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Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Edition Vol. 11: Hitch's loopy Sean Connery thriller - misstep or misunderstood masterpiece....?
Universal / 130 Minutes / 1964 / Unrated / Street Date: October 30, 2012
[As preparation for our comprehensive review of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, we're investing each of that massive Blu-ray sets films one by one chronologically. If you missed them, check out our reviews of Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho. and The Birds.]
Marnie opens with a shot of the title character (Tippi Hedren) carrying a case that we later find out contains $10,000 she has just stolen from her employer. Soon a client named Mark (Sean Connery) is informed that the office was robbed by a woman, who he faintly remembers. Marnie goes home to her mother to embark on finding a new job, but it is soon clear that their relationship is less than stellar. Unfortunately for her she applies at a firm owned by Mark, who thinks he recognizes her but nevertheless keeps quiet. She is hired, and soon she is plotting another theft. Complicating matters are her psychological disturbances, which arise whenever she sees an intensely red object...
Marnie marks the last of a trilogy of psychological dramas Hitchcock made during his Hollywood period. Spellbound, Vertigo, and Marnie are not formally connected, but they do involve main characters who experience severe psychological problems. Unfortunately, Marnie is the least successful of the three. While it is a solid effort from Hitchcock, it still marks a downturn in his oeuvre that would last until he returned to England and made the classic Frenzy. At times Hitchcock infuses Marnie with the brilliance audiences and critics had come to expect, but it never manages to rise above a psychological gimmick that is not very compelling and a story that drags on far too long.
Strangely the book from which Marnie was adapted contains a psychiatrist in a major role. Maybe Hitchcock did away with this character because he wanted fewer similarities to Spellbound. One of my biggest pet peeves about Hitchcock are the frequent rear projection (process screen) effects that he used in many of his films (I call them Hitchcock's bane.) Their artificiality is distracting and really takes one out of the film. This rear projection rears its ugly head abundantly in Marnie, such as during the lengthy car scene, where I am supposed to be paying attention to Mark and Marnie's discussion. Instead my eyes wonder to the fake background projections, making me realize that they are actually sitting in a studio somewhere. Along the same lines is the giant matte painting that was used as a backdrop in the Baltimore neighborhood. Again it becomes disturbingly clear that the actors are on a set. They did not need to shoot specifically in Baltimore to make this shot look real, but instead Hitchcock opted for the technical fakery. Sometimes studio shots are necessary in order to meet budgetary demands, but Hitchcock surely had plenty of money to shoot Marnie after the tremendous success of his last three films. (During the documentary it is implied that they could have easily shot these scenes in outdoor settings, but Hitchcock preferred to work in the controlled setting of the studio.)
Marnie is a difficult and psychologically complex role, and while Tippi Hedren was a decent actress, this role was beyond her ability. This role demanded not only someone beautiful but also possessing much depth and subtly. Originally Hitch wanted Grace Kelly in the role (not that she would have been any better), but the documentary informs us that she backed out due to problems in Monaco. Hitch then made The Birds, and was impressed enough by Hedren in that picture to offer her the part of Marnie. Hedren's manner of delivery is sometimes stilted and unnatural. Her performance is better when she is not talking. I think part of the problem might lie with the screenplay, as some of the dialogue is a little too polished for someone like the Marnie character. Connery, on the other hand, is the perfect fit for the role of a confident, suave gentleman like Mark. Never mind the fact that he is supposed to be from Philadelphia. I am not sure what a Philly accent sounds like, but it does not sound like that. It is particularly funny when his character accuses Marnie of not having the proper accent.