• "Another Necktie Murder!" scream the headlines, as we settle down on the edge of our seat to watch FRENZY, the latest thriller from the old master, Alfred Hitchcock. This one is a chilling tale about a psychopath who rapes his victims, then strangles them with neckties. Thanks to Hitchcock's direction, the movie succeeds in grabbing the audience by the throat, too. The identity of the strangler is revealed early in the picture; the suspense lies in watching the police hunt the wrong man, surrounded by an ever-tightening web of circumstantial evidence, while the real murderer continues to claim victims. There is more nudity and graphic violence here than in previous Hitchock films, but neither is excessive by today's standards, Anthony Shaffer's screenplay, aside from revealing several fascinating plot twists, provides the audience with a generous sampling of witty, droll British humor. Most of the action takes place in London, so Hitchcock has assembled a fine cast of British stage actors for the principal roles. Especially good are Jon Finch as an unemployed bartender on a run of bad luck; Barry Foster as Finch's "best friend," who has a trick or two up his sleeve; Anna Massey as his girlfriend; and Billie Whitelaw as his unwilling helper who "doesn't want to get involved." A diverse group of eccentrics and stalwart police inspectors round out the picture nicely. FRENZY is one of Hitchcock's finest films, and I recommend it highly. Rated "R".
• Despite its freaky title, DUCK, YOU SUCKER, is a very unfreaky movie about two fictional "heroes" of the 1911 Mexican revolution, and how they achieved that distinction. Rod Steiger (who seemingly can play any kind of role) is thoroughly believable as a Mexican bandit who accidentally frees several hundred political prisoners while attempting to rob a bank, James Coburn gives a highly stylized performance, and achieves some depth, as Steiger's unlikely partner, a refugee Irish revolutionary who is fond of blowing things up (hence the movie's title). Some spectacular effects are achieved as Coburn's skills are employed in dynamiting a bank vault, a bridge, a stagecoach, a train and assorted military regiments. The whole affair is handled with a colorful, larger-than-life flair reminiscent of old-time swashbucklers.
Unfortunately, the film also has a few strikes against it, chief of which is its excessive 2-hour, 18-minute length. Several times the plot slows down to a snail's pace, and the addition of several interminable slow-motion flashbacks doesn't help matters any. A good editor could cut half an hour from the film and improve its appeal considerably. The other major handicap is the gratuitous intrusion of bad taste. Remember the early westerns, in which the villains always wore black hats? In this movie, the villains are equally easy to spot; they are shown eating with their mouths open, or brushing their teeth, in glorious color and detailed close-up. Such scenes do not improve one's appetite for popcorn. The use of such devices evokes hostility, not only towards the villains, but also toward the director, Sergio Leone, for diminishing the appeal of an otherwise good movie with such cheap tricks. Rated "PG".
• Clint Eastwood fans may be somewhat disappointed with his latest movie, JOE KIDD. It's a western, and well-designed, but it lacks the heroic spirit of many of his recent films, Eastwood is portrayed as a village roughneck who becomes involved in a war between cattle barons and Mexican settlers, and winds up on the wrong side. He finally straightens things out (using some rather unorthodox methods), but not before a host of cliches and improbabilities have overwhelmed the plot. Eastwood's ambivalent characterization is only one of the film's weaknesses. The basic problem is that the movie fails to strike any emotional sparks. None of the characters appear to relate to one another except on the most superficial level. At times, the film seems to take on the flavor of an existentialist play. The stark, barren western landscape becomes a mere backdrop; the players enter, fulfill their assigned roles, and depart. Nowhere is there a glimpse of "normal life," some frame of reference from which to evaluate the proceedings. Clint Eastwood can do a superlative job of playing the self-contained loner, but only when the people around him are well enough defined to shed some light on his character and motives. In JOE KIDD, the supporting players themselves are too abstract and ill-defined to be of much assistance here. The result is a somewhat cold, somewhat detached western, with some satisfying moments, but without enough emotional content to get the audience involved. Rated. "PG".
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".