Well, if you’re Alfred Hitchcock it seems you take the MacGuffin from one, add the star and part of the style of the other and throw in a bunch of psychoanalysis and an ill-advised sub-plot based around possession (not supernatural) and rape with a dash of Sean Connery and you end up with Marnie, the film that followed on from Psycho and The Birds.
The movie starts out as a reasonably interesting thriller following a girl who’s stolen a large amount of cash from her employer and how she might be escaping from it and her reasons for doing it (sound familiar?). From there however things soon descend into what is largely a confusing mess of ideas, at times awful acting (mostly from the bit part players but it still has an effect) and some less than inspired camera work that simply seem to hint what we are seeing here is the beginning of the decline of the “Master of Suspense”.
Throughout Marnie there are a few truly tense scenes, one in particular, done mostly in silence, where our ‘heroine’ is attempting to steal from her employer is a piece of Hitchcock’s well known genius, however for every one of these there are scenes that just don’t sit right, Marnie’s (‘Tippi’ Hedren) ship bound ‘encounter’ with Connery being a prime example.
What comes out of this, having recently seen both Hitchcock and The Girl (films which deal with the period immediately preceding this), is that what we are seeing here is Hitch’s view of women taking over his previous ability to make a film tell a thrilling and engaging story and, while there is still a story to get involved with on at least a basic level, it is so shrouded by so many other factors, it is hard to find.
When it comes to the characters it is also hard to engage as none are particularly empathetic, so we are stuck either rooting for a thief (albeit one with a psychological explanation) or, essentially, a self-confessed rapist so that, while the films denouement does manage to, finally, emotionally engage, it is tinged with a sense that we shouldn’t really be wanting anyone to come out of this on the ‘winning’ side.
Maybe I am taking an oversimplified view for the story Hitchcock is trying to tell, but, he sets the film up very much as being one where we should be rooting for someone and there should be a winner and a loser, as it sits very much in his version of Hollywood we’ve seen previously in The Birds or Rear Window (less so in Psycho).
Instead this notion is muddied by an overabundance of psychoanalysis and crime that was, clearly, an obsession of either the screenwriter or Hitchcock himself and sits strangely with the characters leading to a very troubled view of mental illness. In something that was clearly a melodrama or horror this might not be as troubling but, for the most part, Marnie has the feeling of being set in ‘the real world’, though elements of the design do hint at a more expressionistic approach this is never fully realised.
In the end Marnie feels like the third of a trilogy that started with Psycho and continued with The Birds, but, falls very far short of those two leaving me with the feeling that, in this case, two out of three ain’t bad, and here we are seeing the beginning of the end of an astonishing directorial career.