So, this has some parts that didn’t age well.
Tippi Hedren is our lead as “Marnie”, a con artist and corporate criminal. Her M.O. is clever enough – disguise herself, move to a small city and apply for a boring secretarial/bookkeeping job. Explain away the lack of references with a sob story about being a recent widow who’s got to fend for herself. Land the job, and fade into the wallpaper along with the rest of the secretarial pool. Linger around long enough to learn how to access the company safe – then stay late one night, empty the safe out, and skip town.
It’s been working out okay for her – she’s able to care for an elderly mother in Baltimore (Louise Latham), and it keeps her solvent. She’s a loner by default, but she’s got an aversion to sex anyway, so it works out. But then she lands a job in Philadelphia, working for a publishing company owned by one Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), and Rutland takes a romantic shine to her. And when Marnie finally hits the Rutland Co. safe, Mark catches her red-handed; but instead of turning her in, he blackmails her into marrying him in exchange for keeping her secret. And at one point in their “honeymoon”, Mark gets sick of her protestations that she “doesn’t like to be touched” and forces himself on her.
Now, there’s actually a decent mystery the film goes on to solve; why Marnie is compelled to steal, why her mother seems distant towards her, why Marnie has aversions to sex as well as to the color red or to thunder. But that moment of marital rape is where Hitchcock lost me, especially when Mark doesn’t really seem to regret his actions. Marnie even tries to kill herself afterward, but Mark saves her in the nick of time; even that doesn’t seem to cause him any remorse. Instead, he treats the whole thing as proof that Marnie needs some kind of psychological help to “overcome” her “sexual problem”.
That honeymoon rape is a mighty big thing for Hitchcock to just hand-wave away, even if you play the “but times were different then” card. It’s traumatizing enough for Marnie that she tries to kill herself, but by the end of the film she is clinging to Mark and asking him to help support her while she “recovers”. Even more troubling – one of the film’s screenwriters, when adapting it from the novel on which it was based, told Hitchcock that this particular scene should be cut; but Hitchcock disagreed, asserting that this scene “was the whole point”. He then went on to fire that particular screenwriter for even raising such a complaint.
I’ll admit I was already disinclined towards this film, since there are allegations that Hitchcock sexually harassed Hedren while filming this and The Birds. Hitchcock’s actions might sound eerily familiar to anyone following Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trials – Hitchcock persistently pestered Hedren to go out with him, tried to corner her alone a lot, and a couple times even tried to force her. When she continued to refuse him, Hitchcock finally blacklisted her – he even stopped the studio from putting Hedren’s name in for an Oscar consideration – and her career took a major hit as a result. I nevertheless tried giving it a fair shot – only to see that Hitchcock actually went a bit further than Weinstein, and depicted a sexual assault in the film itself, saying that “it was the whole point”.
Yeah, I’ll bet it was, Hitch.