Skip to main content

"Marnie" is One of Alfred Hitchcock's Most Underrated Films: Review


Classic Film Review: "Marnie" (1964)

Image result for marnie posterIf your list of favorite Alfred Hitchcock films does not include Marnie, you need to rethink your list. The 1964 film, adapted from the novel by Winston Graham, finds the Master of Suspense and his collaborators at the top of their game. Bernard Herrman's score is equal parts grand and hypnotic. Edith Head's costumes inform as much of Marnie's character as the script does. The production design is among the best in any Hitchcock film. It's a suspenseful psychodrama that allows Hitchcock to do what he does best. When it was originally released in July 1964, the film received mixed reviews from critics, ending a hot streak for Hitchcock that included North by Northwest, Pyscho, and The Birds. In the years since its initial release, Marnie has rightly become known as one of the films that best define Hitchcock's style.

Tippi Hedren plays the titular Marnie, a thief who takes office jobs only to steal money from the company and then skip town. She has an irrational fear of the color red and a more understandable fear of thunderstorms. She also says she cannot stand to be touched by a man, a sharp contrast to Hedren's role as Melanie Daniels in The Birds, whose very existence as a worldly sexual being disturbs the whole order of a small town. Marnie is forced to confront her demons when Mark (played by Sean Connery), a publisher Marnie steals from, falls in love with her and learns of her crimes. He offers her an ultimatum: marry him or go to jail. Backed into a corner, Marnie agrees to marry him but emphatically resists his attempts to sleep with her. Mark doesn't listen and rapes her on their honeymoon. The next morning, Marnie unsuccessfully tries to kill herself.  The rest of the movie concerns Mark's attempts to keep the police away and investigate Marnie's mysterious past. [This movie is more than 50 years old, so I'm not sure if a spoiler warning is entirely necessary, but here's one anyway.] It eventually comes out that the reason Marnie is the way that she is is because of a traumatic event from her childhood. Her mother was a prostitute and one night during a thunderstorm, one of her mother's clients attempted to comfort a crying Marnie, and her mother, to keep him from molesting her daughter, began fighting him, at which point Marnie picked up a fireplace poker and killed him with it. She had repressed the memory of that night, although it manifested itself in her fears and bad dreams. The film ends with an emotionally distraught Marnie telling Mark she wants to stay with him. 

                                        Image result for marnie tippi hedren
Several elements of Marnie recall other Hitchcock films. For example, it begins the same way as Psycho from four years earlier, with a woman fleeing town after stealing a significant amount of cash from her job. The basic plot of Marnie is similar to that of Spellbound, the 1945 film starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Both films have a person become obsessed with uncovering the hidden secret about their mysterious lover, and Marnie's fear of the color red recalls Peck's phobia of parallel lines on white surfaces. The idea that traumatic past experiences manifest themselves in illnesses and phobias also brings to mind Vertigo from 1958. But whereas Jimmy Stewart's vertigo in that movie inhibits and stymies him at every turn, Marnie's afflictions don't appear to do that at all. If anything, her aversion to being touched by men allows her to give into her compulsions to lie and steal. She's uninhibited in a way that is distinctly feminine (her changing identities are as much about her hair color as they are her name). 

Hedren's performance is certainly an effective one. It might be a little too much for my personal taste, but it is generally regarded as one of the best performances in any Hitchcock film. I should mention that Hedren has claimed on multiple occasions that during the filming of Marnie, Hitchcock became obsessed with her, sexually harassed her, and vowed to ruin her career after she rebuffed his advances. I see no reason to doubt the veracity of Hedren's claims, but it's worth noting that the situation (the director obsessively attempting to control his actress) closely mirrors the actual plot of Marnie

The only major problem I have with the movie is the happy ending it seemingly gives to Mark and Marnie's relationship. In light of everything Mark has done to Marnie, them ending up together feels sort of icky. Apparently, this isn't a problem for everyone, as I was shocked to find so many romantic montages of their scenes set to love songs on YouTube, primarily from French Youtubers. Evan Hunter, who had also written the screenplay for The Birds, was hired to write the screenplay for Marnie, but fired after pleading with Hitchcock to not include the rape scene from the original novel, fearing it would cause the audience to lose sympathy for the male lead. Apparently, that scene was what interested Hitchcock in making the film in the first place. But Hunter was totally right, after that scene I no longer wanted Marnie to end up with Mark. And at the end of the film, when she says she wants to stay with him, I felt nothing but confusion. Mark is obsessive and possessive and controlling. Why does Marnie find this appealing? But then I thought back to an earlier scene, the one set in Connery's office before a thunderstorm frightens Marnie. In that scene, Mark shows Marnie a picture of Sophie, a jaguarundi who he's trained to trust her. He essentially does the same thing to Marnie over the course of the film. By forcing her into marriage, raping her, and controlling her life, he trains her to be the kind of woman he wants, not the independent, if flawed, woman she is. Helping Marnie overcome her fears and move past her emotional trauma seem like ostensibly noble goals, but in light of his other actions, they come across as more of an attempt to tame Marnie rather than help her.

The influence of Marnie on modern cinema is not talked about enough. Just look at the above side-by-side comparison of a shot from Marnie (left) with the opening shot of David Fincher's Gone Girl (right) and you'll see that Fincher must have looked to Hitchock's film for inspiration for his own film about a dangerous blonde with disturbing secrets. Another film that I will mention as being a descendant of the Marnie type of female antihero is Miss Meadows, a little-seen indie from 2014 that starred Katie Holmes as a prim and proper school teacher with impeccable manners and a retro wardrobe who is secretly a vigilante who shoots everyone she sees breaking the law. Through unsubtle flashbacks, we come to understand that childhood trauma is the reason for Meadows' warped sense of justice. It's not a great film (the script's heavy-handedness squanders a promising premise and a terrifically calibrated performance by Holmes), but it's a perfect example of the type of emotionally stunted, law-breaking female character archetype that Marnie perfected back in 1964. 

If you have not seen Marnie, I highly recommend you check it out, especially if you are a Hitchcock fan. 


What are your thoughts on Marnie? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Comments

  1. This is one of Hitchcock's films that I can never see too many times. It's fascinating and disturbing in equal measure. I agree with your points and it is definitely on my list of favorite Hitchcock films.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ranking the "Mission: Impossible" Films Worst to Best

The Mission: Impossible movies, based on the 1966-73 television series, are about Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission Force doing something that seems impossible at first, but always ends up being possible. Tom Cruise stars in all the films as Ethan, and other members of the team are Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg). I like the Mission: Impossible movies because each film has a different director and thus each one has their own distinctive feel. Sure, there are a couple of constants (Cruise is in them all, they all are spy/action movies, and they all have people wearing masks - a nod to the TV show), but going into a Mission: Impossible movie you are never quite sure what you are going to get. Sometimes it's a silly fun spy franchise, other times it feels like nothing more than an excuse for Tom Cruise do to some sort of crazy stunt. Since the first film was released in 1996, there have been five movies, with a sixth on the way. Here's how I would rank the movies …

Ranking the Five Best On Screen Portrayals of Hercule Poirot

Before Kenneth Brnagh dons the iconic mustache in the highly-anticpated new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (in theatres November 10th), I thought I would take a look back at some of the most famous portryals of Hercule Poirot. Agatha Christie's signature creation, Poirot is peculiar. meticulous, and at times, bombastic and arrogant, but he always solves the case in the end, with the help of his little grey cells. Countless actors have portrayed the Belgian detective on stage, screen, or radio, including Charles Laughton, Austin Trevor, Orson Welles, and Ian Holm. But this list focuses on TV or film adaptations just becuase those are the ones I have seen.


5. Alfred Molina (2001)
Molina played Poirot in the 2001 TV movie version of Murder on the Orient Express. He's a terrific actor, generally, but his Poirot is not distinctive or memorable in any way. The accent is not great, the mustache is not great, and he is not eccentric enough to get away with being rude to peo…

Theater Review: "Waitress"

Theater Review: "Waitress"
Waitress, the new musical opening April 24 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, depicts a woman's struggle to leave her abusive husband after she learns she's pregnant and starts an affair with her OBGYN.  While the story, based on Adrienne Shelley's 2007 film, doesn't exactly sound like the perfect musical comedy, the show works surprisingly well, especially considering how much I loathed the movie.
With its book by Jessie Nelson and music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, Waitress isn't always sure what type of musical it wants to be. The setting, a roadside diner somewhere in the South, suggests a deep-fired, country-tinged show, while the young and racially diverse ensemble seem better suited for a modern show with pop songs, and the score incorporates both styles. The real through line of the piece is its message of female empowerment, represented by Jessie Mueller's Jenna, a waitress with a talent for baking pies, and her journe…