Speaking to The New York Times, Hitchcock said: "“What I look for in planning a film are the opportunities for suspense and involving an audience. It’s tremendously satisfying to be able to use cinema to achieve a mass emotion. This is what I attempt to do.”
Shaffer told of how Hitchcock was looking to be more explicity violent with Frenzy. He told Sight and Sound Magazine: “I wrote the famous ‘Farewell to Babs’ tracking shot down the stairs and out into Covent Garden in the first draft, before Hitch even read it. In fact, at that stage he wanted us to see a second strangling!” Hitch also wanted to zoom a camera into the mouth of the Brenda Blaney character after she is raped and strangled. Shaffer argued this and it was cut from the finished film. This particular scene took three days to complete as it was shot in blocks rather than one whole piece. Barry Foster: “It was distressing and not pleasant to shoot.”
Although the author Arthur La Bern was initially delighted with the fact Hitchcock was going to make a film from his book, he wasn't happy about the end resut. In a letter sent to The Times in May 1972 saying it was distasteful and watching it was a painful experience. He adds: "Mr Hitchcock employed Mr Shaffer to adapt my book for the screen, apparently because of the latter's successful stage play, Sleuth. The result on the screen is appalling. The dialogue is a curious amalgam of an old Aldwych farce, Dixon of Dock Green and that almost forgotten No Hiding Place. I would like to ask Mr Hitchcock and Mr Shaffer what happened between book and script to the authentic London characters I created. Finally : I wish to dissociate myself with Mr Shaffer's grotesque misrepresentation of Scotland Yard offices."
Of course, as with most of his films, we get the Hitchcock cameo in Frenzy. This appears in the opening scene he can be seen quite cleary in the crowd wearing a suite and bowler hat while the politician does his speech about the river Thames being “cleared of brown trout and industrial effluent!” Also in this scene it's believed we catch a brief glimpse of the young Geraldine Cowper who a year later plays the missing child ‘Rowan Morrison’ in The Wicker Man. The cinema trailer for Frenzy features Hitchock himself, making jokes about his neck-tie in different scenes related to the film. We also see a dummy of Hitchcock floating down the Thames! In one scene we see him at Covent Garden reaching in to a sack of potatoes when suddenly a woman’s foot pops up. Hitchcock: “I’ve heard of a leg of lamb, a leg of chicken…but never a leg of potatoes!” The pressbook which was distributed to the cinema companies at the time of the film's release has a unique 'Hitchcock Standee' - a llife size cut out of Alfred Hitchcock greeting waiting audiences and warning ladies to take care if they notice their escort fidgeting with his necktie! "
Frenzy, Hitchcock's penultimate film (his next film Family Plot, released in 1976, would be his last,) was nominated for awards at The Golden Globe Awards in 1973. The categories were Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Original Score, Best Director - Motion Picture and Best Screenplay.
Richard Blaney.................Jon Finch
Produced By: Wiliam Hill & Alfred Hitchcock
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Based on the novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square by Arthur La Bern
Production Company: Universal
We see a politician making a speech to a crowd about how the river Thames will soon be clear of pollution and efluent and will be back to it's former glory with 'kingfishers swooping over the brown trout.' One of the onlooker spots a body being washed up from the river and the crowd turn for a better look. We see it's a naked woman with a neck-tie tied around her throat.
Richard Blaney does his tie in the mirror and goes down to the bar where he works and pours himself a drink. Felix Forsythe enters and accuses him of stealing alcohol and tells him to leave. They argue and Babs Milligan enters. She defends Blaney, but Forsythe won't listen, adding "he spends more time pulling your tits and than he does pints." They begin to argue but Blaney walks out throwing change at Forsythe and money he's loaned from him. Babs goes after him concerned but Blaney tells her he'll be okay and be in touch.
Blaney makes his way through the busy streets and heads for Covent Garden where he sees Bob Rusk, an old friend who is a trader at the market. He tells Rusk about Forsythe who sympathises with him. He offers him some money to help him out but Blaney tells him he's okay. Rusk gives him a tip for a horse which is racing that day and tells him it won't lose. A policeman suddenly appears and tells Rusk they're still looking for the neck-tie murderer and asks him if he's heard anything or can put the word out to his girlfriends. "Half of them haven't got their head screwed on right, let alone know when they're being screwed off!!" says Rusk.
SERGEANT: "This neck-tie fellow is giving them a bit of a headache though. Can't seem to get a line on him"
Blaney enters a pub and is sitting in a corner reading his paper. A solicitor and a doctor enter and are talking at the bar about the neck-tie murderer and how the legal system would work the case. Blaney goes to the bar and snaps at the barman when he is given a short measure of brandy. He goes back to his table while the lawyers continue their conversation.
LAWYER: "We haven't had a good, juicy series of sex murders since Christie, and they're so good for the tourist trade. Foreigners somehow expect the squares of London to be fog wreathed, full of hansome cabs and littered with ripped whores."
Blaney makes his way through the streets and, after an encounter with Rusk who tells him the horse he had tipped him won, arrives at the Blaney Bureau of Friendship & Marriage. He sees ex-wife Brenda Blaney, who owns the company, and becomes loud and agitated about how well her business is doing. He tells her about his bad day and, feeling sorry for him, she offers to take him out to dinner.
Richard and Brenda are at Brenda's restaurant club, talking about marriage and Richard's failings in his life. He breaks his glass and snaps at a waitress who has come to help clean the mess. They leave. We see them arrive at Brenda's house by taxi and Richard talks his way into staying for a while. Reluctantly she lets him in. We then see Blaney lying in bed in a Salvation Army hostel. An elderly man in the next bed is going through Blaney's pockets and takes out a handful of cash in notes. Blaney catches him and threatens the man. He looks at the money which Brenda has obviously put there for him.
The next day we see Brenda sitting at her desk eating her lunch when Bob Rusk enters. She tells him they can't help him with his particular needs and suggests he goes elsewhere. "Somehow I don't think our clients would appreciate your conception of a loving relationship," she tells him. He tells her that it's her he wants and asks her to go out with him. Sensing danger, Brenda plays along for a while but then Rusk rapes her. He undies his tie and strangles her. He takes money from her bag and leaves the building.
Richard Blaney calls round to see Brenda but the office door is locked. He exits. Miss Barling is on her way back to the office and sees Blaney leaving and going the opposite way. She goes into the building and after a pause we hear her scream.
The police are at Brenda Blaney's office and question Miss Barling. She tells Inspector Oxford that it must have been Richard Blaney who murdered Brenda as he was there the previous day being loud and violent.
Later that day, Blaney meets up with Babs and suggests they go to a hotel. When asked about the money, he tells her that he collected an old debt. They book a room at the Coburg Hotel and spend the night there. The next morning a newspaper is pushed under their door with the headlines of Brenda's murder. The porter is reading through his own paper and shows it to the receptionist. The description in the paper is that of Blaney's so the porter calls the police. A moment later the police arrive and rush up to the the room where Blaney and Babs are staying. The room is empty.
Blaney and Babs are sitting on a park bench talking about the murder which they've obviously seen in the paper. Blaney tells her it wasn't him and comes clean about the money. Although Babs is suspicious of him and his motives at first, she sees that he is innocent of the murder. Suddenly, they are alarmed by a voice callling out but stop running when Blaney realises who it is.
Johnny, an old RAF friend of Blaney's, takes them to the Hilton Hotel where his wife Hetty is waiting for them. She accuses Blaney of killing Brenda but Johnny believes Blaney and Babs story and lets them stay for a night. He suggests they go to France and work at a pub they have there. Hetty is not happy and tells Blaney to go to the police.
At the police station we learn that the evidence against Blaney is mounting up. We also learn that Inspector Oxfords wife is learning gourmet cooking and he has to eat at work!
Babs returns to the pub to collect her things but Forsythe tells her the police are on their way because he's reported her as a missing person. She walks out and Bob Rusk suddenly appears, offering her a room for the night because he's going away. She accepts the offer and he leads her to his flat.
Inspector Oxford brings us up to date by discussing the case with his wife who is serving him some of the dishes she's been learning on her cookery course. The food looks disgusting and the Inspector pours it away while his wife isn't looking.
That night we see Bob Rusk emptying a potato sack into the back of a lorry. He goes back to the flat only to find that his tie-pin with his inital on it was pulled off his when he was strangling Babs. He hurries back to the lorry and looks through the sacks for the body. The lorry starts and moves off. Rusk opens the sack and we see the feet and legs. He struggles and pulls at the body to get to the hands. He sees it clutched in the closed hand and tries with difficulty to remove it - even breaking a penknife as he tries to prise the fingers open. He eventualy retrieves the tie-pin and leaves the lorry while the driver stops at a roadside cafe.
The next morning Hetty and Johnny tell Blaney that Babs is dead - Hetty accusing him at first. Johnny tells them they can go to the police as Blaney now has an alibi. Hetty tells refuses as they will be charged with harbouring a wanted man, etc. Blaney, let down by his friends, snaps at them, calling them selfish and walks out. He goes to Rusk who helps him by telling him he can stay at his flat for a few days. Blaney makes his way to the flat where Rusk is waiting for him. Rusk leaves and a few moments later the police enter, arresting Blaney. We see that Rusk has informed the police.
We see Blaney in court where he is sentenced and sent to jail. He calls out threats to Rusk as he is lead away and this puts suspicion of Rusk in Inspector Oxford's mind. The inspector arranges surveilance on Rusk. Blaney throws himself down some prison steps and is transferred to hospital where he escapes with the help of the other patients. He makes his way to Rusk's flat and sees him sleeping in his bed. He smashes him on the head with a bar and we see that it is in fact a woman - she has been strangled with a neck-tie. At that point, the Inspector walks in and sees Blaney stood with the bar and the victim in bed. Blaney is about to explain when they hear a bumping sound from outside the door. The Inspector and Blaney stand in silence as Rusk enters carrying a large trunk. He sees Blaney and the Inspector watching him. He drops the trunk.
INSPECTOR OXFORD: "Mr Rusk. You're not wearing your tie"