Reviewed on 2011 July 18
This is Hitchcock’s nastiest movie, from the WTF BBQ opening to the extremely understated final words of dialogue. It’s one of those things you almost feel queasy for appreciating because it is so dark, but then again, it is Hitchcock.
After grabbing the attention of the audience with a body washing up on the banks of the Thames — during a speech about pollution no less — a man is shown having a bad day that is about to get exponentially worse. Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) can’t seem to get a break. We don’t know his story, but here’s a man with a patrician accent and a mention made of a past as a squadron leader, who gets fired from his job in a pub. It’s likely the owner was jealous of his better looks and relationship with co-worker Babs (Anna Massey), but the owner is adamant that Richard is pinching his booze, even though Babs insists he pays for his drams and puts his money in the till accordingly.
Richard has bad luck but he also has a temper, and this doesn’t help matters when it seems he’s going to lose more than his job. The body fished from the Thames is another victim of the Necktie Strangler, a psycho who caused almost as much of an uproar as Jack the Ripper, and to the men of Scotland Yard, Richard is the foremost suspect. Richard may not be an angel, but he’s no killer, and he wasn’t kidding when he said he had bad luck. The remainder of the movie is a cat and mouse game between the cops, an innocent man, and the real strangler.
In the hands of a lesser director, this would just be disgusting. Thanks to Hitchcock’s handling of the matter, it’s toned down to something we can deal with, albeit barely (that first murder still makes me wish with all my heart that the victim had an atomic cattle prod). It’s also the roughest ride of his movies. Not only are the crimes beyond horrible, but there are few things worse than telling the truth and having nobody believe you, and Sir Alfred knew it. For almost two hours you get to vicariously “enjoy” the sweaty-palmed misery of being the poor slob the cops are dying to hang.
Three chocolate morsels.