Today we reminisce about
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Diane Baker, Louise Latham, Martin Gabel
* Published specifically for the 3rd Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon hosted by Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films *
I have long admired the works of Sir Alfred Hitchcock and his films made up the first collection of DVDs that I ever owned. For me, he was an essential player in the study and appreciation of Classic Film. I never tire of seeing his films, from picking out newfound details or simply to relish in the comfort of cinephile food. I am particularly attracted to his Technicolor films of the late 1950’s and 1960’s, some of those which also happen to be best known to modern audiences. The beauty of the cinematography appeals to me as it encapsulates the totality of culture during those times, preserving them like an eternal time capsule. It is indeed extraordinary.
Picking a favourite Hitchcock film is next-to-impossible because he made so many brilliant, memorable pictures that stand on their own merits. In fact, I feel bold enough to say that he never went wrong and that his entire filmography is praiseworthy. This attitude will certainly not please the critics who were very hard on Hitchcock during his career, never really giving him the credit he deserved. Modern attitudes have largely changed towards his efforts though some films still retain their bad reputation. One of these films is Marnie, a sexually-charged psychological thriller with provocative scenes and themes that were considered indecent upon its release. Some of these aspects are still controversial today and while there is room to argue against them, it should not make the entire film unworthy. It is my hope that this article will allow you to become better acquainted with the plot and to appreciate the Marnie for the good things it has to offer all the while not ignoring its shortcomings.
The opening shot of the film shows a woman walking down a train platform carrying a suitcase with a yellow handbag tucked under her arm. She is dressed in a stylish twill outfit and has medium-length black hair. Her face is not shown. Quite suddenly, we cut to the next scene and see a man, Sidney Strutt (Martin Gabel), lividly exclaiming that he has been robbed of $9967 (equivalent to more than $81,000 in today’s money) by an employee named Marion Holland. He is able to provide the police a physical description of Ms. Holland though no personal information because she was hired without the usual protocol such as the giving of references. His testimony is interrupted by the arrival of Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), a client of Strutt’s who had seen Ms. Holland about six months earlier while visiting the company and happened to make mention of her beauty. Rather than be concerned for Strutt’s lost money, Mark is intrigued by Ms. Holland’s criminal behaviour.
After this brief interlude at Strutt & Co., we are once again following the mystery woman. She is walking down the corridor of a hotel with a doorman following closely behind carrying several department store boxes. Once inside her room, she starts unboxing the items and placing them in a newly purchased suitcase along with a large amount of money from her purse. Her old belongings are put in a separate suitcase and appear as if they will be disposed of completely. As she washes her hair in the sink, black dye starts to come out and when she flips her head back, it reveals her face and golden blonde hair. This is our first real introduction to Margaret “Marnie” Edgar (Tippi Hedren).
Marnie makes a trip to the Red Fox Tavern in rural Virginia and stays for a few days in order to enjoy horseback riding, one of her few pleasures in life. Her thoroughbred horse, Forio, who is the light of her life, stays at nearby Garrod’s stables. Shortly after this, she travels to see her mother in Baltimore. Mrs. Bernice Edgar (Louise Latham) lives by herself in a very modest house right next to the docks. She believes that her daughter is a private secretary to a millionaire, allowing Marnie to have a good, steady income as well as opportunities for travel. Bernice’s loneliness is combated by taking care of a young girl named Jessie while her mother is away at work. Jealous of her mother and Jessie’s relationship, Marnie desperately tries to win her mother’s affection by buying her expensive things but systematically finds herself rejected, much to Jessie’s delight. Although Bernice denies thinking ill of Marnie and not loving her, she does very little to appear convincing of her remarks.
It is not long before Marnie is “back to work” and looking for her next opportunity. This time she chooses to go to Philadelphia with an altered appearance and a new identity, Mary Taylor. Scanning the newspaper, she comes across an ad for a Payroll Clerk at Rutland Publishing & Co. She applies in-person and while waiting for her interview, she is spotted by Mark Rutland. He seems to recognise her, noting the fact that she pulls her skirt over her knees and is keen to work overtime, details that Strutt himself had commented upon. Even though Mary is unqualified for the job, Mark pushes for her to be hired for the position. Over the next few months, Mark studies Mary and eventually gets to know her personally when they start going to the horse race track together. Romance blossoms, at least from Mark’s perspective, and she is later introduced to the Rutland family at their estate in Chester County. This includes Lil (Diane Baker), Mark’s sister-in-law from his first marriage that ended when his young wife passed away.
All seems fine until one Friday evening after work when Marnie steals approximately $7000 (equivalent to $57,000 in today’s money) from Rutland’s company safe. She repeats the same ritual as she did after the Strutt & Co. robbery: she swaps out Mary’s belongings with new ones, goes back to being blonde and then heads to the Red Fox Tavern. Only this time her trail has been traced by Mark who used obscure clues from their conversations in order to find her. Marnie is astonished and embarrassed about the revelation and initially tries to continue lying to make-up excuses for her behaviour. However, Mark sees right through them. He confesses his love for her and then blackmails her into marrying him all the while still trying to get the truth out of her. Marnie is disgusted and feels like a caged animal, a comparison that slightly amuses Mark. They are married at small civil ceremony at the Rutland estate and then depart on a honeymoon cruise to the South Seas.
The not-so-sweet honeymoon is cut short due to various circumstances. Marnie is already hostile from being forced into marriage and is further agitated by the prospect of consummating their union. For some reason that Marnie cannot fully explain, she is terrified of physical contact and cannot bear to be sexually handled by men. This includes Mark even though she had allowed him to kiss her on many an occasion, sometimes seeming to enjoy it. He is patient with her but one evening his desire overcomes him and he forces himself upon Marnie. The next morning, she unsuccessfully attempts to take her own life which prompts the couple to make a premature return to Philadelphia.
They attempt to begin living normally as Mr. and Mrs. Mark Rutland though the path is a rocky one. Lil is highly suspicious of Marnie and tries to find anything she can on her so to break up the marriage, perhaps as a way to claim Mark as her own. Marnie continues to be very emotionally and physically distant from Mark though it is obvious that she has a spark of affection for him. As for Mark, he continues to search for the reasons behind Marnie’s sometimes baffling behaviour and fights to keep his wife out of the hands of authorities. The rest of the film holds a series of powerful revelations that may surprise you while also undoubtedly helping you better understand the film as a whole.
Marnie is the last recognised Hitchcock film to bear certain predominant characteristics that were present in many pictures from his international career. Notably, it is considered to be the last time that a trademark icy blonde graces the screen, often acting as a sort of femme fatale in the story. One of the first of Hitchcock’s icy blondes was Grace Kelly in Dial ‘M’ for Murder. Her beauty and mysterious intentions set a standard for Hitchcock who would continue casting attractive blondes who could successfully project being emotionally distant as well as morally corrupt. Following in Kelly’s footsteps were Doris Day, Vera Miles, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint & Janet Leigh; all of whom cemented their place in cinematic history with their unforgettable roles. Tippi Hedren was no different and made a huge splash as a then-unknown actress when she was cast in The Birds. Her performance was so pleasing to Hitchcock that he almost immediately cast her in Marnie.
The role of Marnie Edgar is much different than the more one-dimensional character of Melanie Daniels that Hedren played in The Birds. Marnie is a complex woman with many unresolved issues from her past who lives a present existence that is saturated with criminal activity and lies. She cannot even be herself around her mother, the only person with whom she has any sort of blood connection or lasting relationship. Of course, Bernice Edgar is not the best judge of character and constantly preaches against the evils of sin and carnal desire, constantly cutting down her daughter as a way to “prevent” her from ever behaving waywardly. Bernice does not know how to be a mother and Marnie does not know how to be a daughter yet this ill-matched duo relies on each other for survival. Those hidden issues from her past combined with Bernice’s standoffish attitude make Marnie feel powerless so she decides to fight these crushing blows by manipulating other people and stealing from them. This is particularly true in regards to her male employers as a way to punish them for being “filthy men”, often times being attracted to Marnie and even making advances towards her. Hedren manages to convincingly bring all the layers of Marnie to the surface. As her alter egos, she is a tough-as-nails dame with flawless manners and a sharp eye for business. Nothing will stop her from remaining focused on the task at hand: getting as much money as possible when the time is right. As Marnie, she is generally more vulnerable and more humane though she spends much of her energy defending herself, especially around Mark. I would not exactly say that Marnie is a likeable character but over the course of the film, you see that she lowers her barriers and eventually chooses to redeem herself as an individual and as a wife.
Up until the point when Marnie gets caught by Mark, things appeared to be going relatively well for her and she seemed to be in control of her destiny. She had obviously been well-trained as a professional thief, having exquisite taste in clothing and the finer things in life, as well as speaking in a more refined fashion. No one had been able to catch her or link her to any people or events in the past. However, Marnie was in fact losing steam. Her capacity for successfully lying was growing weak and she had started to slip up here and there. As Mark says ever so wisely during their honeymoon, Marnie was going to eventually get caught and punished for her crimes by both her employer and the police. He says this as a way to bring her to reality but also to show how decent he has been to her in the scheme of things. Sure, Mark wants to make himself feel better by being the hero but I also believe that he wants Marnie to come to terms with where her future as Mrs. Rutland is heading.
It feels conflicting to talk about Mark because while he truly loves Marnie and wants to bring good to her life, the fact that he raped her during their honeymoon cannot be ignored. There is nothing that can justify non-consensual sex even if it happens to take place between a husband and a wife. Oddly enough, Mark negatively talks about a theoretical employer catching Marnie and “taking what he had coming to him”, putting himself in a better light because he has treated Marnie so well. Also, he promises to Marnie that he will not attempt to bed her after she freaks out on the boat. What could have happened for Mark to have forgotten all of this?
The fact of the matter is that Mark has a primal, savage streak in him which makes it so that he is consumed with an uninhibited instinct also shown in the animals he studies as an amateur zoologist. (One of the books he reads is titled Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female.) A part of him sees Marnie as a wild creature he has captured to do with as he pleases. This attitude is also present in Mr. Rutland as Mark claims that his father “also admires wholesome animal lust”. All in all, I do not believe Mark to be a bad person though I do not agree with his lack of judgement in this case. Sean Connery did an amazing job bringing the character of Mark to life and handled all scenes with taste.
Ultimately it is up to the viewer to decide how they feel about the characters and how they rationalise what happens in the story. It is important to look outside of the box such as thinking about how Marnie ended up at Rutland’s and what her first few robberies had been like. Moreover, how was she as a teenager and what was it that made her turn to a criminal life? This is also valid for Mark who seems to have a set of issues all of his own. Hopefully this can allow to you to enjoy this Hitchcock masterpiece for what it is worth.
As for Hitchcock, he did a grand job with the cinematography and captured the mid-Atlantic countryside ever so well. The sets used where meticulously detailed and very realistic. Rutland & Co.’s main office area was lively and functioning with even the bathrooms having individual toilet stalls. Bernice’s house was decorated just as it should have been for someone in the lower middle class bracket living in a lacklustre home that was at least clean and cosy. The interiors of the Rutland estate were exquisite. This is an aesthetically pleasing film to watch, even with the obvious backdrops used to represent the Baltimore harbour were perfectly acceptable replacements to real thing.
This would sadly mark the last collaboration between Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann. Although Herrmann would write the soundtrack for Hitchcock’s next film, Torn Curtain, it would ultimately not be used. The soundtrack for Marnie has its own unique sound but does contain some of Herrmann’s signature violin movements and yields a definitive feminine feel. You feel excitement and mystery but also romance and even hints of innocence when the flute comes in. It was a dignified effort to mark the end of a collaborative era.