The first of two films Hitchcock made in the 1970’s, this film is a horror as much as it’s a thriller, as it combines the classic formula of an innocent man on the run with a repulsive serial killer terrorizing London. This film was a return to Hitchcock’s roots in more ways than one, as not only was its theme more conventional compared to more political films (Topaz and Torn Curtain) from the late 60’s, but it also was shot in the Covent Garden of London where his father worked as a vegetable dealer during his childhood. It is by no mistake that Hitchcock makes the modest life in London look poetically charming, a notable achievement considering there’s a man walking the streets raping and killing women known as the necktie strangler.
That man is the unassuming fruit merchant played by Barry Foster, who puts forth an extraordinarily petrifying performance while framing his uninvolved and down on his luck friend portrayed by Jon Finch. The latter becomes our fugitive who thanks to reluctant friends and a puzzled detective is able to proclaim his innocence, but only after a series of other monstrosities committed by Foster, one that is as grisly and appalling as anything you’ll ever see on the screen. That particular scene involves Foster and Finch’s ex-wife played by Barbara Leigh Hunt, and for my money it only rivals Psycho’s shower scene for the most gruesome murder Hitchcock ever filmed. There are many other scenes throughout the film that are memorable, including a bumpy ride on a potato truck, a series of gourmet dishes that would make you die for a hamburger, and a final scene in which Foster and Finch come face to face emphasizing that one of them is “missing their necktie.” It should also be noted that this is the only Hitchcock film that included nudity, a rather incidental yet still relevant observation as it leaves you to wonder how he would have made films in today’s climate without all the censors that constrained him throughout his career. Nevertheless for Hitchcock to make this film in 1972 is a monumental achievement in itself, as it gives him at least one classic film for every decade of his fifty year career.