Synopsis: The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, creates a spellbinding portrait of a disturbed woman, and the man who tries to save her, in this unrelenting psychological thriller. ‘Tippi’ Hedren is Marnie, a compulsive thief and liar who goes to work for Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), then attempts to rob him. Mark impulsively marries the troubled beauty and attempts to discover the reasons for her obsessive behavior. When a terrible accident pushes his wife to the edge, Mark forces Marnie to confront her terrors and her past in a shattering, inescapable conclusion.
eyelights: Sean Connery’s screen magic. Diane Baker.
eyesores: Tippi Hedren’s blandness. the horrible rear screen projections. the weak character psychology. the choppy editing.
“You don’t love me. I’m just something you’ve caught! You think I’m some sort of animal you’ve trapped!”
‘Marnie’ is a motion picture by Alfred Hitchcock based on the 1961 novel by Winston Graham, and starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. Released in 1964, it was only a mild box office success and was plagued by middling reviews. It has since been reassessed, with some critics claiming that it might be the Master of Suspense’s last real masterpiece.
For me, ‘Marnie’ is the one Hitchcock film that I just can’t bear to watch. It’s not that it’s a bad motion picture, per se, but it bores me to death each time that I see it – and I’ve given it many a chance. One of the key problems with it is that it was sold as a suspenseful sex mystery when it’s in fact more of drama. A psychological drama, at that.
And it’s not that I have an issue with psychological drama (in fact, some of my favourite films tend to be cerebral and/or psychological), it’s just a question of expectations. If you go in to see a comedy, you want some laughs. If you go to see an action film, you want some action sequences. In a Hitchcock picture you want suspense. Unfortunately, there is little of it here.
To make matters worse, for a picture whose central premise is the exploration of criminal psychology, ‘Marnie’ makes pretty feeble attempts at it. Ooh… flashes of red trigger our heroine! What could that possibly mean? She also can’t bear the touch of men! I wonder what the root cause of this could be? And why does she lie and steal compulsively?
Could it all be rooted in her relationship with her mother? Hmmm…
I mean, seriously, anyone’s who’s paid attention to even the slightest pop psychology in the last 60 years can connect the dots in ‘Marnie’. And yet we’re forced to spend two hours picking the brain of this most unlikable character – because, to make matters worse, Marnie is anything but endearing; it’s hard to care for her or even pity her.
‘Marnie’ follows its titular anti-heroine from one successful robbery, through her home-life and onto her next big score. However, her plans get derailed when she is recognized by Mark Rutland, a client where she last worked, who watches her and proceeds to manipulate her into marriage – using the threat of turning her over to the authorities as leverage.
In the book, Marnie spends part of it visiting a psychiatrist, at her husband’s urging. For Hitch’s version, they blended Rutland and the psychiatrist into one character. The leap is quite a stretch: the guy is now a wealthy playboy businessman who decides to read about human psychology so that he can understand Marnie better, and help her.
Now, Sean Connery does a fantastic job of playing both sides of the character – he’s by far the most compelling reason to watch ‘Marnie’; he’s quite good, given the material. But when he and Marnie discuss the books he’s been reading (my favourite: ‘Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female’ – a likely title), it comes off as simplistic, easily discreditable.
Rutland is utterly fascinated -if not obsessed- with this woman, and the reason that is given us is that he’s primarily a zoologist: by virtue of his studies, he’s very much interested in predators, especially female ones (!). This compels him to study and try to understand what makes her tick – a pretty poor motivation given all the trouble she is.
After having watched ‘The Girl‘ and ‘The Birds‘, I couldn’t help but lift subtext from the dialogues in this picture. Mark’s assessment of Marnie suggested Hitch speaking about Hedren. The most blatant was at the beginning, when her former boss talks about her with newfound distrust. It was very interesting to hear this in light of Hitch’s relationship with Tippi.
Marnie is smart, very quick on her feet, and a damned good liar. When she’s confronted by people who think they recognize her from before, she doesn’t bat an eye one bit – she even feigns misunderstanding familiar names that they throw at her, repeating them back wrong. And yet, she gets into a panic when quizzed by Mark, tripping all over her lies.
While Connery smoulders, Hedren has no magnetism whatsoever. And her acting ability is tested beyond its means in many instances, the worst of which is when Marnie returns to a childlike state. Amusingly, when Louise Latham, who plays Marnie’s mother, responds to this twisted display with horror, I immediately think that she’s echoing my own disgust.
Sigh… amazingly, Connery is billed in second after Hedren.
As with ‘The Birds’, the technical side of the picture is weak. In particular, the rear projection used for when Marnie is riding a horse is absolutely dreadful. Then there’s her mother’s dockside home, which may even be worse: obviously shot in a studio instead of on location, the mock-up background doesn’t look real at all, lacking any depth. Brutal.
I suppose these can be written up as stylistic or contextually normal. But it’s impossible to overlook the ridiculous contrivances, the weak psychology and the fact that neither of our leads are appealing – for all his screen magic, Connery can’t make a louse (he !@#$ forces himself on Marnie while on their honeymoon) easy to digest.
Add to it a sluggish pace and ‘Marnie’ is nearly insufferable for me. How this could possibly be considered Hitchcock’ “last masterpiece” by some is mind-boggling. Admittedly, Hitch’s record became spotty at the end of his career, but I would easily watch ‘Topaz’, ‘Family Plot’, the massively under-rated ‘Frenzy’ or even the dull-as-nails ‘Torn Curtain’.
‘Psycho‘ was the Master of Suspense’s true last masterpiece, not this ponderous dud.
Date of viewing: December 6, 2014