Our review of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Blu-ray), published December 11th, 2012, is also available.
"My mind is strictly visual, and when I read an elaborate description of
a city street or of the countryside, I'm impatient with it. I'd rather show it
myself with a camera."
Marnie is Alfred's Hitchcock's screen adaptation of the novel of the same name by Winston Graham. Marnie (Tippi Hedren), floats from city to city, calmly robbing and lying, taking what she can and then disappearing without a trace. Changing her identity as easily as her hair color, Marnie ends up in Philadelphia under the employ of Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). Rutland, who recognizes Marnie from her previous post and is aware of what she did there, hires her. Baiting her like an animal, Marnie becomes Rutland's prey.
Working himself closer and closer to Marnie, Rutland realizes how disturbed the girl really is. Icy cold one minute, panic stricken at the sound of thunder the next, he also finds she has a pathological fear of the color red. True to her nature and in one of the film's most effective sequences, Marnie robs Rutland's office. Finding her a short time later, Rutland chooses not to have her arrested but instead proposes marriage. Finding herself with very little choice, Marnie, painfully, accepts.
Married and living under one roof but not in one bed, Mark takes it upon himself to cure his wife of her psychological problems. Why is Marnie cold and indifferent towards men and what has made her the woman she has become? These are the questions Rutland must navigate his way through. Questions that are made more difficult because of a jealous family member who has put into play a series of events in which Marnie's past may come crushing down upon the future Mark has planned. To tell anymore would spoil the surprises Mr. Hitchcock has in store and I would never do that. So read on at your own peril.
Coming off a decade that saw the Master of Suspense producing such classics as Rear Window, Psycho, North By Northwest, Vertigo, To Catch A Thief and The Birds, Marnie stands as Hitchcock's last great experiment and in many ways his greatest failure. It was also a farewell of sorts as Marnie was Hitchcock's final collaboration with such longtime partners-in-crime as composer Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, North By Northwest), film editor George Tomasini (The Birds, Psycho, North By Northwest) and cinematographer Robert Burks (The Birds, North By Northwest, Vertigo). With Marnie, Hitchcock himself was nearing the end of his career; he would direct four more films, only one of which, Frenzy, could be considered to be a true Hitchcock production.
From a visual standpoint there is very little to look down upon. Shots are composed with great tension and of course, liberal doses of black humor. Hitchcock was one of the only directors I know of who directed sound motion pictures that could have easily been devoid of the sound part. Try this as an experiment. Pop in almost any Hitchcock film and turn off the soundtrack. Give yourself a little time; I think you will find that everything is there visually for you. He directed in such a way that it is easy to follow and clearly understand the plot and motivations of the film. It is almost as if words were an afterthought. It's pretty amazing when you look at it that way.
Considering this is a film that was produced in the early '60s, its depiction of sex and mental illness was fairly mature. I'm sure only someone with the clout of Alfred Hitchcock could have seen this project through from production to release. Again high marks must be given to the master for always pushing the boundaries of what film could and should depict. Marnie is one of Sean Connery's (Entrapment, Time Bandits, Dr. No) earlier film roles and he is quite good. Strong, sexy and with a commanding presence, Connery had never been quite as adored by the camera as he was here in Marnie. An actor of great expression and intelligence, its a pity Hitchcock and Connery were not able to work together again. As it stands, I think Marnie is somewhat of a career highlight for Sir Sean.
In supporting roles both Diane Baker (Murder at 1600, The 'Net, The Silence Of The Lambs) and Louise Latham (Love Field, Mass Appeal, The Sugarland Express) are impressive as Mark's sister-in-law and Marnie's repressive mother, respectively.
The sound is Dolby Digital Mono and while it lacks depth because of limited fidelity, it is quite effective and clean sounding. At the edict from the studio, Bernard Herrmann contributes a lush, romantic score that serves the film well. The melodies are sweet sounding but have a definite tension to them. It is a solid score from one of the best and the disc allows it to be heard well. Dialogue is never a problem and the soundtrack is quite hiss free.
The main extra of the disc is Laurent Bouzereau's excellent documentary, "The Trouble with Marnie." At 58 minutes, the feature gives a well-rounded overview of the film and is quite entertaining to boot. The only person not interviewed is Sean Connery and if the film has any weakness it is in his absence. Still it is quite informative. All three of the writers that worked on the project are heard from and a very good sense of what Hitchcock wanted on and out of the project is conveyed. Intended as his follow-up project to Psycho, the film was to be Grace Kelly's comeback vehicle. When she pulled out because of problems in Monaco, Hitchcock went forward with The Birds. It was during that filming that he decided Tippi Hedren was right for the role and thus began their second film together. Other tidbits include the writing of the screenplay and the firing of one of the writers because of a perceived rape sequence and how this writer went against the wishes of Mr. Hitchcock. More should be written about Laurent Bouzereau and the fine work he does on projects such as these. If I were to go through my collection and pick the 10 best documentaries, I'm willing to bet at least he produced half of them. He is a valuable resource in the world of DVD and should be given all the credit that he is due.
Also on the disc is the film's original trailer. As was the case with all of Hitchcock's films, his promotional shorts were a joy unto themselves. With dry wit and black humor, the trailer tells just enough to make a person want to see the film but gives away none of its major surprises. Marketing was an art that Hitchcock was also a master of and this trailer stands as a testament to that ability.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Marnie has problems. First off an actress with world-class talent was needed to pull off one of the most difficult female roles ever written for the screen. While beautiful to look at, Tippi Hedren has something in common with her daughter Melanie Griffith: she is not a world-class talent. An actress of limited range and ability, there are many times where Hedren just looks lost and outclassed by what is being asked of her.
It is difficult to look at a project like this and not be somewhat appalled by the level of blatant sexism that is on display. Connery's character really does believe Marnie to be an animal and his property. Yes, Marnie is a self-sufficient woman but she is also very sick and needs to be helped and to be taken care of. Her sickness is such that it can only be cured by the tough love of a strong and wise man. Keep the flag-bearers of feminism away from this one.
At 131 minutes the film is way too long. Far be it for me to claim to know more about filmmaking than Hitchcock, but looking over the film as an armchair critic there were parts of the movie that I thought could easily be done away with. Although I suppose I should also consider that if Miss Hedren were better in the role the movie might not seem so ponderous. The way Hitchcock tended to shoot his leading ladies also causes problems. There are only so many times we can look at the directors vision of ideal beauty through a soft focus and not get annoyed.
Another bothersome aspect is Hitchcock's need to control his environment. The supposed exteriors, the horrible-looking car rides, where the outside is so fake appearing it distracts from the scene and a truly awful matte painting make the film sometimes hard to accept. There have been two schools of thought that brush all that lack of reality under the carpet. The first is that the falseness of the surroundings is an extension of Marnie's psychosis and the film is conveying the world as she perceives it. The second is that Hitchcock was going back to his roots and working in the manner of his early training in German expressionism.
Personally, I feel another way. I think that Hitchcock was at a crossroad in his career. His ability and talent had outgrown the medium of the time and he knew it. He was unwilling to sacrifice his perfect shooting environment even if it meant the expense of perceived reality. In the documentary, mention is made of Hitchcock commenting on how bad some of the matte paintings looked in the final product. Making no effort to change or fix the problem, I think the director was already aware that Marnie was a failure and had already decided to cut his losses and move on.
As a disc Universal gives us an anamorphic transfer which maintains the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of Marnie and it is far from their best work. Besides having to contend with Hitchcock's false-looking rear projection shots there is an overall softness to the image. It is a picture that is not helped by the wear and tear of time. While most of the film is solid there were a few moments of pixel breakup, nothing too bad but still, it bears mentioning. I found colors to be somewhat muted but that could very well be the intention of the director. On the plus side, fleshtones are rather pleasant, appearing lifelike and natural. The movie is remarkably defect free until the final 10 minutes or so of the film when it looks like somebody took a sharp object to the print. I'm exaggerating but it certainly seemed that way. Nicks and scratches abound and it caused me to go back and rewatch the final few minutes because I could not concentrate on what was going on the first time. Maybe these were the best possible elements available but when compared to the work that went into Vertigo, it seems to me that Marnie got second-class treatment.
Maybe I'm being picky but bearing in mind the subject matter and where the film falls in Mr. Hitchcock's career I would have loved to have a commentary track on this release. There are enough principals still around that a Criterion-style track would have been most helpful and welcomed.
Of all the films released so far under the Universal Alfred Hitchcock Collection banner, Marnie is the one to probably divide people the most. At its best, it is a gripping sex mystery with a really good performance by Sean Connery. At its worst, it is somewhat trite and overwrought, let down in its most dramatic moments by a miscast Tippi Hedren.
Misgivings in mind, the film is an important work in the Hitchcock film canon. Working on a visual level most directors can only dream of, Hitchcock would prove, one more time, that he was one of the best ever.
Pardon me while I go on a quick flight of fancy but going back and rewatching his films, I am left to wonder what Hitchcock could have done with the level of technology available today in films. A fanatic about controlling every aspect of film production, current CGI software would have made it possible for him to never leave the friendly confines of whatever studio sound stage he was working on. And unlike what is painfully clear at times in Marnie, we never would have known the difference. It puts things in perspective to look around and see so many hacks out there making really bad films that look great and then to imagine what a visionary like Hitchcock could have done with everything that we, as modern filmgoers, take for granted. I for one, think that if made today, by Mr. Hitchcock, Marnie would be held in much higher regard.
Still that leaves us with Marnie and the question that needs to be answered in this forum. Is this disc worth buying or should it be a rental? In order, yes and yes. Any serious student of film, and certainly of Hitchcock, needs to own this film. Universal gives the movie solid, if not spectacular treatment. There are problems but as a whole the release holds up. For the first time viewer or Hitchcock novice, rent before you purchase. The film has problems, some more serious than others and it may not be to everyone's taste, so take the time to get to know Marnie first and then decide.
How can this judge argue with the Master of Suspense? Simply put, I won't. Bearing in mind the director's past successes, Marnie is acquitted of all charges. Universal is asked to put a little more restoration work in on their line of classic films but is thanked for another fine documentary from Laurent Bouzereau. They too are acquitted and this court looks forward with high hopes to Rear Window.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Trouble With Marnie" an original documentary by Laurent Bouzereau
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