Golden Anniversaries: Films of 1972 is a year-long Cinema St. Louis event examining 14 films that are celebrating their 50th anniversary. Films will screen monthly on Saturday afternoons from April through October, with three additional screenings during the 31st Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival in November.
Alfred Hitchcock's' Frenzy will screen on Saturday, August 20 at 1:30 p.m. at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library auditorium. Chris King — former editor the St. Louis American and director of the Poetry Scores films "Blind Cat Black" and "Go South for Animal Index" — will provide introductory remarks and lead a post-screening discussion.
As a supplement to the discussion, The Lens presents a preview of the film by King.
By Chris King
1972 / UK / 116 min. / Dir. by Alfred Hitchcock / Opened theatrically in the U.S. on June 12, 1972
When Cinema St. Louis asked me to pick a film released in 1972 to introduce as part of a series of screenings in 2022 to observe the films' 50-year anniversary, I wondered what movie Alfred Hitchcock released that year. I am a big fan of Hitchcock's later films that are typically dismissed as among his weakest, such as Torn Curtain and Topaz.
It turns out it was Frenzy that Hitchcock released in 1972, a film I had never seen, but I picked it sight unseen. I knew I could find something to say about any Hitchcock film, even if I didn't like it, though I expected that I would love Frenzy — as, in fact, I did, when I checked it out of the library.
Speaking of the library, Cinema St. Louis will screen Frenzy at the Central Branch Library, 1301 Olive St. in downtown St. Louis, at 1:30 pm on Saturday, August 20. I will introduce the film and lead a conversation about it afterwards. All the screenings in this Golden Anniversaries series are free and require no tickets. Here are some of the things we'll have to talk about:
Frenzy was Alfred Hitchcock's 52nd and second-to-last film. It was the first film he shot entirely in London since he left the city of his youth and first success at age 39. Hitchcock turned 72 on August 14, 1971, not quite three weeks into the 13-week production schedule for Frenzy. One might imagine it was a heady and nostalgic experience for Hitchcock to be back at work on his home streets, though when François Truffaut asked him what it was like shooting in London again after all those years in Los Angeles, Hitchcock said, "A coal mine is a coal mine."
Frenzy is a stand-alone movie in the Hitchcock canon in many respects. It was the only film he made from an Anthony Shaffer screenplay or with a Ron Goodwin score. Its brilliant ensemble cast was led by stellar London stage and screen actors - Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Alec McCowen, Vivien Merchant, Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt - who appear in no other Hitchcock film.
Though all of their remarkable contributions now feel indispensable to Frenzy, it's fascinating to contemplate the talent that Hitchcock tried to contract for the film but - as an aging director coming off a string of unpopular films - he failed to attach to the project. Most tantalizing and incredible, Hitchcock wrote directly to Vladimir Nabokov, who had been made world-notorious by his 1955 novel Lolita, asking him to write the screenplay for Frenzy. Nabokov, who was born just a few months before Hitchcock in 1899, was then living in Montreux, Switzerland. He declined the offer, saying he had plenty of his own work to do in whatever years he had left ahead of him. Nabokov would instead use his time to complete the now mostly forgotten Transparent Things (1972), his penultimate novel published in his lifetime, just as Frenzy would be Hitchcock's second-to-last film.
Thinking about David Lodge's novel Author, Author that imaginatively recreates the magisterial novelist Henry James' foray into the hurly and burly of writing for the stage, which actually did happen, one can only wish that Lodge would turn his pen to imagining what a collaboration between the 72-year-old Hitchcock and the 72-year-old Nabokov would have looked like. It's tempting to imagine that a close collaboration between the two aged geniuses, both accustomed to near-total artistic control, moving back and forth between Montreux and Los Angeles and London, would have ended badly, if not catastrophically, and possibly even homicidally.
The ensemble cast of Frenzy would have been dominated by a film star had Hitchcock had his way. He met with Michael Caine to woo him to the cast, but Caine declined; instead, he would go on to co-star opposite Lawrence Olivier in Sleuth (1972), which was based on a play by Anthony Shaffer, who also would finally write the screenplay for Frenzy. Caine would later explain his refusal by saying he would never play a sadistic woman strangler, the role Hitchcock first offered him. However, Hitchcock also offered Caine the role of the other main character, who has no blood on his hands, and 10 years later in Deathtrap (1982) Caine would play a writer who schemes to kill his wife and then his lover and accomplice. Hitchcock never forgave Caine for turning him down.
Frenzy had its official premiere at Cannes on May 19, 1972, though Hitchcock had publicly screened it twice before: on April 27 for Arthur Knight's film students at USC and then to an audience aboard the ocean liner Michelangelo during his May 6-15 steam from New York to France. Its London premiere was on May 25, its commercial release on June 21, and it opened in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles on June 28.
Frenzy was mostly hailed as a return to form for Hitchcock, who had been struggling to please both critics and audiences, and it made a lot of money. At the end of 1972, Frenzy had grossed $12.6 million, placing it at #22 for best-selling films of the year. The Godfather took the #1 spot with almost $135 million in receipts. It may have galled Hitchcock that Sleuth, which Caine had chosen over his picture, made slightly more money than Frenzy and placed just above it at #21 on the box office charts.
One wonders what Hitchcock thought of the film that finished at #4 at the box office for 1972, grossing $50 million, or the fact that it made four times the money that Frenzy made. That $50 million movie, shot on a budget of less than $50,000 and starring an unknown 23-year-old woman from Long Island named Linda Boreman — which pointed to a very different kind of future for filmed entertainment — was Deep Throat.