(director: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: Winston Graham (novel)/Jay Presson Allen; cinematographer: Robert Burks; editor: George Tomasini; cast: Tippi Hedren (Marnie Edgar), Sean Connery (Mark Rutland), Diane Baker (Lil Mainwaring), Martin Gabel (Sidney Strutt), Louise Latham (Bernice Edgar, Marnie’s mother), Alan Napier (Mr. Rutland), Bob Sweeney (Cousin Bob); Runtime: 130; Universal; 1964-UK)

One of Hitchcock’s more upsetting efforts.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of Hitchcock’s more upsetting efforts. Critics hated it when first released, but some have revised their opinion of late. Some even calling it one of his darkest masterpieces. It’s billed as a psychological thriller, but can more likely be viewed as a perverse romantic pic. It’s a case study of a woman, Marnie (Tippi Hedren), who is a hater of men, a pathological liar, and a kleptomaniac. She’s caught robbing her boss, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), and is blackmailed into marrying him. Mark is a wealthy, strangely motivated, Southern gentleman, owning a publishing house in Philadelphia, who realizes how serious her faults are and still falls in love with her.

I found Mark’s romantic interest in her to be almost unbelievable and the story lacking in the usual Hitchcockian suspense.

What it had going for it was a sense of fashions, colors, troubling mood changes, style and, most importantly, a sense of inward tension. The clothes Tippi Hedren wore were designed by Edith Head and her elegant hairstyles were created by Alexandre of Paris. The way the filmmaker framed his shots using spatial backdrops, playing out the themes of sexual repression and alienation whenever he could, using yellows and reds to signal psychological danger signs for the disturbed heroine, all gave the film a lush outer look.

If the story itself wasn’t credible, the delve into the dark natures of the two protagonists was. This more than any other Hitchcock film is one that requires much thought and does not rely on the action scenes to provide the thrills.

Marnie, hired under a fictitious name as a secretary for four months in the New York accounting office of Mr. Strutt (Martin Gabel), robs her boss of a considerable sum of money. Marnie changes her hairdo and identity every time she robs a place. She then returns to her mother in Baltimore with presents. Her relationship with mom is fraught with abnormal psychological overtones. The mother is in a state of denial about how she feels about her daughter; while the daughter exhibits strange behavior such as, freaking out at seeing red gladiolus in her mother’s vase. Marnie is trying to gain her mother’s love by materially providing for her while also desperately is trying to please her by being a respectable woman. The highlight of her home visit comes when her mother exclaims: “decent women don’t have a need for a man;” and, Marnie accepts this as gospel. It seems that the mother didn’t mention anything about stealing, as part of a person being decent.

One of Strutt’s wealthy clients, the publisher Mark Rutland, hires Marnie as a secretary without checking her references. He recognizes her from Strutt’s office and is curious, or rather he is extremely attracted to her icy blonde beauty. When he catches her with a suitcase of money she robbed from his safe he insists that she marry him, even though she explains how sick she really is. It was not possible for me to understand why he married her…but, I guess a lot of marriages can’t be explained! How Hitchcock explains it, is that Mark is obsessed with her and needs to study her psyche so he can cure her and satisfy his own neuroses. When she accuses him of being pretty sick himself Mark lamely replies, “I never said I was perfect.” That answer was just too glib to accept as a reasonable response.

Warning: spoiler to follow.

From here on, Rutland’s trail leads to what is blocking Marnie’s development and what made her such a mess. Rutland through some amateur Freudian research, after his nightmarish honeymoon trip, finds the answer is in the mother she doesn’t talk about. The climactic scene is when Rutland brings mother and daughter together, and the mystery of her psychosis is solved by restoring her memory through her mother’s confession about a fatal event in her childhood. She discovers why she is so afraid of thunder and lightning and why she goes into a state of shock over seeing the color red. What results is a glum vision of a male-female relationship, one that deploys the Master’s artistic tricks to cover-up a rather weak story line. The film ends on an ambiguously hopeful note, as the couple tries to mend their damaged past and face their uncertain future together. Walking outside the skies are clear and the children are playing, and the two of them have some renewed hope in their sick relationship surviving and getting better. As disturbing as this story was, the sexual content of its subject matter was handled with skill and left the viewer much to think about.