Alfred Hitchcock is the reason I went to film school. ‘North By Northwest’ is the first film I remember watching on the big screen. It was this film that made me fall in love with the magic of filmmaking. It was this film that made me eagerly seek out all of Hitchcock’s films. I have watched most on more than one opportunity, many several times, gladly revisiting the characters, the story, the direction of the film. I use this to illustrate my passion for his films. Hitchcock is a master. As with every Master of a craft, they have periods of great success and periods of trouble. Hitchcock enjoyed enormous success in Britain during the 30’s, immigrated to America and started another string of hits with ‘Rebecca’. In the early 50’s, his films stumbled a little, enjoying less than unanimous critical acclaim and audience reaction. The mid 50s through mid 60s mark one of the most remarkable periods any filmmaker has ever enjoyed. ‘Dial ‘M’ For Murder’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘To Catch A Thief’, ‘The Trouble With Harry’, ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘North By Northwest’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Birds’. Quite a run. Billy Wilder is probably the only other director to enjoy quite such a long string of success.
‘Marnie’ marks the beginning of the last stage of Hitchcock’s career. A period of varying films, varying in success, tone and style, Hitchcock ended his career with a string of films that would not enjoy great critical or commercial success.
I watched ‘Marnie’ again last night. Universal Home Video has just released a restored letterboxed version of the film, including a documentary ‘The Trouble with ‘Marnie’’. The documentary is very interesting and recounts the story of the film’s creation. Hitchcock became interested in the book, and immediately thought about Grace Kelly. Kelly was eager to come out of retirement and wanted to work with Hitchcock. A screenplay was written. Kelly changed her mind. The picture was shelved because Hitch didn’t think anyone could play the role of Marnie Edgar convincingly enough. His next project was ‘The Birds.’ He found an actress, the classic Hitchcock type, to star in the film. Tippi Hedren was tall, blond and very icy. The perfect Hitchcock heroine. During the filming of ‘The Birds’, Hitch apparently realized that Hedren could do ‘Marnie’. He offered her the role. Hitch, according to the documentary, was convinced that American royalty (the rich, landowners) should be played with a British accent. Therefore, he cast Sean Connery as Mark Rutland. Connery, fresh off ‘Dr. No’, his star-making film, joined the cast.
A black-haired woman wearing a smart suit, carrying a yellow handbag exits a train station.
Mr. Strutt has just been robbed of $10,000. Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), remembers the employee, a beautiful brunette.
Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) changes her identity and hair color, switching clothes, dumping the $10,000 in a new suitcase. She pays her crippled mother a visit. She and her mother have a strained relationship, to say the least. Marnie feels the constant need to buy the frigid woman’s love; she brings her mother a fur stole, gives her money every month. Yet, her mother lavishes more attention on a little neighborhood girl that she baby-sits.
After the emotional visit, Marnie heads for Philadelphia. She takes on a new identity and applies for a job at Rutland Publishing. Mark Rutland spots the beautiful applicant and urges his partner to hire her over the much more qualified applicants. She works very hard and notices that Rutland’s partner has the safe combination locked in a drawer. He has terrible memory.
Rutland asks her to come in on a Saturday to type up an article that he wrote on ‘animal behavior’. A lightning storm causes Marnie to become terribly frightened. She seems to have an adverse reaction to lightning and the color red. Mark uses the opportunity to comfort her and steal a kiss. This begins their courtship.
Marnie’s world begins closing in on her again. On a Friday afternoon, she waits for everyone to rush out of the office and then steals money from the safe.
She runs to a small town in Virginia, where she has her horse Forio boarded. She does this after every robbery; Mark tracks her down there. He realized what was happening, replaced the money, and found her. He blackmails her. Marry me or I will turn you over to the authorities. She agrees to marriage and they set off on a South Seas cruise.
The honeymoon and marriage and not easy. As Mark and Marnie play a game of sexual cat and mouse, he tries very hard to help her come to terms with her past.
Every Hitchcock film is gorgeous to look at. He used great cinematographers that really knew how to get the most out of black and white or color photography. ‘Marnie’ is no exception. The exteriors are beautiful, vibrant and colorful. The interiors are lush and believable. However, Hitchcock’s love for set-work is most apparent in ‘Marnie’. Hitchcock loved control and he used sets whenever possible, to control the action. Whenever Hitch showed actors driving in a car, the actors are sitting in a car on a set; the background is projected behind them. The background in these shots is always a little fuzzier, the movement always a little jerkier. It is difficult to make this seem real. Hitch uses this process a lot in ‘Marnie’ and it serves to date the film considerably. There are extensive sequences of Mark and Marnie driving together, scenes in which they are talking, the background jiggling around behind them. Also, this process is used for close-ups during the many scenes involving horse riding. Tippi Hedren is an animal lover and knows how to ride a horse. Yet, in her close-ups, she is seen against the jiggling, fuzzy background, riding a mechanical horse. The horse is actually more believable than the backgrounds. In most of his other films, he uses this process briefly and quickly. In ‘Marnie’, he uses it a lot, giving the film the appearance that it was shot in the studio.
The story of ‘Marnie’ is a strange one. In the trailer, Hitchcock refers to it as a ‘sex mystery’. This reminds me of an episode of ‘M*A*S*H’. The doctors want to see a new film called ‘The Moon Is Blue’ because it has been banned for its sexual content. When they finally see the film, they are shocked to see that the actors talk about sex throughout the film. Hitch was a master manipulator. He knew that labeling the film a ‘sex mystery’ would attract many curious people. However, much like ‘The Moon Is Blue’, Mark and Marnie spend most of the film talking about sex. There is a very erotic kiss and a very artfully done scene during the cruise, but little else as far as romance is concerned. Marnie is frigid towards Mark during the honeymoon. She can’t bear to have him touch her. Understand, its nothing personal. She can’t stand for any man to touch her. Could that have anything to do with her fear of lightning and the color red? Mark soon suspects that it could. He starts to read a few books and starts to practice the psychology he has read about to help her. Some of the subtle (Jay Presson Allen, the screenwriter, I’m being sarcastic) conversations they have are about ‘animal behavior’ and ‘capturing beasts’. Mark soon reads a book called “Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female”, which naturally gives him all the answers he needs. This leads to a game of free association, and one of my favorite moments in the film. Mark says some words. Marnie, believing she has the upper hand, responds freely, jokingly at first. Soon he says ‘Black!’. She responds ‘White’. He says ‘Red!’, pointing his finger at her. Naturally, she begins to break down, crying ‘White! White’, shoving her face into the white curtains in her bedroom. In this day and age, the shocking psychodrama, the ‘sex mystery’, is really dated and detracts from the film.
The other problem with ‘Marnie’ is Tippi Hedren. ‘Marnie’ was her second film after ‘The Birds’. Things must have been looking up. At least she wasn’t having pigeons and crows thrown at her face and hair anymore. She simply does not have the acting ability to pull off a role with this emotional, dramatic heft. She has to imbue the character of Marnie Edgar with life. She has to make Marnie believable and we have to care for her. I don’t believe she accomplishes this. Her performance has little variance and seems wooden. She is either the cold-blooded thief or the broken-down emotional wreck. Her best scene is the first scene she shares with Louise Latham, who plays her mother. She shows an uncertainty that helps the character and the scene.
Sean Connery is good. He is very handsome and does manage to convey that he is concerned for his wife. He also manages to convey the more unwholesome elements of the character in a believable way.
There are a couple of Hitchcock trademarks. He makes a cameo early on, turning to face the audience. The robbery of Rutland Publishing is suspenseful and classic Hitchcock. There is a long crane shot at a party. Hitchcock is clearly trying something new here, exploring the psychological aspects of his characters more fully. This shifts the balance unfavorably. His characters spend a lot of time talking, and less time doing. It isn’t very successful. When you compare this film against the Holy Trinity from the 50s (I am referring, of course to ‘Rear Window’, ‘Vertigo’ and ‘North By Northwest’), you can see that he achieves a greater balance of psychological exploration and action.
‘Marnie’ is a Hitchcock film, which means it stands head and shoulders above the rest of the films made. But as a Hitchcock film, it is not as successful as many of his other films. I would definitely recommend that everyone see it, but you will probably have difficulty watching it more than once. That can’t be said of ‘Psycho’, ‘Vertigo’ or ‘North By Northwest’.