Alfred Hitchcock, the man with the visual knack. Consider his opening sequence in “Marnie.” He closes in on a yellow purse, being clutched by a woman, who walks away on a platform. Then on the next shot, a man utters the film’s first word: robbed.
The cunning thief is none other than our titular gal, Marnie (played by Tippi Hedren). She is 5’5″, blue-eyed, and dyes/bleaches her hair as often as she changes identity. Losing no time, she strikes at another city, at another company; she pretends to be a widow who needs a job. But ah, this time, the dashing owner Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) knows of her past crime.
He does not report her right away. Rather, the curious Mr. Rutland tries to woo the crook; perhaps he’s got it bad for the bad girl. But soon, he’ll find Marnie very much a mystery. He’ll mull over the reasons as to why she has peculiar phobias. Marnie hardens at the flash of lightning, the caress of a man, and the striking sight of red.
Billed as a psychological thriller, “Marnie” is a story rooted on behavior aberration. It’s the kind of story the director has thrived on from the past. Hitchcock expertly sets up the story with teasing clues, aided by visuals that are meant to intrigue and disturb.
My favorite sequence is a just matter of a simple execution. All Hitchcock had to do was pull back the camera. The scene shows Marnie robbing the company vault and by zooming out, it also reveals the cleaning lady next door unbeknown to Marnie. The suspense, untainted by hyper-cuts or wringing music, purely exhilarates.
I wish I can say the same about the entire movie. Somewhere in the second act, “Marnie” lags and gallops towards the finish line with melodramatic detours. I think the journey would have been more enjoyable if the acting was up to Hitchcock’s level. Indeed, Tippi Hedren nails the Hitchcockian blonde look and even pulls off an eerie and weepy breakdown in the final act. As a whole though, her performance lacks substance and even credibility. She is not convincing for a compulsive liar; you can sense her thinking. From experience, compulsive liars are fast thinkers who shoot off their lies with charm.
While not one to lose charm, Sean Connery struggles with his character’s dark side as well. Yes, he looks and moves like a leading man, but he also needed to trot out Rutland’s rottenness. The character has questionable motives, but Connery holds back and only suggests of the man’s dysfunction. There is something more about Mark Rutland. What a missed opportunity that the movie subdues it. Hopefully, a “Marnie” remake could be produced, with the roles of Marnie and Mark given to actors who can walk a fine line between good and evil. (Who would you cast? For Marnie, my inspired choice: Winona Ryder).
With that said, “Marnie” is actually a good movie. It delivers suspense, drama, and an odd romance. The story, based on Winston Graham’s novel, does lead to a shocking conclusion. I’m trying to determine if “Marnie” is either elevated by its great direction or hindered by its good-looking acting. Maybe both are true. This movie could have been so much better. Of a masterpiece, we were, in a word, robbed.
Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Diane Baker, Bruce Dern, Martin Gabel, Bob Sweeney, Milton Selzer, and Louise Latham
Based on the novel by
Jay Presson Allen