Marnie (1964)

2009 #6
Alfred Hitchcock | 125 mins | DVD | 15 / PG

MarnieMarnie is a film grounded in the field of psychoanalysis, though that word is never used and none of the characters are a therapist. Instead, it just concerns itself with a main character suffering under the strain of repressed childhood memories, though this isn’t revealed until the end. Unfortunately, psychoanalysis was only an emerging area at the time of production, and the price Marnie pays for being ahead of the pack in the mid ’60s is that it looks dated and inaccurate now.

For one thing, it’s slow paced. Not necessarily a bad thing, and here it does serve to gradually build some elements, but at times you wonder where it’s all going. Part of the problem is that much of the story’s first half is just a distraction from the main point, in which case I suppose it’s Hitchcock’s famous MacGuffin; but the changes between elements of crime, romance, family drama and internal struggle come across not as a measured part of a considered whole, but as a mishmash of genres. One might consider this a good thing, adding variety and complexity to the film, but as it merrily switches back and fore it doesn’t seem to fulfill any genre to its full potential.

That isn’t to say Marnie is meritless. Plot-wise, the central mystery does get more intriguing as it goes on and the whole film gets better with it. It’s not just that it becomes a more interesting story, but almost every scene is more engaging, better written, acted and directed. Also, without a single frame of grinding, moaning, kicking or screaming, it contains one of the most sinister (suggested) sex scenes in the movies, thanks to the combined skills of Hitchcock and his two stars.

In the title role, a lot is asked of Tippi Hedren — a lot more than she had to manage in The Birds the year before — but she rises to the occasion, most of the time. It’s through no fault of hers that Marnie’s aversion to red is overplayed, especially as it’s the picture constantly fading through red that almost pushes it to the point of amusement. This is again a problem of being one of the first to try to film an entirely internal struggle. In the other lead role is Sean Connery, just two years after he created James Bond on screen, and here he plays a smooth playboy-esque character with a fondness for women and a tendency to violent outbursts. Not straying too far afield then, but he fits the role like a glove.

In this DVD age, I’d also like to point out that the film’s trailer is truly fantastic. Narrated by Hitchcock, he merrily takes the mick out of his own movie for several minutes. It’s a slice of joyous irreverence that makes you wish he’d brought some of it to the actual film, and wonder what would happen if a film was advertised with such a tonally incongruous trail today.

Trailer aside, Marnie is sub-par Hitchcock, but even then his considerable skill coaxes it to greater heights than many — perhaps any — other director could have achieved with the basic material.

3 out of 5

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