I have held that The Birds was Alfred Hitchcock's last masterpiece. The five films he made after (Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot), are not remembered with the passion and respect that The Birds, Vertigo, Psycho, or Rear Window are. Of course, it's unfair to judge a film before watching it. With that in mind, I decided to watch the post-Birds films and see if they are undiscovered treasures or the floundering efforts of a declining genius.
First on the list is Marnie, and while there are a few things to recommend it, it has to be considered a minor Hitchcock film. It was as if he tried to bring another version of Spellbound (in terms of plot and greatness) but ended up with another version of Suspicion (one of his weakest films).
Tippi Hedren stars as Marnie, a thief who has robbed her employers of thousands of dollars, from what I saw to help her mother and keep a horse (her only indulgence). Sean Connery is Mark Rutland, the head of the company she's planning her next heist on. She eventually commits the planned robbery, but Rutland is on to her and blackmails her into marrying him. Once married, she wants nothing to do with him, repulsed by his touch and disgusted by even the suggestion of sex with him. Mark recognizes that Marnie has some secret that even she's not fully aware of. Eventually, after a horse-riding accident, he cajoles her and her mother into discovering the strange history of Marnie, and now that the truth has set her free, she and Mark can start a life together.
There are certainly signs that Hitchcock is still a visual craftsman of the first rank. When we first see Marnie's face, it's a pure vision of exquisite beauty, accentuated by Bernard Herrmann's beautiful score. Another flash of genius is when Marnie finally pulls of her heist. In the scene, she is suppose to be alone, but we see in the wide shot that parallel to her is a cleaning lady. When Marnie starts to leave, she realizes there may be a witness. She takes her heels off and tiptoes out, but we see her shoe start to slip out. When the other shoe literally drops...well, why ruin it for you?
However, there are problems. This was Tippi Hedren's second film, and while she was excellent in The Birds here she seems a little out of place, a bit lost. I don't think it's fair to fault her for this: she was doing her best with little to any experience. Connery, however, is a different matter. He had much experience in film and on the stage, and in Marnie he is oddly cold and remote, without any passion (or in some cases, interest) in his performance. The phrase "phoning it in" seems apt. Connery is a first-rate actor, but his has to be one of his weaker performances.
The performances aren't central to the issues Marnie has. The story is a bit odd. Mark doesn't appear at any time to be in love with Marnie, so why would he want to marry her? His motives are even more strange when you consider Marnie absolutely wants nothing to do with him sexually. On their honeymoon she is physically revolted at the thought of a kiss, and I couldn't help but wonder if she had been horribly abused, or maybe even a lesbian (not that I'm suggesting a woman 'becomes' a lesbian due to abuse). Still, there has to be a reason why she's so repulsed by the idea of going to bed with him that she would try to drown herself in a pool. It would have made more sense to either turn her in or just have someone following her. It doesn't help that some scenes (the fox hunt or when Connery is suppose to be looking down a hall searching for Marnie) are obviously fake with unconvincing effects and poor sets.
There is one good thing in Marnie: Bernard Herrmann's beautiful score. The title music and the music for the fox hunt are especially good and memorable. The soundtrack is worth getting, and it's unfortunate that both the studio and Hitchcock disliked it--the director wanting a pop score instead of the traditional, lush music that was Herrmann's forte. Tragically, this would be their last collaboration--Hitchcock dumping Herrmann when the music for Torn Curtain wasn't pop. That should be remembered as the first step in the fall of Sir Hitch.
However, Marnie appears to be the start of Hitchcock's slow descent.