MARNIE (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)

It’s the wee hours and for the first time in decades I revisited Marnie. Absolutely stunning as mother-daughter drama. Indeed, this is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen about parenting. It’s so ironic, this: in Rebecca (1940) and Vertigo (1958), the thematic refrain is “Too late, too late.” This film reverses that refrain, and the outcome is still disastrous. Brutal stuff, what with the horse’s fate and the symbolism tied up in that. All the yonic imagery, too, with its ultimate resolution in flashback in Bernice’s—well, you get the picture (if you’ve seen the picture). Even when the script (by Jay Presson Allen) is thin, Hitch’s film is visually powerful. Beads of Notorious (1946) and Vertigo, but also of Spellbound (1945) and North by Northwest (1959), are threaded into the fabric of this truly unsettling, upsetting film. It’s too long, too plot-ty, and Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigogical score is irritating, and Tippi Hedren (goodness knows!) can’t act; but the strong outweighs the paltry here, and Robert Burks’s color photography is luminous. As with Vertigo, the whole film may be a dream, with each “waking up” in it but another part of the dream.

That shoe slipping out of Marnie’s pocket by degrees: While my heart was teased into cardiac arrest as I watched this, my brain ransacked memory: How many of Hitch’s most suspenseful bits are sexual at some level? (Pity the horse that had to be sacrificed for the sake of frigid Marnie’s substitute-orgasm.)

Of course, the film is packed; it is psychologically dense, as much about father-son as about mother-daughter—and about being the surviving “black sheep” in a family structured around reverence for the memory of the lost son/lost brother (I thought of the Kennedy family, which by this time had added another son to its loss of the revered Joe Jr.). Indeed, husband and wife, Mark and Marnie (similar names), mirror-image each other in many ways: one is an only child, one is not; one is motherless, one is not; one is fatherless, one is not; one does his best to undo the other’s acts of thievery, for example, by making restitution; one embraces and weds an impossible, because frigid, partner; one is neurotic, one is psychotic. Perhaps I was wrong that the film is too long. Hitch’s Marnie carefully composes a jigsaw puzzle of complementary deficient personalities.

Sister-in-law Lil kept reminding me of the vicious housekeeper that Margaret Leighton strikingly plays in Hitch’s Under Capricorn (1949); but how much “softer” a version she is here! The neighborhood child that Bernice has befriended represents an instance of Marnie’s paranoid projection that Hitch has effortlessly drawn into a seemingly objective context.


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