Doubles in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972)

Alfred Hitchcock’s heroes and villains often share personality traits in order to more fully develop the individual characters. Having a double for a character lets you compare and contrast the two to help you understand their motivations and symbolism in the film. In Hitchcock’s film Frenzy, the protagonist, Richard Blaney, is mistaken for the Necktie Murderer–a serial killer on a frenzied killing spree in London. Deeper analysis shows that Blaney being mistaken for the murderer is more than a plot point; the mistaken accusation is a sign that the two are doubles for one another, which adds complexity to the meaning behind the film’s title, and makes the audience second guess who’s “frenzy” it refers to.

Hitchcock leads his audience into seeing similarities between the Necktie Murderer and Blaney to establish the actual murderer, Rusk, and Blaney as doubles for one another. Our introduction to Blaney is through a jump cut from the discovery of a murdered girl with a tie around her neck to Blaney putting on that same tie. The cut implicates Blaney before we know anything about him. More similarities arise when we see scenes with the real murderer. Rusk leads in to his murders with the line “you’re my kind of woman.” This is an especially interesting statement when we notice the two women we see him say this to are two women Blaney has been romantically involved with. Rusk’s sexual depravity is what makes him the serial rapist/murderer he is, so this shared interest in women seems to implicate Blaney of those desires as well. A less apparent symbol for Blaney and Rusk’s connection is in the opening titles when the camera soars through the Tower Bridge being raised. It is framed in such a way that, to me, it looks like two men with locked arms across from each other, where the sides of the road act as phallic symbols. It is almost as if the two were partners in sexual crime. This shared sexual deviancy the film gives Blaney and Rusk makes the hero and villain doubles for each other. The purpose of this often is to show how neither is lacking in guilt nor redeeming qualities. In fact, the villain, Rusk, is in many ways a better version of Blaney.

Despite their similarity of personality, Blaney is portrayed as less fortunate and less powerful than Rusk by the camera. Early in the movie, Rusk shouts out from a window down to Blaney, who was unable to bet on a winning horse. Their relative positions allows the camera to use a high-angle shot for Blaney and a low-angle shot for Rusk which elevates Rusk over Blaney. Rusk, until he reveals his “peculiarities,” is treated incredibly amiably by virtually all women, and it is recognized that he is “one for the birds.” He is able to get away with much more than Blaney because of his charm and reputation. Blaney comes under scrutiny when a description of him is released to the papers, and one character, Hetti, gives him no chance for redemption despite all the evidence pointing the blame away from him. Her introduction is through a voyeuristic zoom up to her on the balcony. Indicating that she is looking down over Blaney puts her in the power position, and him once again underneath the camera. Rusk is never put in this position, especially relative to a woman, because he is always the one in power until the very end when he is caught. Even one of the larger themes of the entire film, separate from the individual characters, empowers Rusk. That theme is the popularity of serial murder stories.

The people of London, the way this film portrays it, have a rose tinted view of murder, and a bit of an obsession with it. This puts Rusk, while still a hunted criminal, in a very popular position with so many people interested in the Necktie Murderer, which is starkly different from Blaney: a jobless, divorced, nobody. In the very beginning of the film, a large crowd gathers to hear a politician speak, but the camera tracks over to the water as the crowd rushes towards the Thames to look at the body of a dead woman someone spots floating in the water. This tracking shot brings the audience of the film into the crowd’s perspective and lets us feel the physical shift of attention towards the murder. Even the politician who was standing above the rest of the crowd becomes a part of the swarm gathering to look at the body. Throughout the film, there are people carrying and selling newspapers about the murders and people carrying and selling crates of fruit and other foods. A man in the bar Blaney visits describing the recent events as a “good, juicy series of sex murders.” The keyword “juicy” clarifies the motif of fruit in the movie: the fruit is meant to represent the fleshy corpses and juicy stories associated with popularized murders that everyone in London is carrying around and talking about. Rusk is literally in the very middle of that fruit-murder patch in town because of where he works during the day, and because of what he does in the night. When Blaney walks to Rusk’s place at work there is a large pan and crane across the fruit and vegetable market which serves to demonstrate the enormity of this obsession with murder in the town by showing how large the fruit market is with a slow pan. All of these people part of the hustle and bustle may not condone the actions of the Necktie Murderer, but they certainly revere him on some level. Rusk is a popular man who is empowered by this obsession with murder. Another trait of Rusk’s that makes him more “popular” is his friendly and extroverted personality.

There is a similar character to Rusk in the Hitchcock universe: Bruno Anthony from Strangers on a Train. Both characters have extroverted personalities that are seemingly contradictory to their homicidal tendencies. Both Bruno and Rusk have controlling mothers, a common similarity among Hitchcock’s murderers. Rusk explains his mother would make him “peel [her] a grape” and Bruno’s mother manicures his hands and picks things for him to wear. One defining feature we get a close up shot of is the tie clip Bruno wears with his name on it. Rusk similarly has a tie pin with an “R” on it, again with its own close up since it becomes a critical identifying feature for him. With such common elements between the two stranglers, it makes sense to compare their doubles, Guy Haines from Strangers on a Train and Blaney from Frenzy. Both Guy and Blaney have pent up aggression that leaks out expressionistically in Hitchock’s filming. Guy’s rage towards his wife is complimented with the roar of the train as it screams by when he is on the phone saying he could “strangle” his wife. Blaney’s rage is complimented visually with a close up of his hands squeezing the life out of the grapes he was given. This action is especially violent given the metaphor of fruit representing bodies or murders in the film. Both of these violent outbursts epitomize the doubling that goes on in the films, where both the hero and the villain in each film have frenzied bouts of rage, and a tendency to lean towards squeezing and suffocating as a means to kill. However, the relationship between the two main characters in Strangers on a Train is also about Bruno enacting the subconscious desires of Guy. This raises the question: is this a difference between the movies, or another connection between the two pairs of men?

Blaney has every reason to want the life Rusk has; with no power and freedom of his own, the sexual killings of the Necktie Murderer could very well Blaney’s fantasies. When Blaney goes to meet his ex-wife, an over the shoulder point-of-view shot shows us Blaney staring intently at his ex-wife’s neck when she leans over. This particular shot, paired with the accusation of their divorce being on grounds of “extreme cruelty,” paint Blaney as a violent offender. He claims the “extreme cruelty” in the divorce papers was merely a way to speed up the process, but this is never resolved or confirmed later in the film. I think it is entirely possible that subconsciously, Blaney’s jealousy over how well his ex-wife’s life is going could spout into a fit of rage and violence, that is enacted through Rusk’s rape and murder. This would explain the guilt Blaney seems to feel, which we see through his fear of being caught, despite his innocence. In Strangers on a Train, Guy feels guilt and is afraid of the police. As soon as he finds out what Bruno has done to his wife, he moves behind the gate to avoid the police’s gaze where the low key lighting casts shadows on his face. It looks like he puts himself “behind bars” in the sense that the shadows cast over him look like bars of a prison. Guy benefits from the murder, which leads to him feeling guilty for the part of him that wished that violence on his wife. Given the stark similarities between the two films, it is worth investigating whether or not Blaney’s guilt over Rusk’s murders is also because he had something to gain when they happened. Blaney does not garner any monetary or relationship benefit from the murder of his ex-wife but the jealous part of him, the part of him that, in a close up shot, stares predatorily at Ms. Blaney’s neck, must get a certain satisfaction out of her demise. However, Rusk’s murder of Barbara, Blaney’s new girlfriend, does him no good, subconscious or not. She was always supportive of Blaney and so this is where the comparison between the films shifts. Her murder is not about Blaney’s jealousy; it is about Rusk’s.

Blaney is not nearly as fortunate as Rusk in many ways, but his most enviable asset is Barbara: a supportive , spirited girlfriend. When Barbara storms out of the Globe pub, the zoom in to a close up of her face and the non-diegetic silencing of the outside noise cut her off from the outside world. Her expression and these film techniques communicate to the viewer that she has nowhere to turn to; in this moment we hear Rusk’s voice call out smoothly from behind her neck. Rusk finally has her alone, because she has nowhere else to turn to, and on the surface he seems harmless. Just as Blaney is plagued with bouts of jealousy, Rusk is too. Since they are doubles for one another it makes sense that both of them should have some longing for a piece of what their counterpart has. Blaney has every reason to be envious of Rusk’s financial comfort and luck. Likewise, Rusk must be somewhat envious of Blaney’s stable, supportive companion. The parallel to Strangers on a Train is apparent here as well. We feel Bruno’s vacancy of a loving family through a point of view shot of his where we overhear his father, just as he would, discuss how useless he thinks his son is. Compared to the loving and supportive family of Guy’s girlfriend, this home life is a nightmare for Bruno. Rusk, like Bruno, is reasonably jealous of the stability and consistent love his double gets from his girlfriend. Rusk attempts to fill this vacancy of his through his rape and murder of Barbara. The paired jealousy of the two men furthers the establishment that they are truly doubles for one another–like two sides of a coin.

This coin gets flipped in the end of the film when there is a shift between the two in terms of power. Blaney ascends the stairs to Rusk’s apartment with high-angle shots and close ups of his jittery hands holding a tire iron. These identify Blaney as the man we are familiar with throughout the rest of the film: shaky and less commanding than his double, Rusk. However, by the time he reaches the top of the stairs, his grip has strengthened. When he is inside Rusk’s bed he beats the corpse of Rusk’s most recent kill in the bed. Although she was already dead, he is still releasing pent up aggression through violence with a phallic object. Until now, this was something we only saw Rusk do with his ties. When Rusk is caught by the police officer, the last shot is a crate he was going to use to put the body in falling to the ground. This can be taken to mean Rusk was convicted and that case is his coffin falling into the ground. More importantly is that this shot is a high-angle, which previously only Blaney had. However, now their roles have flipped and Blaney is in the empowered position compared to Rusk.

Guy from Strangers on a Train and Blaney from Frenzy are both portraying the “average man.” Through their doubling with psychopaths, the villains in their respective films, Hitchcock is able to comment on a phenomenon he sees in society. Whether it is in Hitchcock’s expressionistic world, or the real world we live in, I think Hitchcock sees rage and violence pent up inside the “average man.” By holding characters like Guy and Blaney side by side with Bruno and Rusk, who are made so similar through Hitchcock’s filmmaking, it is easy to pick out the more sociopathic tendencies of the ordinary man. The ordinary men have some sort of longing, that causes this rage to build up, and their doubles, who have the same aggression, release this tension through murder in the films. Like in Blaney’s case, the ordinary man can even be driven to release his temper. However, Hitchcock also shows that this does not fill that void. Rusk in so many ways is more fortunate than Blaney, but this does not save him from the feelings of emptiness that cause his frenzy. The title of the film is not just about the serial murders. “Frenzy” refers to the frustration of unattainable desires that is inherent to all human beings: from sex murderers to ordinary Guys.

Originally written 12/9/14