An unsettling film from Hitchcock’s late period, which was his most fetishistic and hermetic, and included “The Birds,” “Frenzy,” and “Topaz.” “Marnie” begins very strong with the titular kleptomaniac (Tippi Hedren) strutting away from us down a railway platform with something under her arm. Then we smash cut to her employer going on about how she just robbed him. When asked to describe her, he goes into great, lusty, nearly sweaty detail about what a beauty she is (to the snickering amusement of the police).
But our man-hating, compulsive liar is more pathological than malevolent, and things turn really weird when her new boss (a young and criminally handsome Sean Connery) begins to court her. When he catches her in the act, he reveals that he knew who she was all along, and instead of sending her to the police, blackmails her into marrying him! We wonder who’s crazier: Hedren’s thief or Connery’s sadist, who treats her like a fascinating lab rat to be probed and “solved.”
Hedren is blonde (duh) and grey-suited, and Connery is an obsessive, rich man with big offices; it’s like a riff on “Vertigo” in which both characters are Jimmy Stewart, and Connery has some of “Vertigo’s” villain thrown in as well. There are also shades “Spellbound,” but “Marnie” lacks that film’s momentum because the lovers are never on the run.
“Marnie” loses some steam in the seventh inning when Connery becomes more of a strong, good man out to cure the weak, crazy woman. (We can sense the movie would be stronger if Hitchcock were willing to stray from the moral conventions that guided so many of his hits in the ‘40s and ‘50s. He sure seems to want to, if the jerk hero of “Frenzy,” the moral indifference of “Topaz,” and the nihilism of “The Birds” are any indication.) Connery still breaks the law for Marnie and bribes her former boss, but it’s not the same.
In good ol’ mid-century Hollywood style, recognizing the source of a mental disturbance is nine-tenths of the cure. “Marnie” is exposition-heavy throughout and the explanation with mama at the end is reminiscent of the too-much explanation at the end of “Psycho;” I find it easier to forgive “Psycho’s” explain-it-all scene because the movie needs some calm after so much build-up, and because it’s such a good piece of one-man theatre.
So “Marnie’s” not perfect, but she’s worth seeing for isolated scenes of weirdness and intensity; late Hitchcock really does go straight into 1970s De Palma. Hitchcock is, as always, more interested in the “realness” of individual things – a phallic obsession with keys, how a revolver should be held, how someone should move or do her hair – than with reality in plotting. Because he’s obsessed with the “stuff” of life and the world, and not its abstractions, it’s always more creepy when his worlds turn on their occupants.
Finished Thursday, July 19th, 2007
Copyright © 2007 Friday & Saturday Night
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