Here's an example of one of our shorter write-ups in the book. These start with "Now Showing" information and a seventy-character "Preview" (always exactly seventy characters). Then come the essay's title and a 400-word discussion, followed by an "Added Attraction" that supplements the main movie with some extra list or further analysis.
NOW SHOWING: Frenzy (June 1972)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Alec McCowen
Academy Awards: None
PREVIEW: A Londoner being hunted as a serial killer hides out as he looks for the true culprit.
MASTER FEAST: FRENZY
After ending the 1960s with the underwhelming Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969), Alfred Hitchcock stepped boldly into the 1970s with Frenzy (1972). Like North by Northwest (1959) and other Hitchcock classics, Frenzy shows an innocent man trying to wriggle free of false accusations (wriggling, naturally, only worsens his situation). Frenzy removes the international espionage of Hitchcock's previous two movies and focuses instead on British serial killings. It's not a byzantine story twisting with red herrings: the inspector's dippy wife intuitively solves the case, and the movie abruptly ends without a chase or complications. Nevertheless, Hitchcock's cinematic storytelling is so delicious that audiences and critics ate it up.
"Ate it up" is appropriate here, because food is frequently present. The charming killer, who's revealed early, is named after food, is introduced eating, and owns a fruit shop. In the one brutal murder we actually witness, he eats immediately before and after his awful crime (his victim is having lunch). Later, he hides a body among potato sacks. Scenes in pubs, at breakfast, and, in a recurring joke, at a dinner table where inedible meals are served almost make this movie Feeding Frenzy.
In some ways, Frenzy is an unusual Hitchcock movie. For one thing, it's R-rated. The seventy-three-year old director takes advantage of the decade's new permissions to show nude women and corpses (starting with the first scene, as if announcing his intentions). In addition, Frenzy lacks the famous names that energize Hitchcock's more glamorous movies. From 1958 to 1966 he cast high-powered legends like James Stewart, Cary Grant, Sean Connery, and Paul Newman; Frenzy's leads are Jon Finch and Barry Foster, two skilled actors but not luminous stars (imagine the wattage if dynamos like Michael Caine or Anthony Hopkins had lit up this movie).
While Frenzy may be different for Hitchcock, it still has the master's virtuoso touch. Sixty-five minutes in, Hitchcock lets the killer's repeated declaration, "You're my type of woman," indicate what's about to occur behind closed doors. The camera then slowly retreats down the stairs, to the sidewalk, and across the street, building suspense and sadness for a full minute. Later, a thrilling hunt for evidence in the back of a moving truck is punctuated with Hitchcock's morbid humor. Entertaining stuff, that. Frenzy isn't great, but good Hitchcock is better than no Hitchcock at all.
ADDED ATTRACTION: Go Direct Yourself, Part One
As with other Alfred Hitchcock movies, Frenzy includes a brief appearance by Hitchcock himself (see below). Here are 1970-1972 movies in which directors gave themselves cameos. We're not including leading roles, like when Woody Allen starred in his own movies. For director cameos in 1973-1974 movies, see the entry for Charley Varrick (1973).
• Boxcar Bertha (1972): Martin Scorsese, asking to stay in a whorehouse.
• Drive, He Said (1971): Jack Nicholson, bearded and seen twice in the induction center.
• Frenzy (1972): Alfred Hitchcock, standing by the river in two different shots.
• Harold and Maude (1971): Hal Ashby, standing between the leads inside the seaside arcade.
• The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972): John Huston, fur-covered Grizzly Adams.
• The Landlord (1970): Hal Ashby, the groom in the opening shot.
• Minnie and Moskowitz (1971): John Cassavetes, Minnie's violent lover.
• Shaft (1971): Gordon Parks, the Harlem landlord.
• Watermelon Man (1970): Melvin Van Peebles, the painter lettering the insurance-office door.
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