Review: “Marnie” (1964)

Sex Mystery? The only mystery is, where's the sex?

So, I’ve been on this lil’ Hitchcock kick – ‘CUZ WHY NOT RIGHT? – going down the list of all the “classics” we hold so “near” and “dear” to our “hearts.” It’s been years of this (one and a half), alternating between the famous and the non-famous, the wild and the quiet, the late to the debut.

I found myself this chilly evening wrapped in the arms of Marnie, nestled tightly in the excellent bun that was the Herrmann years, which spawned Vertigo, Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and The Birds, among a small handful of others.

In that small handful is this crazy bitch:

Laura Palmer, eat your tits out.

Now, much to my delight, disappointment, surprise, and horror, this 1964 psychological rape-centric stunner turned out to be an absolute fucking hysterical mess. And wouldn’t you be shocked? Psycho is so simply powerful, and Vertigo so epic and stirring, and The Birds so confidently grotesque (though campy in its own right), that one really wouldn’t expect to find a flaming piece of hilarious shit smack-dab right in the middle of this era. And its name is Tippi Hedren.

Marnie opens like any other masterpiece by this timeless auteur… A vibrant opening shot, the back of a proper woman (of course; what a fag), a raven-haired beauty in a grey Jackie O. Followed by a serene opening credit sequence complete with makeover montage, we’re presented with a striking start to yet another classy thriller. What is to follow, however, does not even try to live up to the opening’s wonder.

We meet Marnie’s mom (a horribly accented Louise Latham, stage queen), who’s stiff as a board and weary like an old doorknob, or a tired vibrator. This woman, frankly, sucks, and makes a fool of herself almost as badly as poor Claude Daigle’s drunkard mom Eileen Heckart in The Bad Seed.

Luckily, we soon get to know Diane Baker, a deliciously evil and underrated actress (also of Strait-Jacket fame), and, of course, the leading man, Sean Connery, fresh off two Bond movies, and who has never looked so fucking good, you guys.

Connery: Too hot for TV

I could write an essay on this man’s quadriceps at this time in his career. Heck, I could do many things on this man’s quadriceps. With the build of an apeman and the smile of a horny teenager, I like to think of Connery as too sexy for the early ‘60s, with constant bedroom eyes that say one too many things.

Such a scandal, that expression. As for his acting, I’m happy (and proud?) to say he handles it well; other than Jimmy Stewart, the leading men in this canon rarely do more than make the woman look insane, even if that woman is Anthony Perkins.

"Those two hams. In that mirror!" "No, darling. That's just us."

The same cannot be said for Tippi – squawking like a pigeon and weeping like an orphan, she’s almost immediately unlikeable. As a viewer, I really tried hard to get over it – I did! – but she made it a difficult task. The entire movie is centered around why this woman is a thieving banshee, and yet, we’re supposed to like her? We’re supposed to know what she’s thinking? It raises the question: are we here to get in this character’s brain, or are we here to stare at her like she were some three-eyed billygoat?

Billygoat.

There’s a shocking number of excruciating moments: greenscreened equestrian romps – though, fortunately, it’s where we see Hedren flung like a ragdoll; colored lightning storms because rainbows ignite Marnie’s inner She-Wolf; and a climax that makes the final scene in Dancer in the Dark look like Flubber. This ending is so grotesquely unwatchable, we should call it Prostitution Flashbacks On Ice.  It’s just painfully embarrassing for actors and viewer.

One excellent sequence, luckily, nearly saves the picture. In a tense and brutal moment, void of melodramatic Herrmannisms and lacking in Hedren close-ups, we watch our ice queen jewel thief hack a vault, all the whole avoiding the pesky jani-dyke with her bucket and mop and F.U.P.A. (Webster’s definition: “Fat Upper-Pussy Area”). Marnie, the smooth criminal, removes her dainty shoes and tiptoes across the floor, with de money, for an achingly long minute. It’s lovely.

"Somebody farted."

Marnie has the reputation of being the office slut, and the most disputed movie in this director’s pool of chillers. I’m aware that here he’s tackled severely dark themes, and that’s valiant and commendable. But is the movie GOOD? Have I terribly misdiagnosed this ahead-of-its-time psychotrip? All I know is, it tries to do too much too fast, and it places too much of the burden on Hedren’s unreliable shoulders.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

Marnie is Rated PG for sex games, violence, hair dye, and horsecocks.


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About Ross

Ross studied film at Emerson while working for indie producers, and he critiques shit from a queer POV here and @GingerBredhaus. He also produced 2015 gay horror slasher comedy YOU'RE KILLING ME and creates immersive theater in NYC.