Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)
Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

London calling

On the Panorama of the European Film’s 10th anniversary, writes Nahed Nasr

The  Panorama of the European Film selected the British capital as the city of the Urban Lens, a section that was inaugurated last year with the aim of presenting one European city through its cinema. In cooperation with the British Council in Cairo, three films were screened: Jules Dassin’s 1950 film noir Night and the City, based on the eponymous novel by Gerald Kersh; Basil Dearden’s 1959 Sapphire, another crime film; and the 1972 Frenzy, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate film, based on the crime writer Arthur La Bern’s novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square

In Frenzy, Hitchcock – who has lived and worked in America since 1940 – celebrates not only his home town but also his British style. After Jamaica Inn (1939), the last film he made before leaving, Hitchcock had made only two other films in England: Under Capricorn in 1949 and Stage Fright in 1950. As much as setting, story and crew, Frenzy was a late return to his 1920s style and a breakaway from Hollywood restrictions. It opens in the middle of the story, with a bird’s eye view of London followed by a gathering of people listening to a politician give a speech by the Thames – where the naked body of a murdered young woman floats into view – a reference to The Lodger (1926-27), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The 39 Steps (1935). Inspired by La Bern, who also researched true crime, Hitchcock had Barry Foster, who played serial killer Bob, read books about Neville Heath, who killed two young women and was executed in London in October 1946. 

Hitchcock was driven to America in part by the dearth of dedicated film actors in Britain, but in Frenzy he employs stage actors again: besides Foster and Alec McCowen (the latter played the role of Richard Ian Blaney), Jon Finch, a well-known Shakespearean actor, and Billie Whitelaw, Samuel Beckett’s muse for whom he wrote his experimental plays (as the Chief Inspector and Hetty Porter, respectively). In Frenzy, in which he makes a cameo appearance wearing a bowler hat in the middle of a crowd (he also appears in the trailers), Hitchcock returns to the trope of an innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit, with the truth not revealed till the end of the film and the suspense deriving from the accused’s misadventures. Much of the film is set in Covent Garden, where Hitchcock – the son of a salesman at the market there, which was in its very last days when he made the film – spent much of his childhood.

But perhaps the most pronounced difference between Frenzy and Hollywood films is the nudity it contains; compared even to Psycho, in which he did his best to sidestep US censorship, the film makes extensive use of the relative freedom of European cinema since the 1960s. Frenzy, described as “Alfred Hitchcock’s last masterpiece” by the film critic Raymond Foery, won two of the seven awards for which it was nominated. These included four Golden Globes for best drama, best director, best screenplay by Anthony Shaffer and best original score by Ron Goodwin. 

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