Pros: Some good suspense scenes
Cons: Lots of dead time and unproductive psychobabble
The fifties and sixties were Alfred Hitchcock's most productive period; the era of the cool blond and the various psychological and sexual problems that the human animal can manifest. Marnie was the last of this series and Tippi Hedren was the last of the cool blonds. Unfortunately, Marnie is not the capstone that we might have wanted to see from Hitchcock, closing off this important segment of his career, but it's what he left us.
Marnie is a movie where the sum of the parts are greater than the whole. There are clearly many brilliant sequences showing various things happening but the way things are put together and ultimately resolve themselves strains the credulity of anyone but the most rabid Hitchcock aficionado.
Here is the story: Marnie (Tippi Hedren) is a young woman who has a dark past. She is shown working as a clerical worker in an office who steals the payroll after she observes the office routine and gets the safe combination. It seems like this is her typical lifestyle - a career criminal that robs according to an established pattern and then moves on. There is a great scene showing her changing her identity from a brunette to a blond and abandoning her clothing in a bus terminal locker, dropping the key down a sewer grate.
Marnie runs afoul of Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) who pierces her disguise and captures her red handed robbing his company. Instead of turning her in, however, he blackmails her into marrying him; but he is soon to find out what a handful he has gotten himself. There are plenty of developments, including a trip back into Marnie's past, but that's the gist of it.
Hitchcock was the moviemaker who first described the McGuffin - a thing unimportant in itself to build the plot around; once the plot is launched, the McGuffin can be conveniently discarded. Marnie, however, seems to be mostly McGuffin and very little actual story. There are enough little things (fetish, frigidity, kleptomania, pathological lying, repression, dominance, smother mother, etc.) to hang a dozen plots on but not enough of a story to get the movie up on its feet and walking under its own power. Therefore, it plods, stumbles forward herky-jerky fashion, only to plod again.
Tippi Hedren had the icy beauty to make a convincing Hitchcock heroine; she just didn't have the acting chops to pull off the complex character that Marnie had to be to tie together the different aspects of the film. She is on camera most of the time but her demeanor tends to be befuddled more than calculating as the part calls for.
Similarly, Sean Connery (James Bond) was a fish out of water in the role of an American tycoon who is an amateur psychiatrist. (What about that brogue?) His sex appeal is palpable, but his performance doesn't do much to drive the story forward. Two other women played significant parts, Diane Baker as Sean Connery's sister, and Louise Latham as Marnie's mother. Both of these did good jobs with their limited screen time.
Hitchcock has some compelling suspense sequences, such as the robberies, and pulls some awful boners, with the fake backdrops, like during the horseback fox hunt scenes. Tippi is rocking in the foreground while a process background rolls behind her. Similar process shots in cars, on the street, etc., add a fake look that is distressing and doesn't match up with the studio footage. Hitchcock, as always, deftly manages to slip in a few welcome comic touches at opportune moments.
Bernard Herrmann's score, his last for Hitchcock, is a very nice addition and works quite well despite the fact that the film is not as smooth running as it should be.
Trivia: In a 2005 interview with The Times of London, Tippi Hedren revealed a falling out she had with Hitchcock during the filming of Marnie. Whether it was an overt sexual proposition or not, she would not say; but the breach between the two was never healed and they never worked together again. That Hitch was obsessed with her was an open secret among the crew.
The Universal DVD is in color, lasts 131 minutes, and is presented in 1.85:1 theatrical format. The current version has no supplements other than subtitles. The older DVD version has a one-hour "making of" documentary that goes over some of the challenges of making Marnie, but pointedly avoids mentioning Hitchcock's feelings about Hedren, and vice versa.
Only recommended for Hitchcock fans.