I’m about to commit heresy, so get those thumbscrews handy!
Alfred Hitchcock was a great director, but not all his movies were great. Torn Curtain was a good example of a not-so-great Hitchcock film: All anyone remembers from is it is one lengthy murder scene and Julie Andrews’ odd greenish hair.
Sadly, Marnie is another Hitchcock film with little to recommend it. It’s a curiosity in that it’s not a “whodunit” but a “whydunit” – but the “why” is not interesting enough to save the film.
Marnie opens with a businessman demanding that the police find his secretary, who seems to have cleaned out the contents of his safe. Observing this is one of the man’s clients, wealthy young publisher Mark Rutland (Sean Connery, trying hard to subdue his accent).
In the very next scene we learn the identity of the thief – it’s Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren, previously in Hitchcock’s The Birds). Marnie’s a compulsive thief who uses a variety of disguises and aliases to rob her wealthy employers. She gives the money to her grumpy mother, who rebuffs Marnie’s generosity and love, preferring to lavish attention on little Snotleigh who lives next door. It’s clear from Marnie’s conversation with her mother that there’s a Big Buried Secret in their past, and other none-too-subtle hints abound (Marnie is terrified of thunderstorms and anything blood-red, and is repulsed when a man shows any physical attraction to her). Unfortunately for Marnie, her next target is Mark, who soon finds out about her thievery but instead of calling the cops, becomes fascinated and attracted to Marnie, and blackmails her into marrying him. Needless to say, the honeymoon’s a bust, and faster than you can say “Paging Dr. Freud!” Mark is trying to help Marnie uncover that Big Buried Secret and discover why she’s so messed up.
I wanted to like Marnie, and initially found intriguing the idea of the mystery being the criminal’s motivation rather than identity. But the movie is done in by a glacial pace, dime-store psychology, and lead characters who are neither likable nor interesting. Connery comes off worse – he seems to be trying so hard to sublimate his accent that his acting suffers for it. Plus, his character is creepy, and not in a good way. His interest in Marnie and what makes her tick never once seems rooted in concern for her well-being, and becomes squirm-inducing when what he intends to be a seduction on their honeymoon ends up a rape (for which we never see him apologize). Even though he never forces himself on her sexually afterward, his amateur psychology often seems to be doing her more harm than good.
Hedren fares better, though she’s ill-served by the screenplay. Marnie is so undone by thunderstorms and red-colored things – it becomes difficult to believe she’s functioned as well as she has for so long. Hedren acquits herself well during the movie’s one suspenseful scene, when she robs Mark’s safe while a cleaning woman works nearby. But there isn’t anything to Marnie besides her trauma and its aftermath – once that’s resolved, she’s just a blank slate.
The movie’s essential only for Hitchcock completists. Extras include an hour-long documentary about the film and a trailer (with Hitchcock being his usual amusing self).