Tuesday 18 December 2012

Movie Review: Marnie (1964)

A psychological thriller about kleptomania and sexual frigidity, Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie enjoys moments of sophisticated suspense, but also struggles through barren stretches searching for a purpose.

Marnie (Tippi Hedren) is beautiful, blonde, and a cold-hearted serial thief, gaining the trust of businesses by taking secretarial positions then walking off with substantial amounts of cash at the earliest opportunity. Marnie uses the money to buy gifts for her mother Bernice (Louise Latham), who has embedded in Marnie a severe mistrust of men and actually wants nothing to do with her daughter. Marnie secures a job at the company owned by Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), who is already suspicious of her exploits having spotted her at a previously victimized company.

Mark is a widower and his former sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker) eyes him as a prize. But he is more interested in Marnie and they share a kiss during a thunderstorm. Once Marnie empties his safe, he springs a trap and forces her to choose between marrying him and prison. In his own brute way, he tries to help untangle her emotional knot.

The Marnie screenplay by Jay Presson Allen (based on the Winston Graham book) creates a compelling enigma in the central character, a woman governed by a damaged mind and forced into a life of proactive crime she can't explain due to reasons she can't remember. She meets her match and maybe an aggressive saviour in Rutland, a man determined to solve her psyche, an amateur therapist more than capable of causing damage.

Several unforgettable moments ratchet up the tension. In a silently delivered theft scene, Marnie breaks into a safe while the janitorial staff unwittingly close in on her. A disturbing rape portrays violence through the aggressor's burning eyes. And in a stylistic touch, a literal red mist denotes the triggers paralyzing Marnie emotionally and physically.

Hitchcock has fun with a couple of key supporting characters. Diane Baker's Lil is a charge of sexual lightning, almost the diametric opposite of Marnie, openly lusting after her brother-in-law and seeking flirtatious adventurism. And over on the much colder edge, Louise Latham as Bernice, Marnie's mother, is a picture of a motherhood train wreck, happier babysitting the neighbours' child than conversing with her daughter, all the time spouting man-hating rhetoric that acts as a wrecking ball on Marnie's ability to function. 

The psychological analysis is handled at a rudimentary level, Rutland's motivations are less than convincing, and at 130 minutes, Marnie is a good 20 minutes too long. But despite the limitations of the material, Hitchcock extracts an excellent performance from Sean Connery. In an early post-Bond-stardom role, he demonstrates charisma, versatility, and a dangerously selfish undercurrent to boldly signal he can be much more than a suave secret-agent. Tippi Hedren gets perhaps the iciest of Hitchcock's icy blonde roles as Marnie. Bruce Dern makes a really late, but quite pivotal, contribution.

Marnie ends with an emotional wallop, the past finally unveiled to decipher the present. The psychological damage is extensive and coloured red, but at least the debris is now visible for those interested in picking up the pieces.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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