Marnie (DVD)

The late '60s and early '70s saw a loosening of restrictions relating to what movies could show, a phenomenon that didn't always work to Alfred Hitchcock's advantage. In 1960, Psycho allowed him to push his powers of suggestion—and the era's codes of permissiveness—to their limit, resulting in deeply shocking scenes of violence in which knives are never shown touching flesh. (That's saying nothing of a bizarre collection of psychosexual disorders never adequately explained by Simon Oakland's overly helpful psychiatrist.) By 1972's Frenzy, times had changed. An uneasy mixture of technical bravado, shorthand Freudianisms, and glib sexual violence, the film crosses the line between shocking and repulsive. Falling squarely between those two movies, in content if not chronology, is 1964's Marnie, starring Tippi Hedren as a psychologically scarred compulsive thief and Sean Connery as the man who tries to tame her. With only one suspense setpiece, albeit one of his best, Marnie marked something of a departure for Hitchcock. But in every other respect it's unmistakably his, making it essential viewing for the director's admirers even in moments when it's not compelling on its own terms. Perhaps the ultimate in a succession of icy blondes in Hitchcock films, Hedren's character spends virtually the entire movie under a microscope as Connery, the ostensible hero, can't decide whether to possess, protect, or analyze her. Midway through, he even engages in a honeymoon rape, briefly turning Marnie into a grotesque parody of marriage rites and creating the queasy feeling that Hitchcock had been heading toward such a scene for years. It's this moment that caused Marnie to lose a writer, Evan Hunter (a.k.a. Ed McBain), who later heard it described as Hitchcock's sole reason for making the film. The Trouble With Marnie, an hour-long documentary included on this new DVD version, helps explain Marnie, but it remains, in Hitchcock's own words, "a very difficult film to classify." Considered a misfire at the time, it now looks like late-period Hitchcock at his most Hitchcockian. Like David Lynch's Lost Highway, it's so overrun with the director's most familiar themes and obsessions that the film itself has hardly any room to breathe. It's a must for those already enthralled by Rear Window, Vertigo, and the like, but a bit of a slog for anyone else.

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