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Marnie: Collector's Edition

For admirers and scholars of Alfred Hitchcock, Marnie has always been troublesome. Trashed by reviewers when it first appeared in 1964, the film has since split Hitchcock critics down the middle, with many declaring that it is largely ill-conceived, overly simplistic, or just plain melodramatic. However, in recent years another group of Hitch writers — perhaps unwavering in their praise of The Master, definitely more vocal — see it as one of his greatest masterpieces, a film that rejects much of the literal filmmaking Hitchcock relied upon for the majority of his career and reaches back to his earliest days behind the camera, when he worked in Germany and studied under the great German Expressionists, who broke new cinematic ground during the 1920s. But, no matter what the critical consensus may be from year to year, there is a certain finality about Marnie. This was the last film to feature a true "Hitchcock blonde" in the lead. It was Hitchcock's last collaboration with legendary composer Bernard Hermann, whose florid compositions put a stamp on numerous Hitch classics. And after Marnie, Hitchcock only made four more films, and none of them had the impact his earlier work did. Good or bad, Marnie was the last important film that Hitchcock made. Tippi Hedren stars as Marnie Edgar, a compulsive thief who has taken clerical jobs from Baltimore to Buffalo, only to bide her time for a few weeks and then loot the safe. But when she turns up in Philadelphia at Rutland Insurance, company man Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) discovers her pattern of theft and then threatens to expose her unless she marries him. Far from a marriage of convenience, playboy Mark, who loves a challenge, sees Marnie as a sort of wild animal that he has trapped and intends to tame, while his new bride struggles with various deep-seated psychological problems — including a fear of thunderstorms and sexual frigidity — that indicate a traumatic event in her past. Before long, Mark becomes fascinated with Marnie's emotional dilemmas, which he intends to pinpoint and perhaps cure.

*          *          *

While not as satisfying as other psychological dramas such as Vertigo and Psycho, Marnie is an important element of later Hitchcock films, sharing thematic traits with many of them (To Catch a Thief essays the sexual power of crime; Vertigo is about a man obsessed with making over a woman into a perfect image; Psycho is also about theft, and it deals with a secretive parent-child relationship that transforms the identity of a grown child years after a traumatic event). As opposed to much of Hitchcock's earlier films, which (with rare exceptions) relied on traditional storylines, his output from the mid-50s until 1964 dealt with a variety of psycho-sexual issues (and, in the case of The Birds, suggested a sort of collective or meta-psychology). Nonetheless, Marnie is a weaker entry in this decade-long arc. The performances from Hedren and Connery are solid and never strike a false note, but it's one thing to make a film with psychological underpinnings and quite another to make one that deals specifically with psychotherapy. For drama to function, the complex must always be reduced to the simple while maintaining suspension of disbelief, but there is something about Marnie's trauma that is irreducible, and the attempt towards the end of the film to codify Marnie's predicament — to simply reveal a childhood event and thus wrap up her damaged persona with a bright red bow — strains all credulity. Where Marnie is the most valuable is in many individual scenes, where Hitch shows off his ideas of "pure cinema" in small vignettes, with thoughtful editing, fluid camera work, and careful selection of colors. Hermann's score is as lovely as any he ever made, and Edith Head, as usual, provided Hitchcock with the wardrobe, which always flattered his leading ladies. Universal's Marnie: Collector's Edition DVD features a clean transfer from a good source print, which has a varying quality but overall is very colorful and pleasant, and audio is in the original mono (DD 2.0). Features include the 60-minute retrospective documentary "The Trouble With Marnie," featuring comments from Hedren, actress Diane Baker, screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, and others; an 11-minute running still-gallery with Hermann's score; Hitchcock's original, witty theatrical trailer; production notes; and cast-and-crew bios and filmographies. Anybody interested in the works of Alfred Hitchcock should have a look at Marnie, and serious Hitch-fans will want to add this DVD to their collections.
—JJB



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