Friday, 24 February 2017

Noel Bjorndahl's Personal History of Film (7) - Encounters with Alfred Hitchcock - Seven - Rounding Things Out

In his farewell period, Hitchcock never again achieved the voltage level of the 1954-1964 decade. They are a patchy bunch of films, with occasional felicities that remind you that they are Hitchcock movies. Torn Curtain (1966) is another reworking of the spy thriller, with an East German Cold War setting, a pair of less than compelling leads in Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, one particularly grisly murder, excruciatingly detailed, and some cut-rate set designs. Frenzy (1972) is an odd return to Hitchcock’s English roots but easily his best work from this period. The plot contains some parallels with The Wrong Man; Barry Foster is in chilling form as the “necktie” murderer whose psychopathy is rooted in sexual dysfunction; the central rape/murder is very harrowing indeed; and one grisly set-piece involving a corpse in a sack of potatoes is vintage Hitchcock. Anna Massey is always welcome and Alec McCowen is a personable leading man as the policeman with yet another Hitchcock "mother" (the expressive, ill-fated Vivien Merchant). I’ve only seen it once, on its first release, and suspect that Topaz (1969) probably deserves re-evaluation. My memory of it is that it lacks a central focus; the fact that Hitchcock dallied with three separate endings may have been symptomatic of the film’s overall design. I do vividly recall the death of Karin Dor in a visually arresting spreading purple dress that gradually filled up the frame. In a film largely without the usual quota of Hitchcockian set-pieces, that sequence really lingered in the mind. Family Plot (1976) was entertaining, with good performances, but was low voltage stuff for Hitchcock and sadly not a fitting last hurrah for this giant of the medium. But the sum total of his overall achievement needs no further comment.

Editor's Note: This is the final note in a remarkable series of posts by veteran cinephile Noel Bjorndahl devoted to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. The other posts can be found by clicking on these links.

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