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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”