Marnie Review

(2.5 STARS)

I’m not familiar enough with Hitchcock’s entire body of work to say where “Marnie” would rank, but I have to imagine it would be near the bottom. This is half a good movie, but the deeper we get into the past of the title character, the less successful it is. Of course, the Master’s work is great, but the uneven performances and bloated running time do nothing to help the problematic story. It’s just very average, and for Hitchcock, average isn’t good enough.

“Marnie” is the story of a twisted young girl named Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren). When the film opens, Marnie has just absconded with $10,000 she stole from her employer. It’s not the first time she’s done this, so she knows all the tricks. She has multiple social security cards and a different hair color at every new job. She has a complicated relationship with her mama, who she sends money to, and there’s a dark secret in her past that not even she can completely remember. But she has terrible dreams in which she screams for her mama, and she has a debilitating fear of thunderstorms and the color red.

As she settles in to a new job, and begins formulating her plans to rob the company, she meets a young playboy and her new employer, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). He recognizes her from her previous company, but wants to hire her anyway just to observe her and enjoy the show. As he gets to know Marnie, he falls for her, and when she successfully steals from the company’s safe, Mark turns the tables on her and forces her into marrying him. And as Marnie gets to know his family, especially his inquiring sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker), the depth of her problems come to the surface, and she and Mark are forced to confront them.

The story behind “Marnie” is much more interesting than the story onscreen. According to Hedren, the film’s star, Hitchcock became obsessed with the young blonde during the filming of “The Birds,” in which Hedren also starred, a year earlier. After an incident involving real birds attacking her, she had a falling out with Hitchcock, with whom she was under contract. The director told reportedly told her he would ruin her career. He succeeded, but his own career never reached the heights it did in the previous decade. He only directed four more films, none of which are especially memorable.

The problem with the story of Marnie is that her mental problems are not particularly interesting. The first half of the film, which focuses on Marnie’s crimes and deception, is good stuff. A longer cat-and-mouse game between she and Mark would have made for a terrific little Hitchcock film, but the second half veers off the rails, until it reaches a somewhat laughable conclusion.

One of the biggest problems with the conclusion, and the film as a whole, is the performance of Tippi Hedren. She plays a devious criminal well, but the innocent, crazy person stuff is rough to watch. The other performers aren’t much better. Sean Connery, taking a break in the middle of his run as James Bond, is the film’s standout, but that’s not saying much. He conveys a tender love for Marnie and a patience with her psychological problems, while also conveying a sense of cunning to stay one step ahead of her plans. The less said about Louise Latham’s portrayal of Marnie’s mama, the better. Her accent is nails-on-a-chalkboard awful. Diane Baker is appropriately plucky and inquisitive as Lil.

The star of the film is Hitchcock, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. He uses the camera to great effect, and the soundtrack, by Bernard Herrmann, is incorporated perfectly. He also does some interesting things with color (flashes of red precede each of Marnie’s meltdowns), but I’m not sure they hold up a half-century later.

“Marnie” is seriously flawed. It was a failure in its time, but has been considered by many since then to be a forgotten gem. Although it held my interest for a while, I think the audiences in 1964 got it right. This one is a disappointment.

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