After Sight and Sound dethroned long-standing first place holder Citizen Kane in favor of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, I felt the need to watch one of his lesser seen films, and I chose Marnie starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. The film is unabashedly Freudian, and just like Spellbound it’s plot is hilariously and gloriously outdated, at least from a psychological standpoint. Hitchcock has always been a master at blending his protagonists’ internal struggles with their external ones, and Marnie is one more perfect example of this effective narrative device. Hitchcock understands that spectacle is nothing without a strong human element, and all his complex set designs and camera tricks are only to create a backdrop for the drama which constantly remains at the forefront of his films, instead of the other way around.
The film opens with the camera going back and forth between a bank clerk describing to the police (in creepy detail) his recent secretary who had made off with his money, and an elegantly dressed woman waiting for her train at an abandoned train station. She perfectly matches the clerk’s description, yet her jet black hair prevents us from seeing her face. Returning to her apartment the woman rinses off her hair (which was dyed black), and as the dye is washed out she raises her head revealing the face of Tippi Hedren (Marnie), blonde and proud of it. I’m sure by this point Hitchcock was aware of audiences and critics noticing his infatuation with blondes, and the scene just described seemed to me like a “haters gonna hate” moment for Hitchcock. Marnie’s elegant and composed veneer quickly falls away when she visits her “mamma” who lives near the shipping docks. As she walks in, the sight of red flowers unnerves her and she slowly begins to revert to her childhood self, begging her mother for love. This transformation is clearly linked to her fear of the color red, which becomes far more apparent as the film progresses. The psychological theory of thought association is used throughout the film, and we soon learn that Marnie’s fears also inexplicably extend to thunder and lightning, all these phobias clearly stemming from some past ordeal. I wonder how original that premise was at the time, since that idea is now used in countless crime and medical shows. Later she meets wealthy businessman Sean Connery who becomes wise to her scam, but instead of turning her over to the authorities he becomes fascinated with her and forces her to marry him. This is due to his interest in zoology, forcing Marnie into the role of a bug on a board where he can observe and analyze her behavior. He does all this out of genuine love, but his clinical methods and detached demeanor suggest a less pure motive for his interest in Marnie’s wellbeing. (On a side note, I found it hilarious that Hitchcock portrayed Marnie as frigid by making her unattracted to a young Sean Connery. I can’t argue with that.)
As I watched the film it struck me that her role seemed more conventionally suited for a man, complete with mommy issues followed by a life of crime. It wasn’t until Sean Connery’s sister, Lil, said, “I always thought that a girl’s best friend was her mother.” that is dawned on me that the entire plot is a gender reversal of Psycho. With a quick rewrite, Marnie’s past trauma could have easily resulted in a Norman Bates-like character, though it would appear Hitchcock decided to have a little more compassion with this particular female protagonist. (“compassion” and “female protagonist” are two concepts rarely found together in a Hitchcock film) His signature intensely-controlled shots due to extensive storyboarding seemed somewhat dated in this film, though not necessarily in a negative way. Marnie was made in the 60’s, which was about the time filmmakers started going outside the studio system, revitalizing the industry with bold and aggressive techniques, slowly departing from the heavily structured big-Hollywood sets and sweeping visual styles. I can’t help but appreciate Hitchcock more when mentally compared to the rest of the silver age of Hollywood, and less when viewed in relation to more contemporary filmmaking. I KNOW this is wrong for many reasons, but I just cannot decide if Hitchcock remaining completely unmoved in his visual style for over the 50+ years of his career should be praised as consistent or criticized as one-note. (B-)