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Marnie (1964)

October 4th, 2007 · 8 Comments

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31 days of October. 31 articles devoted to the screen’s maestro of suspense and the macabre, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). I’ll be jumping back and forth through five decades in this series. More than half of the films I’ve never seen before, but even the ones I have seen were viewed, researched and written about this month.

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Making off with ten thousand dollars from her employer’s safe and dyeing her hair blonde, Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) checks into an inn near the stable where she keeps her beloved horse. She then travels to Baltimore to visit to her mother Bernice (Louise Latham). As far as Bernice knows, her daughter is a successful executive secretary. Marnie becomes jealous when mom is more affectionate to a neighborhood girl than with her own daughter.

Marnie applies for a job as a payroll clerk at a publishing house. The owner – widower Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) – recognizes her for what she is. He gives the job to her anyway. Rutland once aspired to be a zoologist, and his fascination with animal instinct attracts him to the thief. He discovers that Marnie experiences anxiety over the color red. She’s also terrified of storms. When Rutland learns she loves horses, he asks her to a racetrack.

The first chance she gets, Marnie empties her boss’ safe and runs. Rutland tracks her down to the stable. He doesn’t want her arrested, he wants to understand Marnie’s psychosis and cure it. He proposes marriage. Marnie is more afraid of prison than she is of being touched by a man, and has to accept. Rutland’s sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker) would have no problem being touched by him, and attempts to get rid of Marnie by unraveling her past.

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Production history 
After scoring the biggest box office success of his career, director Alfred Hitchcock was faced with the prospect of topping Psycho. He chose a 1961 novel by Winston Graham titled Marnie. A psychological thriller, it was set in England, and concerned a woman addicted to embezzling, changing her identity and vanishing. A young widower catches her in the act and blackmails Marnie into marriage, believing he can cure her.

Hitchcock envisioned Marnie as a comeback vehicle for Grace Kelly, who hadn’t appeared in a film since 1956. Screenwriter Joseph Stefano worked with Hitchcock for three months in the spring of 1961, relocating the story to the States. Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco sent word that if Hitchcock could wait two years, she would play Marnie. The director made The Birds in the interim.

While Kelly’s husband Prince Rainer supported her return to acting, their constituents were another story. After Hitchcock revealed his plans in the press, the people of Monaco were livid over the idea of their princess appearing in movie love scenes, particularly the variety featured in Marnie. Amid the furor, Grace Kelly withdrew from the project and retired from acting. Hitchcock considered Sylvia Miles for the lead before settling on Tippi Hedren.

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Screenwriter Evan Hunter took a pass at the novel, but in May 1963, the director hired a 40-year-old novelist and playwright from Texas named Jay Presson Allen. Hitchcock was so impressed with Allen that most of what she wrote ended up being shot, for better or for worse. Marnie was not a box office hit – grossing $3 million in the U.S. – but over time, it’s risen in critical esteem. Many now feel it ranks among Hitchcock’s ten best films.

Unlike Psycho, this is not a mass entertainment. There isn’t a killing until the two hour mark. At 131 minutes, this is actually the second longest film of Hitchcock’s career. It’s not for everybody, but maybe because of that, I loved Marnie. The script is loaded with intrigue, Connery and Hedren give excellent performances, and the visual palette may be the most striking of any film Hitchcock shot in color.

To watch this movie is to access the playbook Brian DePalma uses to design his thrillers. Marnie’s burglary, and the revelatory flashback to her youth are two masterfully crafted suspense sequences. The lush musical score by Bernard Herrmann in itself would make this is a must-see for film lovers, but what surprised me was how riveted I was to the movie without any graphic sex or violence. Hitchcock knew how to stimulate an audience through power of suggestion, and Marnie is the work of a maestro.

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Vince Leo at QWipster’s Movie Reviews writes, “Marnie is a beguiling work from a cinematic genius, and the label of “flawed masterpiece” … seems warranted here. This is a movie that has its weaknesses, but the strong points are so intriguing, that it commands attention and respect for its complexities and shades of brilliance.”

“By combining a great number of elements such as his stylized approach to story telling and the high drama and romanticism of grand opera, Mr. Hitchcock has fashioned one of his most fascinating films, if not completely perfect,” says Pablo Vargas at The Spinning Image.

Harold Gervais at DVD Verdict writes, “Misgivings in mind, the film is an important work in the Hitchcock film canon. Working on a visual level most directors can only dream of, Hitchcock would prove, one more time, that he was one of the best ever.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Based on novel · Dreams and visions · Femme fatale · Interrogation · Mother/daughter relationship · Psychoanalysis · Train

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jeff McM // Oct 5, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    I’m glad you liked this one, it’s a more self-consciously ‘arty’ picture from when Hitchcock was starting to listen to the French New Wave critics’ appraisals, which means that it kind of leaves a mainstream audience behind to some degree, but I love the movie’s style and odd sensibility, and one of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Oct 5, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Jeff: Your point is interesting because while Hitchcock was being pillared as a cinematic genius by Cahiers du cinéma, the success of Psycho raised commercial expectations I’m sure he was aware of as well. It’s hard to say if Hitchcock was making this movie – or any other – for a particular crowd. I think he was trying to make the best movie he knew how to at the time.

    But yeah, Marnie is bananas.

  • 3 Damian // Oct 7, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    I remember seeing an amusing interview with Tippi Hedren where she said how upset she was at the time that she finally got to be in a film with the incredibly handsome sexy Sean Connery… and she had to play a girl who was frigid.

  • 4 Jeff McM // Oct 8, 2007 at 4:03 am

    Joe, I think of this movie as the culmination of a period in Hitchcock’s career, the height of his experiments with breaking narrative rules and seing how far he could stretch himself. Going back to the late 50s, he had mixed financial results with these kind of limits-testing with The Wrong Man and Vertigo, reverted to safer territory with North By Northwest, and was bolstered by its success enough to go experimental again with Psycho. The success he had there pushed him to go even more abstract with The Birds, which gave him even more leeway and the result was Marnie, which is probably his strangest, most perverse movie, and one of his most audience-unfriendly in several ways.

  • 5 Justine // Oct 8, 2007 at 11:01 am

    I’m another rather big fan of Marnie, a film I didn’t know what to make of when I first watched it… only to have it consume my every thought before I had to watch it again. It’s so strange, and even borders on pure camp… and is frightfully fascinating and entertaining. Hedren is divine, and the use of colour is brilliant. It’s strange that whenever I see television shows that make a nod to Hitch’ it’s usually this film, rather than any other. Especially the opening sequence where you don’t see Marnie’s face, and as she washed out the hair dye.

  • 6 Joe Valdez // Oct 9, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Damian: Your Internet must be fixed! Thank you for plying my site with your wit and insights. Tippi Hedren must be conflicted, because while her working relationship with Hitchcock took a sour turn during this film, the only subject I imagine that journalists or fans want to ask her about are her two films with Hitchcock.

    Jeff: You articulated where Marnie falls in Hitchcock’s oeuvre far more clearly than I ever could. I’m sure glad that people who went to film school read my site. Thanks!

    Justine: Tippi Hedren is my least favorite “Hitchcock blonde” behind Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak and Janet Leigh, but Hitchcock definitely made her seem like a star in this flick. Just the reveal of her character is a classic. You’re right, there’s a lot here that might be considered campy, but I don’t care. I either love a movie or I don’t, and I love Marnie.

    Hedwig: Thanks for visiting and leaving such a rad comment. I don’t know if Hitchcock set out to make Marnie intentionally artificial. He preferred shooting in the controlled environment of a soundstage as much as he possibly could, which is why you get these wacky process shots that are fake looking, like the horseback riding scenes. I agree with you though that the film’s flaws make it fun, sort of like Paul Verhoeven’s best work.

  • 7 Hedwig // Oct 9, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Hey! Great appraisal of a great movie indeed. It’s weird, I almost love this film BECAUSE of its flaws, rather than in spite of them. Jeff makes a good point: could this be the only truly self-conscious Hitchcock movie? In some scenes he shows that he can still be the master of suspense, make you forget you’re watching a movie and just sit on the edge of your seat, but there are also other scenes (for instances when the screen turns red, or the horse-riding scene at the end) where he’s using effects that seem intentionally artificial.

  • 8 Joe // Nov 20, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    Tippi Hendren’s performance in “Marnie” is one of the great unheraled star turns in film history, a truly major performance that’s been criminally underrated and usually denigrated by people who haven’t really watched the film. I know this may sound blasphemous – and I don’t care – but I can’t imagine Grace Kelly delivering as subtle and intuitive a portrayal as Hedren does in “Marnie” (and I like Grace Kelly!).

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