Frenzy (1972)

Frenzy is set in London, and Barry Foster plays Robert Rusk, a man who rapes women and then strangles them with a necktie. Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) is in charge of the case, assisted by Sergeant Spearman (Michael Bates).  At one point during the movie, Oxford tells Spearman that when they catch up with the necktie strangler, it will probably turn out that he is impotent. Spearman expresses surprise, and rightly so, for this is a bizarre claim. A man who is impotent cannot get an erection, and therefore is incapable of having sexual intercourse. Therefore, if the necktie strangler were impotent, there would be no semen in the vaginas of his victims. Since all his victims were murdered and thus could not give evidence, there would be no reason to think they had been raped. Inspector Oxford does not address that question, but simply tells Sergeant Spearman that it is not sex that gratifies such rapists, but violence.

When Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh Hunt) is raped and strangled with a necktie, suspicion falls on her ex-husband Richard Blaney (Jon Finch).  Because the Blaneys never had any children, Inspector Oxford probably took that as confirmation of his impotence theory, although he never says so explicitly.  In fact, he might have even thought that was why they divorced, because Brenda was sexually frustrated by having a husband who could not get it up.  In any event, Richard Blaney is eventually convicted of the crime.  He breaks out of prison to get revenge on Rusk, who Blaney knows is the real necktie strangler.  All turns out well in the end when Inspector Oxford catches Rusk with another one of those women whom he impotently raped in his room.

Several years prior to the production of this movie, it became fashionable to say that rape was not about sex, and some people maintain that theory to this day. It is said that rape is really about power, about dominating women. Even if it is so that rape has some motive other than sex, there still has to be a rape, and that means that the rapist cannot be impotent, regardless of what his motive might be. If we bend over backwards to make sense of Oxford’s claim, we might say that the rapist is able to penetrate, but cannot achieve completion, cannot ejaculate. But that would mean no semen in the vagina, which brings us right back to the question, what would make the police think the women had been raped?

Oxford speaks with an authoritative voice in the movie, and so we know we are supposed to believe him. But aside from squaring impotence with rape, there is the incongruity between his words and the rape that took place in the movie thirty minutes before, when we see Rusk raping Brenda. In the history of mainstream cinema, no movie, made before or since, has depicted sex, consensual or coerced, in which anyone, male or female, experiences greater heights of sexual ecstasy than does that of the necktie strangler in Frenzy.

What is remarkable about this movie is that in discussing it with others, I have noticed that a lot of people accept the pronouncements of the detective, notwithstanding their apparent inconsistency with the rape scene. This is in part due to the authoritative voice of the detective, and in part due to the widespread acceptance of the rape-is-not-about-sex theory at that time. I have seen people twist themselves into a pretzel trying to argue that the rapist never really got it up, let alone gratified himself sexually.

Alfred Hitchcock directed this movie, and I suspect that this was his idea of a joke. He purposely put this contradiction into the movie between the words of the pompous detective and the scene of intense sexual passion, as his way of making fun of that theory.

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