US (1964) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Reuniting with Tippi Hedren after The Birds and recruiting Sean Connery fresh off the success of the first James Bond film Dr. No we find Hitchcock switching gears after his run of horror based film to present us with the this psychological drama, based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Winston Graham.
The titular character, Margaret “Marnie” Edgar (Hedren), is a pathological liar and thief, specialising in charming her way into secretarial jobs under a false name then stealing the company’s funds. She returns home to her lame mother Bernice (Louise Latham) who cannot hide her suspicions at how her daughter always comes into money yet remains single and always between jobs.
Soon Marnie is back on the prowl and her next target is the Rutland publishing company in Philadelphia, but Marnie doesn’t count on the owner, widower Mark Rutland (Connery) falling for her before she can commit the theft. Realising Marnie is a troubled woman Rutland marries her and vows to straighten her out, unaware of the long buried secrets he is about unearth.
Marnie seems to be one of the more polarising films among Hitchcock’s fans, between those who hate it and those who think is an underrated gem. As ever, yours truly risks more splinters by sitting on the fence – it is easy to see why it isn’t liked since it takes while to warm up and feels like every other melodrama of the period; conversely it tackles themes which were brave for the day and for the director himself marks something of a departure from the previous run of action thrillers.
In essence this is a love story but obviously not your conventional “boy meets girl” romance. In fact this one element is conspicuous by its absence throughout the entire film. There is no courting, flirting, or even surreptitious lustful glances from across the room – Mark just seems to find Marnie fascinating and, after catching her out before she can help herself to his money, he tells Marnie they are to marry, just like that!
The underlying tone is very dark because of this, made darker by how nothing is revealed about why Mark would be so charitable other than his attraction to Marnie. He is recently widowed and the memories of his late wife surround him in the form of her possessions. Marnie’s panic attack during a thunderstorm is the catalyst for Mark to take Marnie on as his pet project, a quick stolen kiss sealing their fate. Ironically Marnie’s Androphobia doesn’t register at all here but it becomes a prevalent theme in her damaged psyche along with her fear of the colour red.
In what is a sadly tacky piece of visualisation the screen turns red whenever Marnie encounters this colourful anathema of hers, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time. No prizes for what guessing this colour represents for Marnie, the first indicator coming when she a drop of red ink lands on her white blouse, sending her into paroxysms of sheer panic. Mark hires a private investigator to find out what the cause for this may be, uncovering an incident from her past Marnie has clearly suppressed from her memory.
Another rare miss for Hitch comes in a later scene when Marnie, a skilled horse rider (again her affinity for horses is undisclosed) goes off in a panic during a hunt and her horse equally loses control. The tension of an impending collision is handled well enough via point of view shots from Marnie’s perspective and the audience does find themselves feasting on their fingernails but the climax is extremely risible. While we must take into account the era this was made and the fact they didn’t want to harm the horse, the mistake was to shoot everything in close up, complete with Marnie’s terribly staged flight through the air. A wide shot using a stunt double would surely have been more effective and undoubtedly more practical too.
While the film is shown from Mark’s perspective it is concerned mostly with showing what hard work Marnie is because of her psychological struggles. This makes her a very difficult character to relate to and sympathise with – if indeed that is what is being asked of the audience. Perhaps it is this ambiguity of her character that has put fans off, since the usual female role in a Hitchcock film is the victim. Marnie is a break from this norm with her constant rejections of Mark and her brusque manner, but surely someone suffering so much mentally and emotionally practically demands sympathy?
The making of the film itself has an interesting history: Hitchcock wanted Grace Kelly to play the title role but her marriage and subsequent royal status in Monaco prevented her from acting again. the film was put on hold while Hitch made The Birds, during which time the role was highly sought after by many familiar and new names in Hollywood but he ended up offering the role to Hedren while filming The Birds.
As it turns out this was the right move as Hedren throws herself into the role and evokes all the right emotions as the trouble young woman. Breaking another Hitchcock standard by not always wearing make-up, Hedren physically gives herself over to the character making her into a fascinating enigma. Unfortunately her chemistry with Sean Connery just isn’t convincing at all, while the man himself shows none of the charisma he did prior to this as 007.
The 126-minute run time is a little excessive for the story being told and the undeveloped characters outside of Marnie and Mark are a weakness, but there is enough of Hitchcock’s trademarks in both the narrative and the presentation to still make Marnie worth a watch.