Thursday, February 14, 2008


There's really only two variants on the Hollywood love story:

i) Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back again.

ii) Boy meets girl. Boy encounters obstacle in winning girl's affections. Boy overcomes obstacle.

In both cases, the "happily ever after" ending is contractually obligatory.

Now let's consider 'Marnie'. For 'boy' read 'ruthless businessman'; for 'girl' read 'psychologically disturbed kleptomaniac'. Here goes:

Boy - Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) - meets girl - Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren). Boy employs girl. Girl tries to rip off the contents of boy's safe. Boy catches girl in the act. Boy coerces girl into marrying him. Girl gets all frigid on the honeymoon. Boy rapes girl.

Yes, you read that right.

There's more: the catch-all description 'boy works out why girl is psychologically disturbed' pretty much sums up the last half of the film. But the key scene is Rutland's response to Marnie's frigidity, a repressed experience in childhood leaving her repulsed by any sexual advance. Rutland tries to understand her 'condition' but she is contemptuous and insists they sleep apart. "If you don't want to go to bed, please get out," she says, attempting to hustle him out of the boudoir. "But I do want to go to bed, Marnie," he replies, "I very much want to go to bed." And so saying tears her nightgown from her shoulders. It's all very Hollywood, all close ups of silk pooling around her feet, hardly an inch of flesh on display, and Rutland is immediately contrite, draping his dressing gown around her. He sits her down on the edge of the bed, but straightaway starts getting tactile again.

Then he forces himself on her, eyes burning with carnal lust as his face fills the screen.

Adapted from Winston Graham's novel by Jay Presson Allen, it was originally Evan Hunter, fresh off 'The Birds', whom Hitch approached to write the screenplay. Hunter considered the rape scene unnecessary and petitioned Hitchcock to excise it. Hitch was adamant and had Hunter removed from the project. As Hunter recalled in his memoir 'Me and Hitch':

Many years later when I told Jay Presson Allen how much [Hitchcock's] description of that scene had bothered me, she said, "You just got bothered by the scene that was his reason for making the movie."

Dark and twisted? You'd better believe it. 'Marnie' makes 'Vertigo' look like a light romantic comedy. Boasting a good performance from Connery and a poor one from Hedren, 'Marnie' is curiously devoid of any of the bravura set-pieces that typify Hitchcock's directorial signature. It's an oddity in the filmography. It's a blip in a decade-long run of classics.

It's a Valentine's Day movie for unrepentant cynics.

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