Stills from tests shot for Hitchcock's other FrenzyThe Frenzy That Hitchcock Didn't Make

In the mid-1960’s Alfred Hitchcock had reached a crisis point in his career, trying to bounce back from the failure of Torn Curtain with something different, an original screenplay which was eventually called Frenzy (and later Kaleidoscope). The unproduced project called Frenzy, which was to have been set in and around New York City, should not be confused with the 1972 film Hitchcock made in England. That Frenzy was adapted from Arthur La Bern's novel Goodbye Piccadilli, Farewell Leicester Square. Both stories involved a serial rapist-killer. But the original story Hitchcock developed through much of 1967 and early 1968 was something he had not tried before. From Sabotage onward, Hitchcock's villains had essentially fallen into two camps -- the suave, attractive anti-hero, and the vulnerable, sympathetic "mama's boys". With characters like Uncle Charlie, Bruno Anthony and Norman Bates, Hitchcock had given audiences a glimpse into the world of a psychopath or sociopath by allowing them to share the narrative with the protagonist. In his proposed Frenzy however, the story was to have been told completely from the point of view of a murderer who is both attractive and vulnerable.

It was a project that Hitchcock had been trying to get off the ground since late 1964, when Hitchcock’s longtime assistant, Peggy Robertson, began discussions with Gordon Molson, agent to Psycho-author Robert Bloch, to entice Bloch into writing the original story for Hitchcock. On October 23, 1964 Robertson indicated to Molson that Hitchcock had an idea for a feature, which he would like to give to Bloch, who would then write a book from which Hitchcock would purchase the film rights for $10,000. The following week, Molson replied that Bloch was interested, but that the offer was too low. At this point, Hitchcock’s agent, Herman Citron advised Robertson to offer Bloch an additional $5,000 should the picture be made, and advised Hitchcock to register the idea with the Writers Guild before actually meeting with Bloch. The idea as registered was as follows:

November 9, 1964
In 1942 Mr. Hitchcock made a film entitled "SHADOW OF A DOUBT". This dealt with the situation of an attractive man who had murdered a number of rich widows and, as a result, became a hunted man by the police. He ultimately took refuge at his sister's home in Santa Rosa, California, and the story development then took the line of his ultimate discovery by his favorite niece.

The story idea in which Mr. Hitchcock is interested is one which would cover the events prior to the beginning of the story told in "SHADOW OF A DOUBT". That is to say, the events surrounding the killing and disposal of these various women.

There is a certain amount of indicated source material in two famous English criminal cases:

(1) The case of Haigh, the acid bath murderer, who killed a number of people, including women, for personal gain; and disposed of their remains by immersing the bodies in baths of acid. Haigh, like the character in "SHADOW OF A DOUBT", was a very personable man and somewhat of a charmer which enabled him to gain the confidence of his female victims.

(2) The case of Christie - who was actually a necrophile. He murdered a number of women but instead of disposing of their bodies, he would hide them in various parts of the house... in cupboards, under floorboards, etc. Among these women was his own wife. The story naturally would not deal with such a sordid character as Christie, but perhaps one could look at the case of Neville Heath, who was an extremely attractive Royal Air Force officer, although his particular crimes would not exactly be photogenic.

To sum up: The basic idea would concern such a murderer, the story would indicate to the audience the nature of his character, but the suspense element would come from the principal female figure in the story who would be his victim.

After having the idea registered, negotiations between Robertson and Molson continued with Molson asking if Hitchcock would give Bloch five percent of the film’s gross over 5 million dollars, or pay Bloch fifty cents a copy for every copy of the book sold over 50,000, with the added request that Bloch would retain sequel rights to the book. Robertson knew that Hitchcock would never go for these demands, and said as much. By this time, Hitchcock had felt the whole deal with Bloch had gotten way out of proportion, and indicated that the project was merely a “modest idea” and that he was “willing to gamble a small sum for a small picture ... not an elaborate one.”

Hitchcock and Bloch finally met on November 20, 1964, and the writer was offered $20,000 if the film was made, and $5,000 if it was not made. By the end of the month, Bloch had apparently decided to take on the project as Hitchcock’s office had sent him The Trials of JG Haigh, The Trials of Evans & Christie, and The Trial of Neville Heath as research material. By December 3, a contract was drawn, but it appears that nothing was being done. By mid-January 1965, Molson had contacted Hitchcock’s office suggesting two of Bloch’s books, The Firebug and The Scarf, as movie ideas, and by mid-February it became clear that Bloch still hadn’t gotten a handle on the story or characters, and so the project was put off.

By late 1966, Hitchcock had taken up interest in the story yet again, and pitched it to his old friend Benn Levy, who had worked with Hitchcock previously on Blackmail and who had directed Lord Camber’s Ladies, which Hitchcock produced. Unlike Robert Bloch, who couldn’t get a handle on the characters or story, Levy sunk his teeth into it, and got back to Hitchcock right away with the following:

January 18, 1967

Dear Hitch,

It's got to be Heath, not Haigh. Told forwards the Heath story is a gift from heaven. You'd start with a "straight" romantic meeting, handsome young man, pretty girl. Maybe he rescues her from the wild molestations of a drunken escort. "I can't stand men who paw every girl they meet". Get us rooting for them both. He perhaps unhappily married and therefore a model of screen-hero restraint. She begins to find him irresistibly "just a little boy who can't cope with life" -- least of all with domestic problems such as he has described. She's sexually maternal with him, she'd give him anything -- and we're delighted. Presently a few of us get tiny stirrings of disquiet at the physical love-scenes but don't quite know why. By the time we see the climax of his love in action and her murder, then even the slowest of us get it! Be we shouldn't know till then.

Next, the disposal of the body sequence. And next -- which should be the most bloodcurdling scene in your entire career -- the mere encounter, preferably not in too dissimilar circumstances, with a second girl. And drag it out forever. Will she? Won't she? At first she seems increasingly drawn to him, then she seems to be backing out, maybe because a former boyfriend appears on the scene. But then they have a row (yes, about the recent murder story in the papers!!) "I bet she asked for it" He disagrees, they fight.) So she phones Heath, who meets her, dries her tears, is infinitely understanding and comforting, takes her off to the scene of the crime (as near as maybe), makes love to her and does her in.

The mechanism of discovery and capture is to be devised but it should still be "told forwards", i.e. more from the angle of the pursued than the pursuers. And at one point, if I know my Hitch, I don't doubt but that Heath with his maximum of charms will accost a police woman!

The ultimate irony of his psychoses of course is that he truly is "just a little boy who can't cope with life". "Little Boy" might be a nice title.

See you soon but give me a day or two. How's the smog?

Love, Benn

Hitchcock was of course thrilled with Levy’s approach to the material, and advised agent Mike Ludmer to engage him at once, so the two could begin story discussions. Within days a deal was closed for Levy to receive $ 75,000 for a story outline, including discussions with Hitchcock, a detailed treatment, a first draft script and a revised script. Even before Levy departed England for Hollywood, Hitchcock could not resist sharing his enthusiasm for the story:

February 7, 1967

Dear Benn,

Just a thought.

In the penultimate paragraph of the outline there is the sentence, "And, at one point, I don't doubt but that Heath, with his maximum of charms, will accost a policewoman!".

Actually, I think there's much more in this. Supposing that the third woman is a plant by the police so that you get the extreme suspense of watching the man fall into a trap - or does he fall? Supposing he nearly succeeds with the third woman, especially if he maneuvers her into some remote area which prohibits protective observation.

Bon Voyage.

In a very short time, Levy, working closely with Hitchcock, completed a treatment which was acutally more of a rough first draft script. The story revolved around a young man, Willie Cooper, his murder of two young women, and the means by which a woman police officer is set up as a decoy to catch him. The first victim, Caroline Varley, works for the United Nations, and is killed during the day in Central Park. Willie meets the second victim, Patti Landis, at a Manhattan art school, and naturally, great suspense is drawn out of when and how Willie might murder her. One of the important set pieces of the planned production, Patti’s murder was designed to occur at an abandoned shipyard.

The murder of Patti became known in the many notes and discussions about the project as the “Mothball Fleet” sequence. Hitchcock and Alma discussed the sequence at length, and the following excerpt from one of their discussions reveals how clearly Hitchcock visualized and planned every aspect of the sequence. The notes also reveal Alma’s influence, and concern that her husband should avoid repeating himself.

Tuesday, May 16, 1967
Notes Patti "Mothball Fleet" Sequence

I'm scared if we make it too horrific, we'll get too much criticism.


There's no limit to what we can do. Roughly the scheme is that Willie would attack and stab Patti. She would get away. She would get up the iron stairs (shoot through grills, etc.), so the shadows cross her body and we don't have too much nudity.) It must be different from the first murder, which we can't just strangle her. The question is in tackling so much detail, how far can we go without the audience coming out of the theater saying "It's too horrible, don't go." Of course, it could be a lesson - not a moral - a warning to girls not to sleep around."

This time we see her breaking away, and running away which is to get a variation on the static figures. Does he chase her up the stairs. Lets her go with a smile. She gets to the top of stairs, faints and falls down again. The trouble is, we'll show blood. How can we show the maximum effect and do something different - without being too horrifying and running into censorship problems? One aspect could be that he brings out his knife, and she could run away from him before he has touched her. She falls and is killed by the fall. Something hitting her head.

[Alma] - then there wouldn't be two murder charges against him.


[Alma] - when is he going to slash her?

Am afraid what disturbs me a little bit is if she gets away without being stabbed in any way, then he isn't involved, but if she is stabbed, then you've got a bloody figure. How about if she gets away, and he chases her upstairs and he kills her at the top of the stairs. We see her face and she falls to the deck. We can use the shadows and the light carefully so that we can get away with enough. We see the knife uplifted. Lots of inserts, rather like the shower sequence in PSYCHO.

There will be many dark shadows and corners. We should build this in the studio so we can control it. He's at the top of the stairs. We get an impression of the dead body on the deck. He lights a cigarette -- that is, the horror is on him. He hears voices -- he hurries down the stairs and picks up the body. Show him going down and picking it up. Shoot him carrying the body through the stairs so we don't see much of the body.

[Alma] - can we cut to the men so we don't see him picking up the body? How is he going to get rid of the body?

There aren't any means of wrapping it up. It's the splash that brings the two guards of the night patrol to the ship. The two guards can be way up the fleet. We can cross-cut with Willie putting the fire out. The fall should be the most horrifying part - more than the stabbing.

[Alma] - is it a repetition of PSYCHO?

No, because it will emerge spontaneously by her running away. He would realize that the fire could be a signal and say "We better put the fire out, or they'll see it on shore." Then he puts it out and she agrees. Then he says, "Let's get on with it." His hands go around her throat. She cries, "What on earth are you doing?" She breaks away and goes up the steps. He follows. Stabs her. She falls down and he gazes down. Voices are heard and he rushes to hide the body. He's already in the mood for killing, we know. It would only be a short run up the stairs. They wouldn't be any higher that this room (study). He catches her up top. We'd shoot a montage of heads, knife, hands, body, then she falls in big head. She hits her head on a thing enough to kill her. We have a moment for him in calm contemplation. This is the horror, not to mind the girl as attitude shows. Also, based on photos, we can construct a set with a grill on top, so that the moonlight streams through the top almost like zebra stripes. We can lay out an outline, bit by bit, of what happens. Actually we can mark the body with streaks but never go close on them. His pants are on, his fingers are on her throat. He goes downstairs, picks up his coat and puts it on. I suppose we don't dare have him put her clothes on her body? He doesn't care about covering her identity.

[Alma] - he doesn't know she will be discovered. which is best for us? does he know the men are coming, or not?

He tells her, "We'll put the fire out, because men on shore might see it. I just remembered." Do we play it -- he takes his time with the body and going upstairs - so we'll play it on an audience saying, "My god, is he going to get caught?" Isn't it more suspenseful to milk the situation so that only the audience know the men are coming - because for some inexplicable reason the audience are on the side of the criminal at this point. Like Tony in PSYCHO, putting the car in the swamp, then when it stopped the audience held their breath. Only when he hears the men saying, "Did you hear a splash?" They go on board, show them in a HIGH SHOT looking around. Cut to him going down the chain. It's rigid and wouldn't sway. We must milk the fact that there are so many ships, they don't know which one to search first. We want to see the men coming from HIGH, so we know that they have got a long way to go. If we shoot high up like that, we could put mirrors in their flashlights so the sun reflects in them as we're shooting day for night. The guards on shore can say, "There's smoke coming from one of the ships. It looks like number fourteen, down." Or whatever the correct terminology would be. Now Willie has to have the fire out by the time the men arrive at the boat. They see Willie's little boat, so they know somebody's here on board.

When he takes her out leaving New York and leaving the little country restaurant, is his mind made up that he's going to kill her?

[Alma] - yes. He knows she's got a boyfriend and he may not get another chance. He goes to a lot of trouble to get her in the engine room. He thinks the body won't be discovered for a long time. Maybe he shouldn't throw the body overboard. He'd put on his coat and take the body into the shadows. The "shadows of concealment", then he comes out. Now, we've lost the suspense. Maybe he goes along the corridors of the ship, cross-cut with the men coming and work it so that he comes out of a door and practically walks into their arms. He comes out of a door - he runs and hides. Maybe his feet make a noise, the men come running. They can't see him. Cut to him climbing down the anchor chain. They don't know which ship he's on. Maybe they think a gang of kids is around. (Maybe they hear a moan and a scream while they're on the ship. No, that's too clumsy. "All the smoke stacks are dead now, lets try 14, 15 and 16.") ...




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