Friday, January 1, 2010

Marnie (1964)

Alfred Hitchcock's acclaim has always been a mystery to me. He is, unquestionably, a pioneer in some ways, but  I wouldn't describe any of his films as particularly special. Marnie is very representative of the bulk of Hitchcock's work. While it hits on some interesting topics and contains some of Hitchcock's trademark, dry humor, bolstered greatly by Sean Connery's delivery, it falls into all of the same pitfalls that his films can't seem to avoid. The film beats it's symbolic and psychological meaning into your skull for two hours and, by the end, I found it hard to care anymore. Worst of all, the film isn't particularly well paced and, like most of Hitchcock's films, it's stylistically overworked.

Marnie is the story of a compulsive liar and thief named, prepare to be surprised, Marnie. Played by Tippi Hedren, the psychologically unstable, man hating Marnie steals money from businesses to send home to her ailing mother, but she bites off more than she can chew when she tries to steal from Mark Rutland. Rutland, who is played pleasingly by Sean Connery, falls in love with Marnie and decides to use all his wealth to try and cure her crippling psychological problems. Since Hitchcock is behind the camera, some twisted things happen and some secrets are revealed before it comes to it's conclusion.

Some of the things that Hitchcock explores are actually pretty interesting, but, like a tree branch crashing through the window, crushing all of Rutland's dead wife's possessions, the film clobbers it's symbolism and psychology into your head. After all, subtly was never Hitchcock's cardinal virtue. This is partly due to the way the film is shot. When something important happens, symbolically, Hitchcock loves to frame it in a tight close up. While this is not always an issue, it makes for some jarring transitions when these things in scenes of high action or tension. Why Hitchcock thought a particular scene of conflict really need an extreme close up of a bowl of nuts hitting the floor we may never know. The symbolism is obvious, but the lack of tact is certainly not a trait I would expect from someone who is acclaimed, rightly or not, as the best director of all time. That single shot sucks all of the momentum out of the scene. While the style overwhelms the film for the most part, there are some things worthy of note in the film.

Marnie is generally successful in the other places that matter. Our characters are relatively interesting, and well formed, there are some moments of Hitchcock style, like the opening sequence, that don't feel like he is beating you over the head with a blunt object and Connery is spot on in delivering the wit and charm that the film demands. I would be lying if I said that I didn't find Marnie's back-story interesting, and, more importantly, surprising. Even though it was explored through a horridly contrived, Sean Connery becomes an amateur psychologist, device, what we learn was at least interesting on it's own. Even with these things working for it, the only real joy I derived from Marnie was from Connery. His one liners and persona were interesting and funny enough to keep me watching even when interest in the film as a whole had waned.

He may have been on the cutting edge of technique, but Hitchcock's use of it gives his films an unpleasant and overworked feeling. There is nothing organic in Marnie. Everything just feels forced. Every Hitchcock film I see puts me one step closer to finally saying something I've been thinking about for years. Alfred Hitchcock ain't no thing but a chicken wing.



TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

I don't know if most people would consider Marnie representative if a bulk of Hitchcock's work. Marnie gets scorned by a lot of people because it's not the typical Hitchcock film. Sure there are some similarities but supposedly it's still quite varied compared to his more popular films. Since you don't like Hitchcock I understand not particularly liking this film. I'll agree with you that Connery is the best part of the film, although I did enjoy the overall story and execution as well.

Alfindeol said...

I found the really surprising when I discovered the general disdain for this film. From an objective stand-point, Marnie is pretty similar to most his work.

I'm drawing the comparison on the stylistic level rather than thematic though. It's got the same overworked feel that made me dislike Strangers on a Train and Rear Window.

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

I really haven't seen much of Hitchcock's work. I remember really liking Vertigo but that's the only other Hitchcock film I can remember watching and that was probably 10 years ago. Marnie has opened up my interest to check out some of his other films.

The Movie Mistress said...

I like that the tagline is "Suspenseful Sex Mystery." What does that even mean? I also agree with you that a lot of it is forced on you, and overworked. While that works for the first half of the film, after they get married it's just irritating.

I can see what you mean about the misogyny being so outdated that it's laughable, but unlike other movies that played up that quality to the extreme (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, for example), this one was already shitty to begin with, so it didn't seem as forgivable.