Three late period Alfred Hitchcock movies, and few would argue against the notion that the films included in this DVD set don't showcase the `Master of Suspense' at his best.
Torn Curtain (1966) boasts considerable star power from Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, and a reasonably interesting plot, but this `behind the Iron Curtain' adventure is tough going from the outset. Overlong at 128 minutes and largely devoid of the thrilling set pieces that mark out Hitchcock's most beloved films, this effort (like his next movie, the below-par espionage thriller Topaz) makes the great director look old-fashioned, especially when compared to such other excellent 1960s' spy movies as The Ipcress File. Newman isn't bad but his performance lacks the easy charisma that he generally brought to his better roles (though admittedly, his character here is something of a strung-out coldfish), whilst Andrews is totally miscast in a part that is screaming out for the hot-wired sex appeal of an Ann-Margret to liven the film up. Apart from the famously realistic sequence in which Newman and a female accomplice beat a KGB snoop to death, there isn't much in the movie to hold the audience's attention.
Weaker still is the earlier Marnie (1964), featuring Sean Connery, in one of his first starring roles away from the James Bond franchise, as a wealthy playboy and total sleaze bag who blackmails thieving drifter `Tippi' Hedren into marriage. Lacking a central character with which the audience can sympathise, this misfire comes across as overwrought, over-cooked, and again overlong (130 minutes). A less-than-compelling mystery that climaxes with a underwhelming and clichéd final resolution, and even finds a typically seedy role for one of my least favourite actors, Bruce Dern, this isn't a film I'll be watching again in a hurry.
Bringing up the rear is Frenzy, Hitchcock's penultimate movie, and by far his most graphically unpleasant. Made in 1972, when the director was finally able to get away with showing the kind of sexual violence that, say, Psycho could only hint at, this London-set effort isn't particularly well-regarded by the director's biggest fans, and because of the atrocious fashions and terrible hairstyles, it has dated far more than some of his more famous movies. The story concerns the hunt for the mad `Necktie Murderer'; after his estranged wife ends up as one of the killer's victims, suspicion falls on ex-RAF officer Jon Finch, and whilst he tries to prove his innocence, the murders continue, committed by Barry Foster's deranged greengrocer. The main problem with Frenzy, like Marnie, is its lack of an appealing central character. Whilst Finch's protagonist is clearly not the killer, his portrayal is of such a bad-tempered, self-pitying loser that the audience never really identifies with him or sides with him. By contrast, Foster's psychopath is so cunning and relaxed that most viewers will probably be left wondering exactly who they are supposed to be rooting for. The lack of a star `name' in the lead role is also a problem; Hitchcock evidently enjoyed working with some of the movie world's biggest stars, and many of his greatest films feature leading Hollywood actors giving arguably their best performances. By contrast, Frenzy (just like the flaccid Topaz) suffers somewhat by not giving the audience a face they can connect with when the film starts to drift. Apparently, Hitchcock's first choice to play Frenzy's murderous villain was Michael Caine, who turned the film down. Whilst the part probably wouldn't have fit with Caine's established persona at the time, it is interesting to note that a decade later, when his box-office drawing power was considerably weaker, he didn't hesitate to take the role of an even more disturbed maniac in Brian DePalma's Dressed to Kill. By no means one of Hitchcock's best, but of all the movies he directed in the years that followed 1963's The Birds, Frenzy must rate as the most satisfying thing he made. It's certainly the pick of this mixed bag of a triple bill.