Thursday, June 5, 2008

Overlooked Hitchcock

Classic Film Review

Marnie (1964)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen and Hitchcock. Based on Winston Graham’s novel of the same name.

Marnie is top-tier Hitchcock. Unfortunately, there seems to be the popular perception Alfred Hitchcock did not make a great film after The Birds (1963). Couple this with the fact Marnie is probably Hitchcock’s most mature film, delving into Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sexual blackmail. Then there’s the rape scene, although by this time the Hays Code was still in effect, albeit weakened but obviously still enough to restrict the scene to a simple before-after montage. Nevertheless, to this day Marnie seems to be oft-putting for some and dismissed by others because of its themes which may make some people uncomfortable (Although it did quite well at the box office in turning a $4 million profit).

Marnie is concerned with the serious psychological problems of Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), Mary Taylor, Marion Holland, or whatever alias Marnie was using at the time of her crimes. Marnie is a resourceful kleptomaniac. She moves from one secretarial job to another, works diligently for a few months, gains the trust of her employers and inevitably can’t resist her impulses to clean out the company safe. On top of this she has a strong aversion to men (“I can’t bear to be handled!”) and the color red as the result of a devastatingly painful, but clouded memory from her childhood.

The rest of the film deals with getting to the root of Marnie’s psychological problems. There is some suspense but mostly the narrative can be described as a melodramatic character study laden with mystery. Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), the owner of the latest company Marnie robbed, takes a fancy to her and believes he can change her for the better if he can learn of her troubled past. Although, Rutland isn’t as innocent as I have just described. Rutland sees Marnie as a wild animal (his passion is Zoology), one that he can tame and have for his pleasure because he has evidence against Marnie that would send her to jail. Instead of jail he quickly marries her, splurges on an expensive ring and takes her on a ritzy cruise for the honeymoon.

Marnie Edgar: You don't love me. I'm just something you've caught! You think I'm some sort of animal you've trapped!
Mark Rutland: That's right - you are. And I've caught something really wild this time, haven't I? I've tracked you and caught you and by God I'm going to keep you.

On a second viewing of the film I gained a greater appreciation of Jay Presson Allen and Hitchcock’s (He may not be credited but he worked very closely with his writers on all of his films) screenplay which is witty, adult and contains some great black humor. Consider the scene in which Mark and his sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker) are discussing Marnie’s secret call to her mother. Mark is concerned while Lil remarks: “I always thought a girl’s best friend was her mother.” Note the clever reference to Psycho (1960). Also, there's a very subtle reference to Vertigo (1958) when Marnie is waiting for her interview at Rutland's Philadelphia Publishing (I won't give this one away).

Mark may have put Marnie on the defensive but her wit does not escape her:

Mark Rutland: Well why didn't you jump over the side? (She jumped in the pool)
Marnie Edgar: The idea was to kill myself, not feed the damn fish.

At the Rutland house:

Lil: How do you take your tea, Miss Taylor?
Marnie Edgar: Usually with a cup of hot water and a tea bag.

The screenplay may not contain laugh out loud humor but it is ripe with delectable black humor if you’re in on the joke with Hitchcock.

Like many of Hitchcock’s best films, Marnie is the result of the collaboration of several great artists. Robert Burks (Cinematography), Bernard Herrmann (Score), George Tomasini (Editing) and Edith Head were all among the very best in the industry in their respective fields and worked on many of Hitchcock’s best films.

One trivial complaint would be Hitchcock relied a tad too heavily on rear-projection and painted backdrops for many of the film’s exterior scenes. The exterior scenes are well staged but often come across as false because it’s evident it was shot in-studio. Likewise, Hitchcock chose to shoot the city streets exterior to Mrs. Edgar’s (Marnie’s mother played by Louise Latham) Baltimore house in-studio with a painted backdrop and it obvious in the film that it was shot in-studio. Hitchcock preferred to shoot in-studio on a soundstage because it gave him greater control of the production and eliminated any unforeseen variables which could arise on location. Thankfully, these are just minor gripes and should not hinder the viewer’s enjoyment of the film.

Marnie is a film which should not be forgotten when the pantheon of great Hitchcock films is mentioned, nor should it be dismissed because it is too different. Hedren and Connery are excellent as the two clashing leads in bringing great intensity, humor and emotion to their roles – they don’t miss a beat. Not to be overlooked, the lovely Diane Baker is a treat to watch as she brings sass, compassion and mischief to her role as the sister of Mark’s deceased wife – she is in love with Mark. Lastly, as one may gather from my review, Marnie is obviously impeccably directed by one of cinema’s legendary auteurs, a gem that should not be ignored.

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