I don’t think this movie appears on many lists of The Best of Alfred Hitchcock, although Peter Bogdanovich speaks highly of it. I recall being not too impressed the first time I saw it, in high school, but I’ll admit my girlfriend and I were up in the balcony and we were making out pretty hot and heavy. I don’t think I’d seen it in its entirety since then, though I’ve caught a few scenes here and there. So I wasn’t expecting much, and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s much better than I remember it.
It seemed to me that the weakness of the film was the ending. I thought that after all that tense build-up, the solution to why Marnie was so screwed-up would be something a little more exciting. I don’t know what that would be, it’s just that I was unsatisfied. I still think the ending was weak—though Tippi Hedren acts her heart out selling it—but it worked a lot better for me this time. She was a compulsive thief, an habitual liar, and what back then we called “frigid..” (What we horny high schoolers meant by that was a girl who had rebuffed our advances: I’m so manly, she must be frigid.) But she really is sexually dysfunctional, hates men, can’t bear to be touched. Sean Connery is fascinated by her and sets out to fix her. The dude has major control issues, but the fact is she really does need help, from a professional, which she refuses to do. It’s going to be him, or nothing.
He forces her to marry him because he has the goods on her thievery. On their joke honeymoon he agrees not to touch her, then rapes her. Her response is to try to drown herself in the pool. His response: “Why didn’t you throw yourself into the sea?” Clearly he sees it as just a gesture, though she would have been just as dead if he hadn’t come along in the nick of time.
It’s quite a romantic story, though it is impossible to like him. The “Making of” documentary on the DVD has Evan Hunter, who was hired to write it, explaining why he couldn’t write the rape scene. How do you make the audience like Connery after that? And he was right. But Hitch was insistent, Hunter was fired, and Jay Presson Allen was brought on to re-write. She gets screen credit for it.
I am sure that one reason I liked it much better this time has more to do with me knowing a lot more about filmmaking now than I did then. Cinematically, it is a work of genius, brimming with those Hitchcock touches that set him apart from other directors. The camera becomes the storyteller, whenever possible, something that most directors never do get the hang of.