I first watched Marnie (1964) when I first discovered Alfred Hitchcock devouring them nearly on a nightly basis, wanting to watch them all with eagerness. When it came to Marnie however I felt somewhat let down by it all, it wasn’t the standard thriller, the wrong man on the run from the police, it was something different, Something with the master of suspense was trying after the huge success of Psycho (1960) which he would never come close to topping or really meeting. He came close to that with The Birds (1962) which has the effect of staying with you, nature turning on humanity, a villain who can’t be locked away by the police as we usually found. The journey was one not only of making others around you believe your story, but to convince them to run as-well, to understand the enemy to quell or restore order.
I have also been troubled by a provocative statement by film critic Robin Wood
If you don’t like Marnie, you don’t like the movies of Alfred Hitchcock and if you don’t love Marnie you don’t love cinema.”
Quite a statement right? I think he was trying to make a point which I am only just understanding beyond the flippancy of its power. He understands the film on another level, something the average film-lover or goer might not get. He wants us to enjoy and read the film on another level a level is may well have been intended for. Now some films aren’t meant to be read on another level, they are what they are. Some have hidden depths, some simply make you laugh, other grab your attention. Others such as this really do take some time and real attention to understand them. Something I am starting to get with Marnie. I’m not saying its all clicked, that would be presumptuous of me.
We started with Vertigo (1958) to understand the director, the man, Hitch who idolizes the blonde, his desire to make them as he desires. Controlling them sexually, lost in the image and the idea of them. 5 years later we aren’t trying to make-over a woman in another image, we want to understand Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) who we meet as a leaving after another robbery at work. Making herself over from one image to another. Creating and living in multiple guises to hide from the men she hurt financially. It was only 4 years earlier that Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stole from her boss to help her lover out. There is no lover here as yet, wanting only to support her lifestyle and her mother. A figure that recurs in many of Hitchcock’s films, a parent who never loses complete control over the destiny and of their off-spring, always there to guide them in ways the child is never aware of.
It’s well-known now that Tippi Hedren was the last of most actress to suffer under Hitch’s films, controlling her options, obsessing over her to the point she wanted to leave during the making of The Birds torturing her in many ways. It becomes more clear in Marnie the object of his affections, the damage of the previous film’s used to the actresses/models advantage. Playing the part of a psychologically damaged woman who hates the affections of a man. Something which Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) is curious about, he is the on-screen Hitchcock able to carry out his own investigation into her mental state.
There is more than an insatiable fear of male affections as we discover early on, the sight of red, induces her and the audience to have flashes of red. Overwhelming her for some unknown reason, the psychological becomes cinematic in its experience, the flash of red before her and our eyes. A fear of thunderstorms leaves her in a child-like state, vulnerable to Mark who makes his move and wants to know more about this beautiful and fragile woman who has come to work for him.
Psychology has left the confines of the psychologist and is has becomes something for the laymen to investigate, making Spellbound (1945) look tame in comparison. Reaching out more into the public realm. We have a psychological thriller, not just one that uses it to induce the thrills and suspense, its taken to another level that we can all start to consider, that is if we allow ourselves. Which is where this film can and does lose its appeal to the main-stream, when you get too technical and book-smart you can leave your audience behind. You have to be careful how you do it to keep them on-board.
So with Mark acting as a psychologist and lover he also becomes part-time private investigator who finds out about her past, a past which he is eager to understand and hopefully break her from this awful mindset that has allowed her to take on job after job to fund her lifestyle. You could even suggest that he raped her, something which is easy to infer on the face of it. Overpowering her on their honeymoon cruise, she’s stripped of her clothes and forced upon, which implies rape. She also lies there and does allow it to happen. I’m not condoning rape for a second, more understanding the construction of the scene, the character is overcome by the force of her husband and allows him to make love to her. Making her passive and a victim, or more a victim of her state of mind. We don’t actually know what happened after those few moments. Waking up the next morning in separate beds. Her mental state could have made the rape possible and then left not to be mentioned again.
I am beginning to see this film in a new light now, which you can see in the text above, there are layers to this film beyond the ideas of psychology being discussed. The special effects are by now looking tired and out of date, something which he never moved much away from. We do however have some interesting high angle shots throughout the film, looking down upon Marnie a fragile woman who needs to be healed to function, to love and be loved not just by men but her mother. They say that your childhood shapes your adulthood, this is very much an extreme, something which audiences back at the time of release may not have been able to accept. Now its common place, these principles of psychoanalysis are a part of western culture. You could say Marnie was ahead of its time, let down by dates special effects and heavy dialogue. There is still very much a classic Hitchcock in terms of style, nothing is left to chance, he is trying new things out and they pay off such the robbery whilst the cleaner share half the shot. When you comparing to Psycho it does pale, as he is trying something new after all the audience wanted was to be wowed and scared once more. This was a step to far for the director one which is now overlooked in the mainstream, repeating viewings and patience are needed to understand and appreciate the film and the woman or women of Hitchcock.