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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Longest Saturday Night At The Movies

Primetime's Endless Marnie March

Lately re-watched this hugely unpleasant Hitchcock film, first view having been NBC's Saturday Night At The Movies. This was Marnie's TV premiere, November 4, 1967, and site where many millions more saw it than in theatres. Whatever mass opinion there was of Marnie, at least during the 60's, would be formed here, and from NBC's rerun on 6-11-68. The November airdate scored a 26.4 rating, among highest that season for an NBC movie, the encore seeing 19.5 (The Birds, shown 1-6-68, would be a ratings phenomenon with 38.9). What really hurt Marnie, then and in retrospect, was how long it took both evenings to get through it. NBC devoted two hours and forty-five minutes to the 130 minute film --- an already lugubrious sit swollen further by thirty-five minutes of commercials. I remember this and other nights where network movies ran way past bedtime. We didn't want them cut, heaven knows local stations did enough of that. As midnight loomed and eyes gave way to fatigue, how could anyone come away from Marnie with good impression? Yet here was where overwhelming majority would be exposed to Hitchcock's effort, and form their opinion.

It made little difference what critics wrote where a film was so weighed down. Pauline Kael said Marnie was Hitchcock "scraping bottom," while Robin Wood judged it a masterpiece. I had not read either of them for being thirteen and not yet a subscriber to highbrow journals. What I and other TV Guide readers had (millions across the land) was Judith Crist and her weekly column of picks and pans. Just as there were infinitely more who saw Marnie on NBC than on paying basis in theatres, so too did Crist readership soundly overwhelm Kael followers. So how come so many venerate Kael still, but forget Crist? When Kael died (9-3-2001), there was tribute galore, while Crist passed on (8-7-2012) with far less notice. Perhaps it was case not of how many read you, but who. Crist was the name known to me in 1967, not Kael. She didn't like Marnie either ("just tolerable ... unworthy of the master"), which probably flipped at least a few hundred thousand viewers to Hogan's Heroes/Petticoat Junction that 1967 night, or Dale Robertson in The Iron Horse over at ABC.

Marnie today is at least every visual thing you want it to be, thanks to a lovely Blu-Ray in proper 1.85, or similarly broadcast on various satellite channels in HD, a fair shake at last for a Hitchcock so long in the shade. Marnie falls in the ten year category for me, that being how often I've come back to it, with reaction differing each time. At thirteen, I was too young to fully get it, overpraised it once I finally did, and now realizing this last might be a final watch. Does there come turning point for a show that's been in our lives from childhood, or at least adolescence, where we ask, Will I ever be here again? That's mortality that whispers often as I look at familiar films with mixed emotion and figure maybe it's a last visit, that less thinking my time is closing in than recognition that there are a thousand others I want to see before bells toll, so why drop another 130 minutes on Marnie? Wouldn't increasingly precious hours be better spent with North By Northwest? (speaking of long ones)

Marnie is filled with good moments. Great ones, in fact. Marnie's robbery of the Rutland safe as a hard-of-hearing cleanup woman mops outside, the storm and "stop the colors!" that lead to a closer-than-close up kiss, and best of all, the camera slow closing in on party arrivals of which Marnie's nemesis Strutt (Martin Gabel) is last to enter (a highlight similar to Hitchcock's long approach to the key clutched by Ingrid Bergman in Notorious). What the director needed, but didn't have, for Marnie, was an actress of Bergman's capacity to play the title role. Tippi Hedren invites no interest, let alone sympathy, at least from me. It isn't that Hedren is a bad actress. I understand too little of the craft to properly criticize those who apply themselves to it. Where do ones of us who've never seriously acted come off razzing those who have? In the end, it's a purely instinctive response. I don't enjoy Tippi Hedren as Marnie because she projects no vulnerability, as I believe a Bergman would (too old by 1964, I realize), or Hitchcock's first choice, Grace Kelly might have. It's no good to spend a whole movie recasting the main part. This time I leaned toward Eva Marie Saint as possible substitute. Next time ... but wait, there might not be a next time.

All movies, at least competent ones, invite us to identify with a character. For women here, it would presumably be Hedrin as the title character, which puts me to wondering how women generally react to Marnie, outside of Kael and Crist, that is. She's any man's worst nightmare for sure, the more so because Hedrin plays so utterly nasty to Mark Rutland as done by Sean Connery. "Frigid" but barely describes Marnie ... she's more a floating iceberg. I don't believe for a moment that last act revelations will straighten this woman out. So what if she now knows it was her that clocked Bruce Dern, that a small valise among baggage Marnie carries. The character is so hardened, so cruel to Connery, his long suffering what a male audience will likeliest identify with, and be discomfited by. It's as though 007 were trying to make a proper wife of villainesses he had to cope with in Bond vehicles wrapped around release of Marnie (the film came between From Russia With Love and Goldfinger). Connery's Mark Rutland plays the fool for a woman he cannot sleep with, and because it's Hedrin rather than a more appealing actress as Marnie, we lose patience with him. What pleasure comes of seeing James Bond made impotent? I'd guess at least Hitchcock felt for Rutland's plight, intensely so, if we are to embrace backstage accounts of his obsession with Tippi Hedren.

Marnie was difficult to market, a biggest problem since Vertigo for Hitchcock. The previous three had been naturals: North By Northwest with Cary Grant and built to crowd-please, Psycho and outrage of its shower killing, The Birds with spectacle, if less suspense (those around in 1963 will remember talk this one aroused). Hitchcock admits in his Marnie trailer that it is "hard to classify." I can hear Lew Wasserman whispering the same off-camera. The preview asks, "Is Marnie "A Sex Story?, a Mystery?, a Detective Story?, a Story Of A Thief?, a Love Story?" Answer: Yes, and More! Hitchcock had to worry of critics and viewers saying Marnie was actually none of these, at least to effective degree. And critic approval did matter to Hitchcock, in fact too much so by 1964 and worship of him by the Cashiers du Cinema crowd. Central problem: Ads couldn't convey what Marnie was about, and that was deadly for any film, even a Hitchcock. Print promotion, like the trailer, would ask more questions than answer. Disappointment with boxoffice was probably seen coming by sales staff, if not the director. Wasserman as result felt justified slipping tighter leash on his auteur trophy. Their next, Torn Curtain, would be more his picture than Hitchcock's.


Blogger Bill O said...

Universal's sales force, knowing it had a dog in house, went unusually vulgar, emphasizing SEX in both print ads and trailer. AH seems apologetic about saying it aloud, as if he'd just broken a sacred audience covenant. I'm more favorable towards Tippi, and think Princess Grace would've been icier in the role.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I remember watching some of it that November. I, too, was 13. I`ve never liked the film and probably won`t watch it again.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

MARNIE has never rang my bell, but I do love the photo you used showing Tippi having her hair done. Very likely while sitting in Beaver and Wally's front yard.

10:41 AM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

You raised a very interesting point: are we now of an age where each viewing of a favourite could be the last time we'll get round to it? This occurred to me watching KANE a few months ago. So I started up a FB page called THE LAST CHANCE FILM SHOW... when I happen upon an old favourite or a classic not viewed for years...even a piece of rubbish that somehow encapsulates a particular era...which is probably where MARNIE fits in. Sean wears his Bond suit well so it was a fix between 007s. ...then the amateur psychology took over in the later years. Now I have to watch it again and see if it still speaks to me as I thought it did for all those years.

4:20 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

The problem with "Marnie" is that it's really just "Spellbound" with a role reversal - instead of Gregory Peck with a deep psychological problem being saved by Ingrid Bergman, we get psycho Tippi saved by Sean Connery.

The script would have been more at home in the 1940s, with the sex implied by limitations of the Production Code. It's uncomfortable because Hitch is trying to make the problems of their relationship contemporary, so more focus is put on the sexual relationship than what attracts them to each other as human beings.

Thankfully, I saw this one on home video in the 1980s without commercial interruption. A marathon viewing with constant ads would have probably made me give up on it.

There are some good scenes in the show, but there's just as many that are downright corny and embarrassing.

It's too bad Hitch didn't work with writers and producers that could have nudged him in some interesting directions later in his career, building on his strengths as a storyteller, rather than trying to follow the changing market.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

One may also ask, what pleasure comes from watching Sean Connery rape his leading lady?

There are quite a few movies I return to every ten years or so, but this is not one of them. I wanna like it, but I can't.

11:20 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

By reports, the rape was pivotal . AH fired Evan Hunter for refusing to write it, saying it would take all sympathy from Connery."I want the camera right on her face when he sticks it in."

5:08 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Writers often write books their public rejects. Singers often sing songs their public rejects. The same with film makers and with actors. Sometimes, often, our best work meets with little or no acceptance. MARNIE is not one of Hitchcock's greats howeverI never had a problem with this film. I can't watch anything on TV. The commercials put me to sleep no matter how refreshed I am when the program starts. By the third set of commercials I am out. Gave up on TV long ago.

7:51 AM  
Blogger The Metzinger Sisters said...

I enjoy Marnie and watch it probably once every year or two, but I like it mainly because of the "mood" of the film, the fond memories I have associated with watching it ( usually in autumn ), and some favorite scenes. On the whole, it could have been vastly improved, but when you have Tippi, Diane Baker, great settings ( I especially like the office scenes plus the rich society segments ), and biggest draw of all - Sean Connery - to ogle over, I'll not complain. Perhaps there will be a day when I get tired of the film too, but that will only come once the mood of the film no longer appeals to me...which I hope won't happen anytime soon. This is just one woman's perspective.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Lew Wasserman chose TOPAZ and others for Hitchcock. FRENZY was the one Hitchcock chose to restore his lustre. It did.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Well, will have to dig up MARNIE again! Have not viewed it since I got the Universal box set 12 or so years ago, although I meant to screen 'er after that pair of Hitchcock bio-flicks came by a while back. I see many of the comments here are of the some-interesting-moments-but-on-the-whole-not-so-hot opinion. I would flip that. Always thought it a pretty good picture with a few cringe inducing touches. Coolcatdaddy may have a point with the SPELLBOUND comparison, but I didn't sit around after that one thinking 'Geez, you know Ingrid Bergman was just as nuts as Gregory Peck. I wonder what HER problem was!' Will have to see if it still holds up for me.

Despite his very lucrative business arrangements, Hitch was on a pretty short leash (relatively) the last twenty years and many of the tropes and techniques that had served him so well suddenly seemed quaint and/or clunky at Universal City. The death/retirement/estrangement of so many of his longtime colleagues didn't help. His final six features (including THE BIRDS and FRENZY) have at least a little of the Universal tackiness, yet I enjoy them all. The process shots, matte paintings, glamour girl close-ups all seemed a bit out of step in the sixties, but I find them all the more endearing now. Kinda get a kick out of how much Hitch got a kick out of indulging a supporting ham in each of these later films too. In MARNIE, his pet seems to be Louise Latham who gleefully gobbles up those painted backdrops in the finale like candy! Personal opinion here, but once I start any of these final half dozen, for all the Universal City cheesiness, I hang in till the end. It's those four at the end of his Selznick contract (PARADINE CASE, ROPE, UNDER CAPRICORN and STAGE FRIGHT) that I find suspense-free and tough sit-throughs.

Most interesting part of your piece for me, though, is the nod to Judith Crist. The comparison to Pauline Kael is interesting but, I think, a bit off the mark. Kael and Andrew Sarris were the two great influences on film criticism in the sixties and seventies, huge forces on how writers and perhaps film makers thought and wrote about film. As a regular contributor to TV GUIDE and the TODAY SHOW, Crist was more of a precursor to public figures like Rogert Ebert, Gene Siskle and Leonard Maltin, writing for a larger audience shaping her reviews more like consumer guides. 'This one is worth two hours of your time, that one isn't.' A critic for the masses, if you will. I think she is very unjustly overlooked and far more influential than given credit! As a kid, I devoured her little thumbnail reviews in TV guide. Remember she didn't just scan the prime time schedule, but later commented on all the oldies and off-the-beam independents CBS ran late night! Would love to hear more about how the impact her comments did or didn't have on network viewership.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

I still have a rather tattered paperback titled Judith Crist's TV Guide to the Movies, published in 1974, I'm guessing to capitalize on the success of Leonard Maltin's TV Movies and Steven Scheuer's Movies on TV paperbacks. The Crist book is very basic. It only includes about 1,500 movies, and lists only the movie title followed by Crist's thumbnail review. None of the extra information the other books provided, like running time, director, etc. The Crist book made for interesting reading, though, if you liked her TV Guide reviews.

Only 35 minutes of commercials in a 130 minute film. Wonder how much more bloated the commercial time would be these days? We'd be up half the night trying to get through the thing.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Nick Patterson said...

"Marnie" may be one of Hitch's more "hugely unpleasant" films {in all honesty, name a Hitchcock film that isn't}, however, it gives me more repeated pleasure than "Torn Curtain", or "Topaz" do, which in all honesty I cannot get through.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Was Hitchcock the only person who put "Tippi" in quotes?

5:01 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Yes. But one quote mark on each side....

5:12 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon reflects on "Marnie," Hitchcock, and Tippi Hedren (Part One):

I am old enough to remember the promo for "Marnie" playing between features at our local Century Drive-In in Inglewood (across from the Hollywood Park racetrack---both, now gone.) It made an impression on me, co-opting the 'red' screen and other bits from the movie. However, unlike "The Birds", the previous year, which I felt I had to see or DIE, I was not the potential audience for "Marnie". Too young. A ten-year old may want to get virtually bombarded by angry birds, but an eleven year old is not necessarily interested in the mental problems of a female kleptomaniac. Maybe some older people at the time felt the same way! I met Tippi Hedren when she came to visit her daughter, Melanie Griffith, while the latter was guest starring on an episode of "The Hardy Boys" at Universal in 1977. I made Melanie up for the show. She personally told me the story about Hitchcock giving her...not her mom, her...a tiny casket containing a little doll-like figure which was a replica of her own mother. She thought it was sick. Frankly, I'm kind of inclined to agree with her. She told me she was only six years old at the time, which is worse. You have to wonder about Hitchcock. He can be so phlegmatic and witty in so many interviews still extant that it's baffling to try to reconcile that with his often mean 'practical jokes' which apparently go all the way back to his earliest years as a director. This one was especially ill-considered. When I met her mother on the set, I stupidly asked if she'd been to see 'Hitch'. And that's how I referred to him! I still do a full-body cringe remembering that effrontery. I have to report that she was very polite and didn't even begin to 'go there', as per her later revelations and resentments about Hitchcock. But, life is more complex than 'he/she said', for years later I myself met Bernard Herrmann's second wife Lucy Anderson, and she ventured the opinion, which she said was shared by Herrmann, that Hedren knew very well the effect she had on Hitchcock, and---as the old saying goes---played it for all it was worth. Perhaps however she never reckoned on it going in the direction it did. I do think a woman has a right to flirt, if she wants. It's germane to some women. I think a man can flirt back. It's knowing the borders. This is my opinion. I think if what Hedren had to say about Hitchcock is true, he crossed the line. He should have known better. Ego, I suppose. As for the film, which is what we ought to return to and focus upon, I agree with you, John, that in spite of her personal qualities, her real self, Hedren comes across as being quite cold in both "The Birds" AND "Marnie". Yet, she's able to be relaxed, even in the presence of The Master, in existing color footage of some audition stuff she did for Hitchcock on a makeshift set and playing certain scenes from some of Hitchcock's earlier films against the unlikely Martin Balsam! I think that a lot of THAT stuff, the banter, the innuendo from Hitchcock and even Balsam is indicative of the way it used to be for actresses even as Hedren has stated latterly---i.e., open season. As she's said, today a young woman could "own the studio" for what some of the gals used to be put through in the old days. But, I fell back on Hedren's real life only to emphasize that the real gal seemed quite charming and even lighthearted. I wonder if the aloof, chilly version of herself she presents to the camera in "The Birds" and through most of "Marnie" isn't just the way Hitchcock liked her, liked women in fact---ice queens, as he's been often characterized as finding ideal? Sean Connery really went to bat for her in a quote I read where he stated that she was a lot more talented that a lot more famous actresses he'd worked with.

6:36 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

I saw "Marnie" on the Big Screen in Westwood (which is right 'next door' to UCLA) sometime around 1971, and the screening, in a little jewel box theater in Westwood Village, was jammed, mostly with young people, and undoubted with UCLA film students salted in there, I should think. This was a kind of special, once-only screening in a theater that normally showed contemporary fare. Anyway, as I recall, you could have heard a pin drop in the theater all the way through. The audience was extremely respectful and even enthusiastic, and there was a big hand at the end. I think Hitchcock's hermetically sealed, magical world was by then a novelty in a time of relentlessly realistic and cinematically relatively 'homely' movies dominating the screen, then. Bernard Herrmann's practically wall-to-wall music was actually bracing and had a real personality, vs. most of the newer scores being written that seemed desperate sometimes to be "with it" and contemporary, AND traditional and pro-active. Herrmann was just Herrmann; that's all he knew how to be. People can feel that. People can tell what's authentic. You can feel when any artist is bending over backwards to please, versus just being genuine, or even "take it or leave it". I, myself, have always been drawn to the latter type, and almost never the former. And the same goes for Hitchcock. As some have said, the extent to which his later movies miss their mark and are not satisfying is, in my opinion, the extent to which Hitchcock was no longer given a free rein to be Hitchcock. "Torn Curtain" shows the breakdown, and "Topaz" is just...crap. Herrmann, who tried his best with "Torn Curtain", and was fired and humiliated for his trouble, later said that he'd tried to breathe life into "silly television characters", trying to elevate the proceedings---which was impossible, but trying---to the level of the truly terrific Hitchcocks at Paramount he'd had the good fortune to score at the beginning of their professional collaboration. But, Universal quite palpably WANTED that kind of mediocrity, under some odd conviction that it was what the audiences in the '60s and forward wanted! Unbelievable. Herrmann actually claims he later told Hitchcock, at the point of their break, "You're listening to these money men; they've made you beholden to them, and I'm ashamed of you." I kind of hope he said it!

6:39 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon:

Per one reader's surmise that they are "probably on Leave It to Beaver's front lawn" (Connery, Hedren, and her hairdresser), I can confirm that! That's almost dead right. There was once a street at Universal leading away from the portion that's still there (although reconstructed since the fire in the '80s), with the court house seen in pictures like "Inherit the Wind" and "Back to the Future", and this street had all types of domestic homes on it, and according the the demands of a given script, there was almost always a home along this block or two which could be used. You see it in old episodes of "Thriller", and you see it a LOT in "The Munsters". The "Leave It to Beaver" house was only a couple of doors away on the same side of the street from the 'Munsters' house. There was a turning off the street where there was a motel set, which was used for a short-lived '60s series called, I believe, "90 Bristol Court". There were homes on the street that were used for sob stories like the Sirk pictures, and there was a nice house (or, front!) that was used for at least one of the Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies, "Send Me No Flowers". They were all still there in 1977, and we would be driven straight past them, daily, when riding the shuttle bus from the employee parking lot at the very back of the studio property along Barham Blvd. (common with Warner Bros, across the way.) Sadly, to me, only some of these structures exist today, and ALL of them were relocated to a newly made street up higher on the property, situated there for the relentless tour, the trams, to drive by, in later years.

I agree with the reader who cited the cheese factor in the Universal films, but I do feel that Hitchcock and 'his people' initially elevated the level at the studio, and that there is a nice feeling of 'class' about "The Birds" and "Marnie" which was soon to diminish. Alfred Hitchcock continued to show up for work at the studio during the time I was there in the late months of 1977, and I saw him, twice, sitting in the back of the long green Lincoln sedan he was driven to and from the studio in. You would then see it parked under a carport directly adjacent to the Hitchcock bungalow on the main drag of the studio, while he was there. The bungalow was recognizable as belonging to the Hitchcock Unit, because it was decorated with his famous self-caricature, painted inside a circle, on the exterior wall. (Just as the fabled Phantom Stage, which I believe was numbered 28, was decorated with an identically-sized circle in which was painted a likeness of Lon Chaney's fabulous 'Erik'.) Now, the Hitchcock bungalow is a memory, and so is the Phantom Stage. Sad to think. But then again, I was 24 when I worked there in 1977. I'm 63, today. Universal has moved on.

6:45 PM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

A few thoughts on MARNIE... a common complaint from contemporaries who only saw TV showings was the in realistic backdrops esp the shipyard down the street.To me,that and the similar unreality of some of the horse riding sequences, as well as the red ink/ thunderstorm bits,gave me an uneasy dreamlike feeling that kind of accented her disturbed state of mind. Another issue was the "sadistic" Mark....I can't tell you how much my understanding of their dynamic changes the first time this was pointed out to me (forget where...maybe Sariss or Kael?). But now I wonder if a lot of what happens is Marnie viewing things through the window of her mental state....hence get paranoia about Lil, her fear of being found by Strutt,her issues with intimacy,and all sorts of other things and maybe her "rape" by Mark is skewed to her declining control of her larcenous world,the only way she has ever been able to get an "upper hand" in a pretty pathetic excuse for a life so far. Most of the picture is from her point of view so maybe we are it as she would....which maybe Hitch should have alerted us to,if that was his intention. After all these years and SO many viewings,I don't feel any closer to working much of the motivation(the characters or the directors) out,which maybe keeps me watching some pretty unpleasant stuff....I saw it a just a sort of Bond then.... the luxury of youth...

2:15 PM  

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