Film Spotlight: Hitchcock’s Marnie

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What’s so great about Marnie? After all, many disliked the film when it was first released in 1964. Hitchcock had just completed The Birds and couldn’t sign on Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, so he offered the complicated role to Tippi Hedron and she accepted–it was her finest role. The plot of Marnie openly dealt with taboo topics such as sexual abuse, rape, and murder by unlikely sources.

Hitchcock seemed obsessed with abnormal psychology and searched the papers for crime stories of deviant behavior like Psycho (1960) where the real Ed Hein had an unhealthy relationship with his mother and committed barbaric crimes against women. Ed Hein inspired future scripts of horror classics like the monster Buffalo-Bill in Silence of the Lambs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The script for Marnie was inspired by the 1961 based-on-a-true-story, crime-mystery by Winston Graham.

Joel Gunz is a Hitchcock expert and dissects Tony Lee Moral‘s 2005 bookΒ The Making of Marnie.This excellent book review can be found here: A fine post of the making of Marnie

Hitchcock had a vision. The shot to shock his audience–what would it be like to be raped and the shot of the accuser is above you?

What if your rapist was your husband and what if he were Sean Connery?

The story-line is preposterous. Yet, “true” stories usually are. Sometimes in the translation, the fiction seems too unbelievable to sustain the narrative journey. A man falls for a beautiful thief and liar? Sure. Does he black-mail her to marry him? And then try to “help” her overcome her sexual inhibitions by raping her? Oh, rape is such a strong word. How about tough love, a 60s patriarchical need to control and change his wife? That happened. So the plot is not that far-fetched.

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In the last half of the film, the pace accelerates and the mystery behind Marnie’s past becomes the central thrust ofΒ  suspense. I thought the best acting performance went to Louise Latham as Marnie’s mother, Bernice Edgar. The last sequence was engrossing, Marnie with expressive eyes and baby voice, while the pseudo doctor, her husband, coaxed the past out of her.

The use of color as a trigger–in Vertigo it was green for jealousy–here it’s red–adds to the tension and mystery. Hitchcock’s camera angles are always enjoyable to watch from the wide-screen shot of the safe robbery on one half and the mopping, cleaning woman on the other. What did you think about the horse jumping, chase scene and the cringing fall of rider and horse? The urban landscape shot of Baltimore was memorable.

I enjoyed watching Sean Connery play the respected, affable husband trying to figure out and fix his wife, although his possessive claim on Marnie would drive any woman nuts. Tippi Hedron is detached and cool but warms up and delivers some passionate speeches when they fight. Marnie can’t stand to be touched and her clothes show that. She is constantly covered in material throughout the film and looks stunning. Edith Head dressed her true to character. It was my favorite motif.

The musical score is important to Hitchcock. The repetivitve whine of strings and pounding instruments navigate your emotions and sustain suspense. Bernard Herrmann’s relationship with Hitchcock is long-standing. Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest are magical scores created by Herrmann. Bernard Herrmann’s repertoire includes film greats Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, and Cape Fear. The score in Marnie has the same feel to it. Sometimes known as one of Hitchcock’s “lesser” films, I wonder what you think of Marnie?

38 thoughts on “Film Spotlight: Hitchcock’s Marnie

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    1. Hi Alex, oh, I think you would find great things about this film. It’s disturbing on many levels. Hitchcock was influenced by German Expressionalism and it shows with the backdrops and surreal elements.

  1. Nice article Cindy. I also think Marnie is an underrated film, and much better than it ought to be, as the relationship between Hedren and Hitchcock supposedly broke down during filming – apparently they would only communicate with each other through third parties.

    The matte painting for the street with the boat at the end I took to be a phallic symbol – the bow is pointing down the street towards Bernice’s house and at the end we see that for Marnie it is like an ever-present reminder of the sailor / molester who once visited. Surely no coincidence that Rutland rapes Marnie on a boat, either.

    There’s a lot to Marnie, despite the film’s faults!

  2. Not nearly as good as The Birds”, but a considerable improvement on the over-rated “Vertigo.” I love the ending, when the car takes a left turn upon reaching the end of a road that the viewer has taken for granted as a cul-de-sac.

    1. Hi there Bill! Glad you visited. Birds is much better–I loved the Ornithologist played by Ethel Griffies. Perfect use of a character to extend the plot and provide suspense. The contrast of simple school yard and the virtue of children then the strike of something boarder-line evil. That eye-pecking scene. Always gets me.

  3. Oh man, I so want to see this! I think I’ll put this one on next year’s BlindSpot list. It’s true that Hitch seems obsessed w/ abnormal psychology and characters w/ deviant behavior. The cast here, esp. Connery, definitely is the main draw for me.

      1. Oh I actually find Sean much more appealing than Grant. He’s just as charismatic and he’s got that sense of danger about him that makes him even sexier. I guess he’s perfect for this role then πŸ™‚

  4. Great review, Marnie sounds really chilling and disturbing, I must watch it some time. When I did the Hitchcock blogathon on The Birds, I researched a number of candid interviews of Hedren talking about her experience with Hitch and learned that the behind the scenes stuff is an eye opener too.

    1. Since I’ve seen quite a few of his films, I find the making of them fascinating and many times more interesting! Watching ‘Hitch’ was a treat for me. I thought Hopkins and Murren and Scarlett Johansson were perfect. Thank you for commenting πŸ™‚

    1. Yes, but it’s also 1964 Hitchcock, so the disturbing parts are almost inferred. Studio censoring was still the norm (Hitchcock kept pushing the envelope) but nothing is graphic merely suggested.

    1. Odd is right! He found a macabre avenue for expression. What I appreciate about him is his use of intriguing camera shots, music, color, strange plots. The suspense. Not the graphic horror of today–I suppose I like inference and suggestion more than brutal honesty.

  5. Hi, Cindy:

    ‘Marnie’ is one of Hitchcock’s slower moving films to get to the “McGuffin” (The reason for all later misery). Though, the trip to get there is subtle in the extreme. Connery is quite good. As is the flawed, damaged Tippi Hedren. Bruce Dern delivers in his small role as the sailor.

    And if you want a definitive (though low budgeted) film on Ed Gein. Look for ‘Deranged’ from the 1970s. With Roberts Blossom as the grown man with serious Mother Issues.

    1. Wasn’t Bruce Dern’s bit part good? My he was young. I’ve not heard of the low budget ‘Deranged’ film, but I’m not suprised they made one considering Gein’s notoriety. Thanks, Kevin for your contribution to the discussion. πŸ™‚

  6. OK Ms. Bruchman, I had to skim over much of your review bc of spoilers. I want to see this movie. I look forward to it and then going back to your review!

      1. Turns out I actually had not seen it! I saw it tonight, good rec! I liked it a lot. Though I hadn’t realized that Sean C raped her. I thought he kept his paws off of her because he saw that she was like a wounded bird when he went near her. (My original analogy).I thought Tippi Hedren was amazing, as was the woman who played her mother. Sean C’s looks were better than his acting, but that’s fine. I do have to tell you that the city-scape is that of Baltimore, not Philly. Marnie’s mother’s house was in Baltimore.

        Note my pun up there–Sean Connery kept his PAWS off of Tippi Hedren. She was known for her pet lions.

        I’m going to check out the book about making of the movie.

        1. Oops, did I say Philly and not Baltimore? My bad. Thanks for that. I better go back and fix it. πŸ˜‰ Yes, I watched/read about Tippi allowing the lions to sleep with Melanie Griffith as a kid–a nice thought, how cuddly and safe would that feel? Yes, Sean was quite dreamy and the rape scene is never shown, just inferred. I do have some problems with that–at first he did treat her with kid gloves, but she got him so riled up he had no choice but to take her. Afterall, he did pay a lot of money for that cruise, didn’t he? πŸ˜‰

          1. I still don’t think he raped her. Was the woman raped in real life? He looked at her delicious body (an assumption) and immediately covered her up. I suppose you could say that she riled him up so he couldn’t help himself for dipping in the delight that he bought, but she wasn’t a prostitute and he certainly knew that she wasn’t interested in being with him in that way. Esp since he didn’t really buy her, he blackmailed her. Another point, if I may, is that if she covered herself up the whole time, then did she rile him up? Or was it the challenge of taming her that riled him up? And what about that horse, aside from its beauty. Symbolic of her to him, he bought both, and the horse went wild and uncontrollable and had to be killed? Then she shot the horse? Should they have gotten a lion instead of a horse to evoke a truly natural performance by her? After all, she said that Hitchcock was completely inappropriate with her.

  7. I am not sure why Marnie received the initial scorn that it did, when it was first released. I have nothing against Grace Kelly, I enjoyed her performance in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, but certainly, there was no discernible reason for people to be against Tippi Hedron, in the co-starring role, alongside Sean Connery.

    I agree with your statement, that Marnie is by far the best acting that Hedron ever did during her career, which is not meant to take anything away from her; she just really nailed that role. I also enjoyed her in The Birds, but in Marnie, in my opinion, she held nothing back as an actress.

    Perhaps, one of the reasons Marnie was not universally praised and an instant critical darling, unlike many other films from Hitchcock’s esteemed body of work, was because of the taboo topics – that you pointed out in your blog – that the film dealt with during the more conservative time period of the early 1960s.

    Thank you for sharing the information about Hitchcock actively searching the newspapers for stories about deviant behavior to be used in his films. I was unaware of that until I read it in your blog. I was under the impression that the only film involving deviance of an extreme nature that he sought out to make, and from what I have read, had to fight the studios to produce, was Psycho. Thank you for sharing the fact that Marnie was based on a true story. I am going to attempt to get my hands on the book written by Winston Graham.

    Excellent all around review, with a good deal of interesting information contained throughout your blog.

    1. Well aren’t you a peach, Robbin, for your kind words and great commentary! Where the heck is your blog? I want to visit your site but your hoverpick is missing and so I can’t “see” you. I am thankful you like my style–the thing with classics and experienced Movie Buffs is that they know a lot already while younger buffs have never seen it or are unaware of its history in pop culture. I try to throw something in there for everyone. Believe me, I learn a lot in the process. It’s fun to share. Thanks again, Robbin!

  8. Oh I actually love ‘Marnie’ despite many a critic’s putting it down.
    Yes it’s pretty ironic that the animal-istic 60’s macho male who forces her sexually is the one who actually ends up helping her. It’s a great movie, and I agree Tippi Hedren’s best role. And Sean Connery is wow!! Superb.
    I’d say this is one of the last great Hitchcock films. Post ‘Torn Curtain’, his films start reduce the Hitchcockian impact.

    1. Hi Nuwansen, thanks for your addition to the discussion! You bring up a good point about his films faltering. ‘Torn Curtain’ has escaped me! I need to watch that next. I was very impressed with Sean’s acting. I think he’s easier to like than Cary Grant who seems cool and hiding behind his tall-dark-handsomeness. I wish he had been a little more expressive. Tippi is cool in this film, too, but I like how she becomes passionate and her voice and body language more revealing as the movie progresses. πŸ™‚

  9. Thank you, thank you, Cindy, for this incredibly enticing review. I’ve never even heard of this film and now cannot wait to hunt it down and hungrily view it. It sounds remarkable.
    And this is one of the reasons I really enjoy coming to read your posts, as more often then not, you introduce me to something I’ve never come across and then can’t wait to seek out.
    Many thanks!

    1. Well, my friend, it is reciprocal :). I am learning right along with you. Netflix is my friend. It’s there I can find obscure, documentaries, classices, etcetera. The posts I read inspire me and I go a hunting for information. Sharing my findings is a dear avocation. I have one today I’m putting out for Halloween week I bet you might like. Come back soon! πŸ™‚

  10. Cindy, I would love to go to the movies with you, and then find a coffee shop and discuss the film over several steaming mugs. I love reading your thoughts!

    I grew up in Baltimore and found that street scene very realistic of the old waterfront part of Baltimore, much of which has now been redeveloped.

    Marnie has always been a favorite film of mine. Perhaps the Baltimore connection. Perhaps the gorgeous Sean Connery. Perhaps my enjoyment of Diane Baker. I’ve never been particularly crazy about Tippi Hedren for some reason, but I thought she did a very good job with Marnie. I can still see hear her voice as she cried out to her ‘Momma’ in that flashback to her childhood. Even at the end, as much as Marnie’s mother loved her, she couldn’t give Marnie the physical comfort that Marnie longed for from her. It was very sad when Marnie’s mother told her to get up (from laying her head on her mother’s lap) because she was hurting her leg. We, the audience, knew that wasn’t the case.

    I need to watch the movie again, bearing in mind the points you’ve raised. It will be the second best thing next to going to the movies with you – and sharing that cup of java!

    1. LOL, Kate. Could we go to a pub instead of the coffee shop? πŸ˜‰
      I am glad we share the same love for films. I don’t have “real” movie buff friends–just virtual ones. It would be fun to hear your thoughts and gush over the classics. Directors and actors are fascinating–what goes on behind the scenes is as interesting as the film itself. I feel the same way about writing and research. I could spend all day looking at artifacts and researching local history in my neck of the woods for my novel which I can’t seem to get to because I’m blogging or researching πŸ˜‰ That’s another conversation….
      Please, if you are ever in AZ, I’d be happy to go to the movies and chat away. πŸ™‚

  11. I have been a lifelong Hitchcock fan, and have watched “Marnie” before. Why today on TCM, I fully understood the film but only after watching the depiction of the making of “Marnie” in the HBO film, “The Girl”. The Hitchcock in that film was very cruel to Tippi Hedren. She showed in “The Birds” and “Marnie” that she would do anything to please Hitchcock, good or bad. Too bad she did not have a longer career. The scene at the end of “Marnie” at the Baltimore harbor was shot so well I wonder was that view really Baltimore or just a backlot. If so, I must take a very short ride to see if I can get a picture of that area for myself!! Thanks for your insight on my all-time favorite director.

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