Week 48: ‘Marnie’ – 1964

This is another astonishing Hitchcock movie, not as well known as some of the earlier 1950’s and early 60’s masterpieces but still an amazing piece of work.

The film opens with another odd Universal logo and we’re straight into a strident Bernard Herrmann theme over page turning credits. The opening shot of the movie is just great, a close up of a yellow bag tucked ‘neath the arm of the bedarkwigged Marnie Edgar (‘Tippi’ Hedren) on a train platform – fantastic composition as the station architecture arrows off into the deep perspective distance (this composition is echoed a few minutes later when Marnie walks down a hotel corridor*.

It also appears in the high/wide shots above the street where her mother lives and other stages in the film. It seems to express some kind of shrinking perspective Marnie has on life, her view becoming telescoped and disappearing into the distance as the world moves in on her). ‘Robbed’ is the first line of dialogue and sets us up for a remarkably strange story of the kleptomaniac Marnie with her enormous sexual hang-ups and essentially deranged personality. Sean Connery plays the wealthy Mark Rutland who takes it upon himself to thaw her out in the domestic department and keep her out of the slammer.

Much is made of Marnie’s bewitching-to-men capabilities and, in truth, she is pretty striking. Her first to camera shot comes just after she blondes her hair and lifts her head exultant and smiling – ready for the next scam.

Her clothing is organized in two big suitcases and she’s off and changed (costumes courtesy of Edith Head). Mark’s comment about her to her outraged ripped off former boss is ‘the brunette with the legs’, so clearly he’s twigged her also – so when she then appears (bit of a large coincidence there) in his office for a job he’s interested/watchful from the outset. Marnie plays on her looks, the coy pulling-her-skirt-over-her-knees is clocked by Mark as he sees her in his office for an interview.

The distinctive red transitions that send Marnie into a panic are both odd and effective – a really unusual technique that could be taken as contrived but is actually very good.

Her reactions to red (the flowers in her mum’s house/the spilling of the ink on her blouse/the jockey’s silks at the races etc.) are fairly over the top but still fascinating to behold.

She is also flipped out by lightning flashes and knocking sounds, both again associations from her extremely distraught childhood. It’s convenient that Mark has knowledge and interest in dealing with stress and trust and other areas of psychoanalysis, he sees her as a prime subject for study – and then love (or lust). Also a tad overboard is the storm scene in Marks’ office – a tree branch eventually crashing through the window and the camera tilting crazily as he hugs and comforts her.

When she starts working in Mark’s office it is quickly established that her immediate boss (Sam Ward played by S. John Launer) cannot remember the safe combination and has it noted on the inside of his secretary’s drawer. This point is pretty laboured, he opens and checks the drawer umpteen times and makes a right song and dance about it – the director repeatedly showing Marnie clocking all this. It feels too much to have her then quiz the secretary as to what the boss is doing, surely tipping her hand by having this info spoken to her. Maybe it’s just from a modern standpoint but I got the idea in the first five seconds and didn’t need it so forcibly illustrated.

Mark is a cold hearted sort. He has only kept some historical artifacts as a memory of his wife. When these get smashed in the storm he casually tosses one away – ‘we all have to go sometime’ he states flatly. His wooing of Marnie is pretty manipulative, taking her to the horse racing (she: ‘are you fond of horses?’ he: ‘no, not at all’) and inviting her to work Saturday to be alone with her. His jealous sister Lil Mainwaring (Diane Baker) is protective of her brother in a not uncomplex way – giving him a very unsisterly lingering lip kiss in front of Marnie to make her point just as the couple are married. It’s all a bit ‘old man’ and ‘old bean’ with him. I liked his dad (Alan Napier)  though, much less complex and troublesome – and remarkably tall, towering over Connery by a good few inches (after descending the grand Rutland staircase). Nice greenish/yellow leather waistcoat too, old fella. Lil is a jealous sort and her delving into Marks’ financial affairs starts to throw up suspicions of her new sister-in-law.

Marnie has a very fraught and trying relationship with her mother (another problematic mum thing going on in Hitchcock). Mother (Bernice Edgar, Louise Latham) is a difficult sort, injured leg and all. Her attitude to men is borne out of her prostitute past and her massive feelings of guilt that one of her punters appeared to make improper moves towards the child Marnie (the sailor played by Bruce Dern, who will later star in Hitchcock’s 1976 swan song ‘Family Plot’). Of course it will transpire that Marnie bashed the bloke to death with a poker in defence of her mother – hence her crazed aversion to red (blood everywhere) and weirdness when she hears knocking (the sound of the sailors knocking on mum’s door).

The robbery of the Rutland office safe is pure silent cinema excitement, Marnie sneaking into the office and filling her bag with spondolicks – having to then take off her shoes to sneak past the mopping woman. When one of her shoes clonks to the ground you are rooting for her to get away with it, and she does – the lady cleaner is hard of hearing and our heroine gets to sneak off. The ensuing scene, as Mark confronts her in no uncertain terms, is a masterpiece of Marnie deception – she coming out with more and more lies. She cannot help herself – this unstoppable klepto deceptor.

Mark is tough with her and urges her to try another tale and the ‘turn that Mount Everest of manure into facts’. Hitchcock shows her reaction – she’s unused to being ordered by a strong willed man and grows confused and addled.

The sexual aspect of the film is very overt and pretty astonishing. Marnie clearly says she has never been with a man – just as Mark forces his marriage proposal on her with the suggestion being that otherwise she’ll be in a cell. Their honeymoon is a tour de force of frigidity, Marnie taking her mother’s mantra that ‘men and a good name don’t go together’ literally and reacting with horror as Mark tries to touch her. The climax of all the idle chat and wooing and days spent on board their honeymoon boat is a shocking and striking scene where Mark essentially forces himself on her – pulling her nightdress off, she catatonically staring and enduring the inevitable.

Hitchcock cheekily moves his camera to a ship’s porthole with a visual metaphor akin to the end shot of ‘North by Northwest’. This is incendiary stuff and even now, forty six years later, is strong meat to view. The upshot of this is the unhappy couple back at the Rutland place, Mark talking to Marnie and her just calmly shutting the door in his face. His amateur psychoanalysis of her escalates into near hysteria on Marnie’s part with her eventually screaming ‘help me – Oh, God somebody help me!’ Powerful stuff and admirably edgy.

There’s a smooth large to small camera move reminiscent of the classic ‘crane shot to the key’ from ‘Notorious’ – this time passing the red dressed Lil (just to trip her sister-in-law out) until the front door is opened and in comes Mr. and Mrs. Strutt (Martin Gabel and Louise Lorimer), he the object of an earlier Marnie theft and present at the party on the invitation of the scheming Lil. The party scene is then followed by a fantastic sequence as Marnie goes on a hunt, the red tunics of the men flipping her out so she bolts, chased by Lil. The hysteria rises as her horse pounds its way towards a too large wall and…crunch, a broken horse leg resulting in Marnie having to plug her precious animal with a gun borrowed from a nearby house.

This is then directly followed by Marnie about to raid the Rutland home safe, only to find herself paralysed and unable to grasp the wads of cash within – Hitchcock’s camera crazily zooming in and out to express her mixed up confusion. This is all top notch stuff, highly strung and close to hysterical – and very entertaining in a mad way.

We then shift to the whole ‘having it out with mother’ scene – Mark determined to bring out all the facts in an attempt to cure his wife. This is masterfully done, Marnie regressing back to her childhood and recounting the shocking events of one night that will change all of their lives. Hedren is great in this whole sequence, really convincing in her portrayal of a girl/woman who has been so badly and shockingly treated.

‘Marnie’ is an hysterical masterpiece and like no other film the director made in its extremes of character and subject matter. It has so many instances of sheer ‘wow-dom’ that it’s pointless to start listing them (although the horse jumping scene is breathtaking/Marnie’s breakdown with Mark astonishing/the final flashback reveal of past events unsetlling etc etc). Of all the Hitchcock movies this is the one to seek out if you haven’t seen it. It’s daring and mad, fascinating and intriguing. Marnie is the strangest lead character of them all, and the film is absolutely compelling to watch. Many of Hitchcock’s other movies are easier to love, but ‘Marnie’ is the cool one to cite as a favourite. Watch it and wonder.

Miscellaneous notes

*Mr. Hitchcock popping out of one of the rooms about 4’30” in, looking slightly quizzical.

Hitchcock has a field day of false Mary-based name variations for his anti-heroine: Marion Holland/Mary Taylor/Margaret Edgar/Martha Heilbron.

Same as ‘The Birds’, the movie was presented in cinemas @ 1.85:1 although shot open gate so is meant to work 4:3 for televisions at the time. Again, checking with the ‘1000 Frames of Hitchcock’ project shows the 1.85:1 image and you can see less top and bottom of frame than you do on the 4:3 presented here. I believe the Universal Collector’s Editions of ‘Marnie’ and ‘The Birds’ go back to the theatrical 1.85 cropped version. Which is better? Hmmm – I tend to think maybe the 1.85 but it’s open to discussion…


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