Saturday, November 13, 2021
Hitchcock Friday #3: Marnie (1964)
And then came Marnie. To some it’s the last truly great Hitchcock film. And it was also something of a sensation. It’s a psycho-sexual thriller with the emphasis on the sex. The whole movie is about sex.
Marnie (Tippi Hedren) is a thief and a liar. Having just stolen $10,000 from one employer she gets a job with the Rutland publishing company. She’s intending to rob them as well. She has however reckoned without Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). Her previous victims had been easy. They’d been entranced by her beauty and had no idea she was setting them up to rob them. Mark Rutland is certainly not indifferent to her feminine charms but he has Marnie’s game figured out more or less from the beginning. He’s playing a game with her. It amuses him and it excites him.
It all sounds vaguely sinister but in fact, in both cases, Mark’s intentions are not sinister at all. It is in the best interests of the jaguarundi to learn to trust him. His feelings for the cat are entirely tender. He likes caring for frightened wild animals. And it’s in Marnie’s best interests to learn to trust him. She is a frightened wild animal and he genuinely cares for her.
As you may have gathered the political incorrectness levels of this movie are off the scale. These days you would hardly get away with a movie in which the hero trains a woman the way he trains an animal.
Marnie feels the way the cat felt at first - trapped and bewildered.
Training Marnie proves to be quite a challenge. It’s obvious from the start that she is terrified of men and that the reason for this is that she is terrified of sex.
Casting Sean Connery was a masterstroke. Mark has to be incredibly charming and sexy. We have to believe that he is so charming and masculine and sexy that Marnie, in spite of her fears, cannot help being attracted to him, and that in spite of her terror of sex she does feel some physical attraction towards him. In 1964 there weren’t too many women who could have resisted Sean Connery. But Mark also has to be fundamentally kind. He really does not want to hurt Marnie. Connery gets this across very effectively.
Tippi Hedren has a tricky rôle which she handles extremely well. Marnie has to be convincingly sexually repressed, a woman who never lets her guard down around men. At the same time we have to believe that under the repressed exterior she has a woman’s normal emotional and sexual feelings. She is the iciest of Hitchcock’s Ice Blondes but she has to convince us that there’s fire beneath the ice. Marnie is also a very unsympathetic character. The root cause of her problems is not her fault but she won’t let anyone help her and she reacts nastily and aggressively when someone does try to help her. And she just goes on lying. It’s probably a realistic portrayal of such a disturbed woman and you have to give Hedren credit for being prepared to let us see Marnie’s unpleasant side.
At the time audiences would also have been quite willing to see Marnie’s kleptomania as sexual in origin.
Marnie changed the rules of this genre by putting the focus squarely on sex. Marnie is not mad. The only thing wrong with her is her sexual problem, but it’s a problem that is blighting her life. She does love Mark but their marriage is not going to work until she learns to embrace the sexual side of marriage.
The film was based on Winston Graham’s novel Marnie which gives a lot more of Marnie’s backstory. The novel is worth reading.
The extras on the DVD include fascinating interviews with Joseph Stefano, who wrote the original treatment, and Evan Hunter who was hired to write the screenplay and subsequently fired by Hitchcock. Both writers disliked changes that Hitchcock made to the story. When you watch the movie it’s obvious that they were dead wrong and Hitchcock was right. Hunter disliked the scene in which Mark rapes Marnie. Hitchcock, correctly, saw it as crucial. Stefano was unhappy that the psychiatrist character was eliminated for the movie. Personally I’m thankful that Hitchcock again made the correct decision and eliminated a character who could only have been tedious, unnecessary and annoying.
Marnie basically works because Hitchcock knew how to make the story work. His instincts were correct, and the movie had quite an impact at the time. It’s one of Hitch’s most interesting films and it’s highly recommended.
Other great psychoanalytic mystery thrillers are of course Hitchcock’s own Spellbound and (to a lesser extent) Psycho, the obscure but interesting Bewitched (1945), Shock (1946, with Vincent Price) and Otto Preminger’s criminally underrated Whirlpool (1949).