Sunday, October 7, 2012

Marnie

Happy October! I've decided to focus my reviews this month on horror/thriller films, with a particular emphasis on Hitchcock (mostly because I have access to a lot of Hitchcock). Unfortunately, though, my first Hitch review of the scary season is, um, not a favorite.
Yeah, this poster pretty much sums up the movie.

Marnie 1964  
Director: Alfred Hitchcock  
Starring: Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren

Everyone makes a such a big to-do about Hitchcock’s glory period, late fifties to mid sixties, when he produced a string of unquestionable masterpieces. However, no artist, especially not one as prolific as Hitchcock, can produce such great films without having a stinker every now and then. Enter Marnie, a great reminder that not everything made in that period belongs in a “Best Of” list.

Marnie tells the story of a beautiful thief and con artist, the eponymous Marnie (Hedren), who both loves and hates her mother and appears to have nervous breakdowns when she sees the color red. On her latest job, she gets caught, or should I say cornered, by wealthy zoology enthusiast Mark Rutland (Connery). Inexplicably fascinated with her, he gives her an option: get turned in to the cops with the evidence he’s been collecting on her, or marry him. She decides to make her prison with Mark instead of the cops, and we are then treated, or rather mistreated, to one of the vilest relationships ever and some nonsensical psycho-babble. Fantastic.


I am not a fan of this movie. It has many weaknesses; I was recently struck by how forced the entire film feels. Hitchcock mostly worked prior to the French New Wave takeover of the late sixties, so naturally there’s more of a staged feeling to this film compared to modern films, but even among Hitchcock flicks, this one takes the cake. Never have I felt a filmmaker trying harder in a movie than Hitch in this one. Characterizations are not conveyed through, say, acting performances or pointed lines of dialogue, but through ridiculously over the top musical cues and unnecessarily showy camera zooms and cuts. Dude, I get it. You want me to know that everyone in the film is off their rocker. Back it up with a narrative that makes sense and performances that aren’t duller than dirt, and I’ll believe it; don’t shove it down my throat, Alfred.

I have never found Tippi Hedren to be a particularly gifted actress, and her performance in Marnie is laughable. Lucky girl, she gets to play a crazy, frigid kleptomaniac, but she possesses all the range of my toilet seat. Hedren can play it cool – that’s why Hitchcock was fascinated with her. But the crazy part of the role? Um, no. Marnie is best when she’s coolly pulling off company vault heists and at her pathetic weakest when she’s asked take the bus to Crazy Town. So what does the script do? Spend about thirty minutes on the interesting vault heist bits and the rest of the movie on her psychosis. Poor Tippi.

This right here is Tippi "acting."  Be ready to see this expression on her face for, well, the whole movie.
Not helping things along in the slightest is the central relationship between Marnie and Mark. I am so flummoxed by the two of them, I hardly know where to begin. What the hell is going on here? He sees her strictly as a subject of study. He claims he loves her: yeah right. Rarely have I seen a female character more objectified than Marnie is by Mark. He doesn’t treat her like a woman. Rather, he treats her exactly like that said by the 1001 Movies book: like a caged animal. He pushes her, prods her, taunts her, all just to see how she’ll respond. Mark spends the entire film torturing Marnie. Marnie, for her part, is trapped and weak and afraid, so she sits there and takes it. Wildly distasteful is the rape scene. Mark, honey, (and Hitchcock, for that matter), when a woman says no, she means no. I know you were all jokey-joke early in the film about beating Marnie physically, I hear you speaking of her solely in terms of ownership; I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when you forcibly have sex with her. Just because you forced her to marry you doesn’t make that OK. Hitchcock, are you listening? Rape is still rape even if the female in question is married to the man. Then, to top off all the ridiculous misogyny, we have our ending. By now, the film has thoroughly convinced me that he doesn’t love her, she doesn’t love him, yet we end (weakly, I might add) with a declaration of love between the two of them. That’s when I wanted to throw my remote at my television. The entire movie is about their “relationship,” how gawd awful it is, and then we end with a ridiculously stagey and completely unbelievable finale with our two lovers in each other’s arms.

It’s one thing to have a ludicrous central relationship with abusive characters; adding insult to injury is the portrayal of the rest of the females in the film. Mark’s sister Lil is worrisome. She has a clearly unhealthy obsession with her brother. When Mark comes home with Marnie, she is cruel and taunting to Marnie, and unsettlingly flirty with her brother. Um, ick. What kind of family is this, anyway? Then there’s Marnie mother, who preaches crazy from the high hills and is a shamelessly tacked-on plot point to emphasize the Virgin/Whore complex that Hitchcock really seems to be going for in this film. There is such a reduction in this movie of women to the basest of those two caricatures, as if all of women’s problems can be reduced down to this simple point. We are, apparently, either coldly frigid or whores, but don’t worry ladies, we just need a sadistic man to come along to psychoanalyze us and solve all our problems for us. Oh, and don’t go trying to help out your fellow sister. Apparently, we all hate one another wildly. Even the little girl in the film is vicious and conniving. Really, Hitchcock? You hate us that much?

That chick he's kissing?  That's his sister.  Exactly.
Marnie feels like a cheap imitation of Vertigo, as if Hitchcock was trying to replicate the same sort of mood and story from that previous work. The theme of obsession plays out in both films, but while the unsettling behavior of our leads in Vertigo is treated just as that – unsettling – in Marnie, it is not. Mark, for all his awfulness and cruelty, is, ultimately, “The Hero,” whereas Scottie’s cruelty in Vertigo is judged. It is as if Hitchcock went from being somewhat frightened of obsession in Vertigo to thinking it’s perfectly fine in Marnie, made six years later. What a lesson to learn. Furthermore, the camerawork in Marnie feels as if it’s desperately trying to recreate the sort of shots in Vertigo. While the color work in that earlier film is interesting and lush, it feels fake, staged, and forced here. Never have I thought more that Hitchcock really should abandon his insistence on shooting only in studios more than in this film. Watch Hedren “ride a horse” and not laugh, I dare you. Watch her “fall off her horse” and not roll your eyes. The back projection work is shoddy and the sets feel far too artificial. It feels more like an old Brady Bunch production rather than a high-budget studio project.

The more I write about this movie, the angrier I get about it. I feel dirty and queasy after watching it. It’s difficult for me to think of a reason to watch it. There’s a nice sequence full of classic Hitchcock suspense, but only one. This is not a suspense film but a cheap attempt at a psychological thriller. It fails miserably, it’s full of wholly detestable characters, the acting is weak, the story is ridiculous, and it’s dangerously misogynistic.

I’ve seen it twice now, and I am DONE watching this film. Never again.

Arbitrary Rating: 2/10. It avoids the lowest possible rating because the story is, at the very least, coherently constructed, however massively distasteful it may be.

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