7/29/09

Hitch on the Hump: Marnie (1964)

Marnie is a film driven by a man and his fetish for a woman with a checkered past. The man obsessed is not a new innovation in Hitch's films, just look at James Stewart in Vertigo or Gregory Peck in The Paradine Case. Mr. Hitchcock had his own obsessions when it came to his films, and Marnie was to mark the end of one of them. It also marked the end of many things for the director. Some say this film even marks the end of the masterpieces he was to make, and having seen two of his final four films, they definitely do not stack up to this one.

The film opens with a shot of a robbery being discovered in an office intercut with a woman clutching a yellow purse as she makes her way through a train station. As the police take down a description of the thief, a quite beautiful brunette with delicate features, it flashes back to the woman over a sink rinsing dye out of her hair. As the water becomes murky, she leans up, slinging her hair back, and we finally get our first look of Tippi Hedren as Marnie. After a quick trip home to visit her unloving mother, Marnie once again dyes her hair a bit darker and accepts a job at Mark Rutland’s (Sean Connery) printing company. Mark recognizes her as the woman who stole from the accounting firm who handles his books, but he hires her anyway. Mark soon becomes quite infatuated with her, and after she makes good on her plan, he tracks her down and confronts her. He gives her a choice, marry him or to be turned into the law, but while she opts for the former, there are things in Marnie’s past that she cannot escape.

The source material for Marnie was the novel written by Winston Graham, an English novelist. Aside from a series of historical novels known as the Poldark series, Marnie is the work most associated with the author. While Hitchcock was drawn to the themes of the book, he did not handle the adaptation this time. The first attempt was made by mystery novelist Ed McBain, but after questioning one of the more sordid parts of the story another writer was brought in. Jay Presson Allen, who was one of the few female screenwriters working in the business at the time, did the final draft of the film.

Hitchcock had read her unproduced script for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and was suitably impressed, and while he very much liked her treatment for Marnie, the writer and director did not see eye to eye on everything. Presson Allen was set up in an apartment near the Universal lot, and found it very easy to bike to work. Hitchcock would have none of it as he felt it was “down class” and dispatched a limousine to take her to and from the lot. The day that she rebelled and decided to walk to work the car trailed her all the way there.

Tippi Hedren was not Hitchcock’s first choice to play Marnie. He wanted Grace Kelly, then already Princess Grace, to return to the screen, but when her subjects objected to their Princess being depicted as a thief, she bowed out. She was also under contract with MGM for one more picture, and she did not want to have to make a picture to fulfill that contract. Therefore, instead of Kelly, Hitchcock cast the star of his previous film, The Birds (1963). Hedren’s performance as Marnie, a deeply troubled woman with severe panic attacks when confronted with either lightning or the color red, is very sensitive. The secrets of her past, of what made her a thief and a frigid wife, are not even known to her. As the layers of her life are peeled back, my heart could not help to go out to her. While Connery’s Mark surely would be attracted to her physical beauty, I think there is more to his character than being drawn to a thief. I think he was also attracted to Marnie’s problems, especially as he begins to learn of them. It strengthened his resolve to help her no matter what the end result might be. Hedren plays the part perfectly giving Marnie a childlike quality that you could see just beyond the steely walls she put up around herself. I also want to go back to that opening scene for a moment. The dramatic introduction of the freshly blonde Marnie was incredibly striking, and if for no other reason, I would recommend this film on it's strength alone. Hedren would also be the last of the Hitchcock blondes even though her character spends much of the film with varying degrees of hair color.

Connery was under contract with Eon Productions to do both Bond and non-Bond movies, but he was reluctant to take on any roles that he felt were too similar to the super spy. When he was asked what director he would want to work with, he immediately said Alfred Hitchcock, and the film was set up. However, Connery wanted to see the script before he would agree to the film, something that Cary Grant never did. When confronted about it, he said, “I’m not Cary Grant.” with typical Connery bravado. Hitchcock and Connery apparently got on well while on set, but Hitch later commented that he “ wasn’t convinced that Sean Connery was a Philadelphia gentleman.” and that the role demanded, “a more elegant man than we had.” I rather like Sean in this film. His performance did not stem only from the dialog, but from the expressions that pass over his face. The obsessive nature of his character is left unspoken, and only in the looks, the glances, and the moods of Connery’s performance do we begin to understand how entranced he is. While Connery’s character does engage in a rather loathsome act in the course of the film, he remains a redeemable character. Plenty flawed though, he did blackmail Marnie into marrying him, but the lengths he goes to try to help her are beyond the pale.

The film also features an astounding supporting role from Lousie Latham. While she was not much older than Ms. Hedren, she turns in an incredible performance as Marnie’s mother. When we are first introduced to the character, it is perfectly suited to sway the audience to feel for Hedren’s character. Latham’s mother is not loving or comforting and shows no kindness to her daughter, surely nowhere near what she gives to the little girl she baby-sits. By the time she slaps her daughter across the face, I thought she was the most heartless mother since last I saw Mommy Dearest. As the film progresses, y her story becomes much deeper, darker, and surprisingly loving than first imagined. Like any parent would, she wanted to protect her daughter from evils that had befallen her, and there was no way of knowing that the protection would ultimately harm her daughter as much. The film was nominated for no Academy Awards, but Ms. Latham's was surely of the caliber to get a nod.

The secondary characters play little to no role in the film, and Hitchcock has bemoaned this fact stating, “I really didn’t know these people, the family in their background.” Several characters like Mark’s father (the indomitable Alan Napier) and his sister in law (Diane Baker) are barely explored at all. While the former is no big loss, there seemed to be something only hinted at between Connery’s character and Ms. Baker. She seemed to be quite taken with her dead sister’s husband and quite suspicious of his new beau. I wish this had been expanded on a bit more, but much of the novel’s depth had to be scaled back for the picture to be a suitable length. I am very interested in reading the novel to see what other layers were explored. The film also features an early performance by Bruce Dern, which was quite good, but I can say no more about his part in without ruining one of its best moments.

I said that this film would mark many lasts in Hitchcock’s career, and I’ve already mentioned that this would be the last film to focus on a Hitchcock blonde. This was also the last of Hitch's films to be scored by Bernard Herrmann. They collaborated on six features and almost one more (check out the review of Torn Curtain for more on that.) One reason for their eventual falling out may have been that Hitchcock felt the composition was too derivative of Hermann’s other work, but I enjoyed the score. It captured the sense of adventure and danger that surrounded Marnie’s life as well as the melancholy that you could see in her eyes. As the film builds to it‘s climax, the score does as well. While I’m no scholar when it comes to Hermann’s scores (Ryan where are you when I need you?), I found it so stirring I would love to have the soundtrack. There is also a version of the opening theme on one of Hermann’s albums with vocals by Nat King Cole.

Marnie would also end the collaboration with two more of Hitch’s cohorts, but for much different reason. Cinematographer Robert Burks had collaborated with Hitchcock on twelve films going back to 1951’s Strangers on a Train. He completed the work on Marnie, but died soon thereafter when he and his wife were caught in a house fire. While some have criticized the nonrealistic look of Marnie, the film definitely has a sense of the German expressionistic period that Hitchcock had experience with in the beginning of his career. Some of the backgrounds are obvious painted backdrops, the lightning doesn’t look real at all, and the flashes of color may seem disjointed at times, but it adds to the film being much more of an impressionistic affair. Marnie seems to exist in a world that is neither dream nor nightmare, but somewhere in between. Six time Hitchcock editor George Thomasini, who also worked on the classic Cape Fear (1962), also passed away after this film. While none of his work was as astounding as some of the cuts in The Birds or Psycho, it was clearly cut together with a master’s hand. There is an especially showy piece of editing in the scene where Mark and Marnie do some word association that makes the scene pop.

Marnie is a quiet film that will lose many viewers with it’s extremely slow burn, but those who stick it out will be rewarded with a film that is a very interesting character study. It never achieves many of the facets of Hitch’s other films, it’s not very suspenseful, bloody, or action packed. Instead, Marnie’s charm comes directly from the talents of Ms. Hedren and Mr. Connery. They play two very complex people, and the film almost needed to be longer to capture more about their personalities and motivations. Even at a two-hour running time, it began to feel rushed toward the end to wrap the story up. Marnie is a difficult story with characters to match. However, as rewarding as one viewing was, I doubt I will find myself going back to this one again.

Bugg Rating


4 comments:

  1. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobJuly 30, 2009 at 6:20 AM

    I like that picture of connery trying to rip tippi`s dress off. Tippi hedren must be the tastiest 80 year old bird in the world (she`s even tastier than her daughter who`s 28 years younger!!!).

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  2. I, too, found this film intriguing. It provided me with a lot to think about, but most of those thoughts revolved around the starkly misogynistic content (even for a Hitchcock film).

    Like you, I won't be revisiting this film unless I use it in class.

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  3. I recognize it for the superior crafsmanship and societal taboos that were broken, but it will be quite some time before I reproach it. I still have another 12 Hitchcock films to check out outside of the standard ware, but they are just so friggin long and the wife wants nothing to do with them

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  4. Those of us at the 1001 Movie Club reviewed Marnie a few months back and I was one of the few who actually really enjoyed it. Interesting film and being a huge Sean Connery fan it was interesting to see him in such a role.

    I think Marnie simply gets a bad wrap because it's not a normal Hitchcock film, and I think because of that a lot of people don't give it a fair shot.

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