Marnie is one of Hitchcock’s “neglected” films… it has gotten some critical attention but not nearly as much as more popular films such as Psycho or North by Northwest. That’s why I revisited it for this column, and as I watched it the focus of my revisitation was simple: was the neglect warranted? Was it a jewel in the rough, waiting to be reappraised and rediscovered?
No. Oh, my, no.
Marnie is a technically well-constructed and well directed film that features horrible people doing horrible things. Marnie is a kleptomaniac who hates men, who compulsively goes from crime to crime. Her thieving ways are discovered by a businessman, Mark, who decides to “figure her out.” Marnie resists his dime-store psychiatry and romantic advances, and so… He rapes her.
Yes, you read that right.
The cast are game, and Tippi Hendron does as good a job as anyone could in the title role… And Sean Connery, fresh from making an independent movie named Dr. No, plays Mark. His natural charm and charisma almost makes us forgive his actions in the film… almost.
Much as been made about Hitchcock’s obsession for icy blondes, and two films have been made dramatizing how he treated his leading ladies (Hitchcock and The Girl). Many point to Vertigo, a personal favorite of mine, as a movie that is Exhibit A in how Hitch thought of women. While there may be something to that, I would say critics are overstating that film and understating this one. Marnie (much like Vertigo) has a plot where a man tries to “fix” a woman, by domination and force. He “breaks” her to fix her, like someone pulling a part a jigsaw puzzle to put it back together again.
This, combined with Vertigo, showcases Hitch’s character in a way that is as subtle as a brick through a plate-glass window. Men are supposed to “fix” broken women, by whatever means necessary… to make them “right” and appropriate. Forget the aspirations of the woman, they are secondary to the man. He knows best.
Misogyny? You bet. Does it make me respect Hitchcock less? Absolutely.
Hitchcock himself found the book Marnie and decided to bring it to the screen, and went through three screenwriters to adapt the material. fought to keep the rape scene in. It’s… repulsive. And while I am well aware that interpreting who Hitchcock was as a person based on his films is as reliable as the armchair psychiatry that Mark applies in the film… it doesn’t represent the man well. At all.
Hitch was a master filmmaker, and so many of his films belong to the ages. However, Marnie is not one of them. It is a sad, dysfunctional film that is off-putting and offensive to 21st century sensibilities. It’s not aged well, and it’s a severe mis-step… a blemish on an otherwise distinguished career.