Monday, August 13, 2012


I watched Alfred Hitchock’s Frenzy the other night: I reckon its one of his best. There are wonderful scenes in the old Covent Garden market, culminating in a horrifying ride in a truck, involving a dead, naked, (obviously) woman’s body in a sack of potatoes.  It does have one of those “let’s get this over with in the next 30 seconds” endings that Hitchcock is so fond of, but here it really works.

One of the oddest notes in the film involves the police detective (played by Alec McCowen) and his wife (Vivien Merchant.)  Merchant presents her “meat and potatoes” husband with ludicrously fancy French food.  The scenes are in fact pretty funny, and Merchant does play the wife as a pretentious fraud, but at bottom there is some kind of weary, philistine, xenophobic, joke about “foreign” food being foul and inedible, and perhaps also the suggestion that even to care about food at all is somehow effete and snobbish. 

Another mark of the wife’s pretension is that she serves up some madly inscrutable drink called (wait for it) a margarita, which is so wild and crazy that it features salt around the rim of the glass!  And some unheard of substance called tequila!  Now presumably Hitchcock had spent enough time in Hollywood to know all about tequila, but he makes the wife utterly pathetic by having her mispronounce it as “tay-kwee–ya,” which actually made me feel enormously fond of the poor woman, surrounded by these unsympathetic English boors.

Given Alfred Hitchcock’s size, I assume he must have had an intense, if not straightforwardly happy, relationship with food. There’s a famous story (which exists in multiple versions) that Hitchcock bet a man named Dickie Beville  (variously described as his assistant or his unit manager) that he (Beville) couldn’t spend the night alone on an empty movie set, the pace supposedly being unbearably scary at night, maybe even haunted.  Beville accepted Hitchcock’s bet.  Hitchcock then said he didn’t trust Beville, and to make sure he kept to the deal, he handcuffed him to a heavy camera tripod so he couldn’t run away in the middle of the night.  Beville grudgingly accepted this, and Hitchcock made nice by giving him sandwiches and a flask of coffee to get through the night. 

The coffee, of course, was laced with mighty laxatives, and Beville had quite a night of it, but I suppose he did win the bit.  Not the least interesting aspect of this story is that although there’s very little evidence for its literal truth, nobody who knew Hitchcock ever doubted that it happened.  Hitchcock may not have been a gourmet, but he does seem to have been something of a psycho.  Are we altogether surprised?

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