Sunday, October 21, 2007

The "Old Boy" Network in MARNIE

I think a very salient point needs to be made in order round out an understanding of MARNIE'S exploration into male-female relationships: The men in the film are members of an established Old Boys' or Good Old Boys' network from which the women are excluded.

Admission to this world comes through the cut of one's jib and is offered to those who have the right handshake. Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) constantly referred to these peers, chummily, as "old boy." (And Marnie as "old girl.") He pressured Strutt against taking legal action based on his business ties and his influence in that old boy network. He knew he could ruin Strutt by pulling its strings, which speaks both to its power and to its fragility.

The old boy network succeeds by virtue of consensus, which can change; as such, the way I see it, it corresponds with the insects that Mark describes that preserve themselves by banding together in the shape of a flower. This "club" and the larger societal system are the expression of the Nietzschean "herd morality" that Ken Mogg has spoken of. The film's Sam Ward and Sydney Strutt are caricatures of this clubby system; bloated, sweaty and mysogynistic, they are, in a word, "piglike." The women, on the other hand, are often very intelligent, yet terribly devalued. Having accepted their role, they have made themselves "stupid and feeble." The very intelligent Miss Claiborne (Mariette Hartley), for instance, has been with the company for seven years, yet she still handles entry-level chores like ordering office supplies, which she will probably do right up till the day she retires. The characters play their prescribed roles written for them by society – and by Hitchcock, who thrived in just that old-boy system. (E.g. as a promotional stunt the studio ran a "Prettiest Secretary" contest.)

The men of the film are pompous; they play-act in order to maintain an air of authority, whereas the women play at being subservient and docile. It's a disgustingly false system, and Marnie sees it for what it is and (I think) uses it to "justify" her subversion of it with her thieving. It's in this larger context that she remarks that "men are filthy pigs and women are stupid and feeble." I'm reminded of Uncle Charlie's "The world is a filthy sty" monologue from SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

Moving on to an even larger societal context. In Thomas Frank's study of 1960s business culture, The Conquest of Cool (1997), by the mid-1960s, the grey flannel organization man was being displaced by means of a youth-oriented creative revolution. Frank describes forward-thinking ad agencies during that time as "Theory Y havens, virtually unstructured organizations, places of anarchic lawlessness, frenzied rule-breaking, corporations that somehow did without obtrusive, dragging bureaucracy." NXNW's Roger Thornhill would have been a dinosaur. In corporate America at large, the transition was in its early stages in 1964, but the mood was very much in the air, and the old guard was increasingly viewed with suspicion.

Alfred Hitchcock himself was under pressure to conform to this new paradigm; his creative conflicts over Bernard Herrmann's old school musical scores are a reflection of that. Lil (who may have been a brat, but was neither stupid nor feeble), mocked Ward's paternalism; likewise, Marnie, who revolted against that order outright, put the Sam Wards and Sydney Strutts of that world on the defensive. And those names: "Ward, Strutt & Rutland." They practically scream of a stuffy, pompous, self-serving, paternalistic Old Boy network. Whew!

Mark, of course, was above all that. He had no need for that world and, although he was the alpha male in it, he would have been just about as happy to leave it and pursue his zoological interests. I believe he was put off by the pretenses of this system, and that's why he fell in love with Marnie and wanted to run off to the south seas with her. Hence, Mark is an enlightened good old boy. His voice, accent, mannerisms and old boy enlightenment (and habit of calling people "old boy") remind me of the clubby, upper class mannerisms of George Sanders' ffolliett in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. In fact, I wonder if Hitch chose Connery on the basis of his similarities to the older George Sanders.

Print this post

No comments: