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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

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My name:  Brian Martin

Marnie (1964), directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Marnie - Alfred Hitchcock, Jay Presson Allen

It's hard to find the subtlety in a whip or a pair of handcuffs, but I don't suppose that means that one can't find an appreciation of nuance among the devotees of BDSM. Marnie, without quite coming out and saying so, is a movie made for dominants and submissives. It's about a frigid kleptomaniac with a dreadful past and the man determined to rehabilitate her, even if it means binding her with blackmail and thrashing her with his unwanted sexual advances. It is, according to the original poster, Alfred Hitchcock's "suspenseful sex mystery."


Now, I'm not sure what a "sex mystery" is -- a glory hole, perhaps? -- but whatever it is, it sounds more like a Hitchcock picture than what I think this movie really is, which is an exploration of the mystery of sex, albeit the darker side of it. It asks questions like, "How far do love and good intentions allow a man to go?", "Is blackmail ever justified?", and "When is rape for a woman's own good?" Clearly, this is no movie for the knee-jerk crowd.


The logic of most movies (and books, for that matter) is one of begging the question. The end doesn't justify the means, it determines them. What would you do if you knew everything would work out in the end? Probably all the crazy things Hollywood heroes do. And would you be wrong? Or would it matter if you were, if you had that bright conclusion to point to in your own defense? As disturbing as this movie is, it becomes even more so when Hitchcock's record of playing around with this logic is factored in. His two previous films were Psycho and The Birds, neither of which can be said have a "good" ending. At one point in the film Mark (Sean Connery) promises not to touch Marnie (Tippi Hedren). What we don't know is whether the promise of a happy ending will be just as ephemeral.


The movie opens with Marnie carrying a bag of money she stole from her most recent employer, Mr. Strutt. Strutt does business with Mark; earlier he had pointed out Marnie ("the dish," as Mark's sister-in-law refers to her) to Mark. So when Marnie, clueless, interviews at Mark's company, Mark, curious, sees to it that she gets the job. Knowledge is power, so Mark is already dominant. He becomes more so when Marnie reverts to form and steals from Mark: now he has the threat of jail to hold over her.


Marnie, though, is a reluctant submissive. With one exception, she resists every step of the way. This brings up the pesky matter of consent, but Mark doesn't sweat the small stuff; he disciplines her as he sees fit, beginning by coercing her to marry him. As Marnie sarcastically remarks, he owns her now, and Mark cheerfully agrees.


Is this a feminist nightmare or a kinky sex fantasy? A bit of both, I think. But it's Hitchcock all the way. The suspense is generated by Marnie's life of crime, the mystery by her psychological problems (they date back to her childhood), and the sex by about a million years of cold, hard instinct.


The first time we see Marnie, she is just a dark-haired woman walking away from the camera. We see her packing her stolen booty in a suitcase, selecting a new identity, and rinsing her hair. The first time we see her face, it's an eloquent shot of the blonde Tippi Hedren throwing her hair back and smiling. It's the last time she will be in control, but it sets her up as the center of the film, dramatically and emotionally. I believe they call that topping from the bottom.