Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

HITCHCOCK’S MARNIE (1964)

With his 1964 production of MARNIE, Alfred Hitchcock was treading on dangerous ground.  He had just come off a string of masterpieces beginning with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) and culminating with THE BIRDS (1963).  He and the world wondered:  Would he follow these films with a worthy successor?  Hitchcock answered this question by creating a film that confused many and disappointed most.  It seemed he had wasted his time with what was regarded as an insipid and ersatz soap opera.  Insipid because of a general lack of suspense in comparison to his recent work.  Ersatz considering the awful painted backdrops and fuzzy rear projections scattered throughout the film.  Partly because of contradictory statements by Hitchcock himself, critics years after the initial release began debating the director’s symbolic intent if any, behind these backdrops and process shots.  Needless to say, a cottage industry has sprung up analyzing the film, with critics bending over backwards to make excuses for the film’s shortcomings.   Undeniably,  many of these interpretations have merit, while others may be examples of wishful thinking by some of Hitch’s more ardent admirers.

In MARNIE, Hitchcock and screenwriter Jay Presson Allen explore the life of a compulsive thief: The gorgeous though hopelessly frigid Marnie Edgar (“Tippi” Hedren).  Her mode of operation is as follows: She steals large sums of money from her employers, changes her identity and moves onto the next job (and theft) in another city.  When Marnie takes a job in the office of a publishing company, she does not realize that her new employer, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) remembers her from a past stint working for a tax consultant firm, where he was a client.  After she robs his company, Mark blackmails her into marriage in an attempt to play psychiatrist, and uncover the reason for her compulsion.  In the process he discovers her pathological fear of sex and its connection to her obsession with theft.  Indeed the theme of theft as sex and sex as theft is one frequently explored by Hitchcock, most elegantly in TO CATCH A THIEF (1955).  In MARNIE the theme is seized upon by Hitchcock with a relish that is almost gleeful, as Marnie certainly experiences a sexual rush from her crimes.  Added to this is the honeymoon rape of Marnie by Mark, a man who is not used to sexual rejection.  He literally steals her virginity and Hitchcock’s own sexual kinks are on display, much to a psychologically inclined critic’s fascination.  This troubling scene, as concocted by Winston Graham, the author of the original novel on which the film is based, led to original screenwriter Evan Hunter leaving the project in a state of dismay.

Also intensely explored is Mark’s fascination with zoology and his view of Marnie as a “wild thing” that needs to be tamed.  “I’ve caught a wild one this time!” he says, practically smacking his lips.  Of course, she is certainly not sexually wild, but is viewed as “wild” in that she is beyond the control of a man.   Frankly, Marnie is referred to by men in animalistic terms, several times throughout the film.  Beside Mark’s statements, her first employer, Mr. Strutt (Martin Gabel) describes her to the police as having “good teeth”, a term often used in describing race horses.  There is also a hilarious moment at a racetrack, as a former employer (Milton Selzer) spies on Marnie through a rolled up newspaper.  A crowd of men behind him, looking in the same direction, and ostensibly enjoying the race, jump to their feet, shouting excitedly.  It is almost as though they are cheering for the gorgeous Marnie as well as the horses.  And Marnie loves horses.  She is frequently shown riding her horse “Forio” and  a fox hunt  features prominently as both a metaphor for the central situation and as a catalyst for the film’s denouement.  The unfettered sexuality of a beautiful woman on horseback is compared to the thrill Marnie experiences in her thefts.  After she robs Mark’s safe, she removes her shoes to avoid detection.  When Mark surprises her with Forio, the beloved stallion Marnie has not seen in months, she once again removes her shoes before mounting the horse.  It is here that we encounter the problematic rear projections.  Some critics maintain that the out of focus process shots used for Marnie’s riding scenes (and a similarly phony looking painted backdrop outside her Mother’s home) are symbolic of the young woman’s ultimate lack of fulfilment in pursuits that are meant to offer her peace and resolution.  In other words, the pleasures they offer are unreal.   Such interpretations should be left to the individual viewer.  As for me, I remain unconvinced.  As for Hitchcock, he has offered conflicting statements about this film and his work in general: “It was just a crummy piece of scene painting.” and “We must get deeper into things.”

In the final scene, we discover that Marnies’s Mother (Louise Latham) was a prostitute and that, as a child, Marnie killed one of the visiting Johns, precipitating a life long hatred of sex for both women.  The thefts, supposedly, were a replacement for Marnie’s sexual energies (the theft of sex?) and the journey for the troubled couple is just beginning.  Since he is as sick as Marnie (“A man wants to sleep with a thief because she’s a thief”, says Hitchcock, and there is that disturbing rape, of course) the singing of the children outside the mother’s house of “Mother, Mother, I am ill, send for the Doctor over the hill” applies as much to Mark as to his wife.  There will have to be much healing ahead for both, as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most open-ended films fades to black.

CREDITS: Directed and Produced by Alfred Hitchcock.  Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen.  Based on the novel by Winston Graham.  Photographed by Robert Burks.  Edited by George Tomasini.  Music by Bernard Herrmann.  With “Tippi” Hedren, Sean Connery, Dianne Baker, Martin Gable, Louise Latham, Milton Selzer, Mariette Hartley and Alan Napier.

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March 11, 2013 Posted by | 1960's cinema, Alfred Hitchcock, film directors, JAY PRESSON ALLEN, suspense films | , , , , , , | Leave a comment