The Hitchcock Problem
WITH Frenzy, its director, Alfred Hitchcock, is said to have returned to form, but to what form has he returned? To a resounding orchestral accompaniment, so different from the anxiety-producing music with which Bernard Herrmann contributed so much to Vertigo and Psycho, we move from a panoramic view of the city of London to a Thames-side gathering at which a politician’s speech about progress against the river’s pollution is interrupted by the discovery of a floating corpse. It is a joke, typically Hitchcock, but typical of Hitchcock the jocose television-show host, rather than the film director who created things at once so funny and so disquieting as Robert Walker en famille in Strangers on a Train, or Anthony Perkins among those stuffed birds in Psycho. The corpse has been strangled with a necktie, the latest in a series of such murders, and in the following scene we are introduced to a desperate-looking man as he knots his necktie-a red herring, as it turns out, but a cheaply bought one, dependent as it is on our recognition of the link between the scenes as a cliche, and our anticipation of the next one. (The real red herring, in any case, is that, for all that’s made of the villain being the “Necktie Murderer,” nothing comes of this either in the way of the police solving the case or the film illuminating the mind of the killer.) And again, one thinks, how different from the way we are allowed to be misled by our own banal expectations in Psycho, so blinded by our preoccupation with some stolen money that we cannot see the point at which far more terrible matters come into play.
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