Cinema: A Minor Hitch

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Marnie. When Marnie (Tippi Hedren) confronts a bouquet of crimson gladioli, the screen goes red. When she spills red ink, she flees. Red coats at a hunt, red dots on a jockey's colors panic her. Why is she so terrified of the color red? Too much like blood, maybe?

That's too easy, of course. Confidently, viewers settle back expecting old Master Spooksmith Alfred Hitchcock to splash some real surprises on the screen. Visions of Spellbound, Rear Window and Psycho dance in their heads. But all that develops is that red equals blood and Marnie equals the straightforward case history of a frigid kleptomaniac, a bookkeeper who burgles but won't bundle. Marnie's boss (Sean Connery) finds her out, then forces her to marry him so he can pursue his interest in "instinctual behavior." He learns that Mamie's hot little hands and cold blood date back to One Horrible Night during her childhood. The Thing That Happened is revealed in a gory but awkward flashback, replete with tidy psychological insights and a long-awaited corpse.

Unfortunately, the deadest characters in Marnie are the live ones, for they are only skeletons fleshed with syndromes. As the patient husband, Connery performs with pallid competence, uncertain whether his role requires him to be a compulsive armchair analyst or a sadist in love. He seems to yearn for the patently farfetched heroics he has enjoyed as James Bond in From Russia With Love. Actress Hedren, obviously groomed for stardom by the Master, zips through some 32 costume changes without seriously ruffling her composure. Hitchcock's elegant cinematic style, evident here and there, seems wasted in a melange of banal dialogue, obtrusively phony process shots, and a plot that congeals more often than it thickens.

When an unknown director turns out a suspense melodrama as dreary and unconvincing as this, moviegoers revel in the thought of what it might have been if Hitchcock had done it. It is disconcerting to come away from Mamie feeling precisely the same way.