Saturday, September 15, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock's dirty postcard from London

I never get tired of watching Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy because it's a precious memento of London before Style. It was made in 1972 when the old fruit market was still in Covent Garden and barristers in morning dress discuss "sex murders" with unseemly relish over pints of bitter and shepherd's pie in Nell Of Old Drury. Jon Finch plays a boozy ex-RAF officer whose estranged wife runs a dating agency in one of those little rookeries that used to lead off Oxford Street. She takes him to dinner at her club where middle-aged ladies in hats are served by other ladies in bombazine. The police drive Rover 2000s and tuck into full English breakfasts. When Finch takes Anna Massey to the Coburg Hotel they have to check in as Mr and Mrs Oscar Wilde and the hall porter asks if he wants "anything from the pharmacy". Nobody in the film seems young, which simply wouldn't be allowed nowadays.

It opens with a helicopter shot coming up the river from the east, ducking under Tower Bridge and then swooping through the smoke left by a tugboat crossing the Thames. Tugboats! Smoke! It climaxes with a struggle in the back of a lorryload of potatoes. Hitchcock never made a seedier film but then he never made a film that had a more precise sense of place. At the time he made it he hadn't lived or worked here for thirty years but he still had a vision of London. There isn't a glimpse of the swinging city that everybody else was busy putting on film round about the same time. Maybe he just ignored all that and made the film that was in his head. I'm very glad he did.


  1. To my chagrin, I've never seen it David: I will now track it down. You've no doubt seen James Mason's London?

  2. Barry Foster's ''Luvleee!'' still gives me the creeps.

    Agreed John; The London Nobody Knows is a sobering corrective of the myth of Swinging London. Fascinating too to think that many of the aged people that appear are ,essentially, Victorians.

  3. One of the murders in the film was carried out in a room above Duckworth's music publishers in Covent Garden's Henrietta Street. You can see the brass name plate as Bob Rusk leaves the building and the eerie silence of the murder scene slowly turns into the market hubbub. Duckworth's is still there today.

  4. Funny thing about that, Stuart, is that he says "my place is on the second floor", but then they go up to the first, which may have been changed for audiences in America where the ground floor is often called the first. Similar with "the neck tie murders". Nobody in the UK calls them neck ties.

  5. Funny how critical reputations change. 'Frenzy' used to be seen as Hitch peddling a fake vision of the city that hadn't existed since he left it. One that was as unreal as Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent.

    We had a trendy young substitute English teacher for a term at school who showed us a lot of movies which we would have deep discussions about afterwards. This was one of them believe it or not, along with "If"