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The story of a cool, calculated professional woman who embezzles from her employer then relocates to some distant town where she repeats her crimes under an assumed identity, Marnie (1964) is unlike almost any other Alfred Hitchcock film with the possible exception of Vertigo (1958). Like the latter film, the blonde heroine (Tippi Hedren) becomes an obsession for one of her male victims - Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) - whose behavior is as peculiar as her own. Instead of turning her over to the police once he apprehends her, Mark forces her to marry him, partly in an effort to understand her compulsive need to steal and partly because he's sexually aroused by this beautiful but frigid kleptomaniac. As the relationship between Mark and Marnie progresses from jailer/prisoner to something deeper and more complex, Hitchcock's film refuses to conform to genre expectations. Is Marnie a perverse love story, a psychological thriller or a clinical case study? Certainly it's all of these things, but it's also one of Hitchcock's most personal films, mirroring his own off-screen obsession with the film's star, Tippi Hedren.
Working from a novel by Winston Graham, Hitchcock first hired Evan Hunter to develop the screenplay for Marnie in close collaboration with him and his cinematographer Robert Burks. According to Donald Spoto in The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, the director described to Hunter and Burks "every shot of the first half of the film, the interior and exterior locations, the props, the spatial relationships between characters - and, in greatest detail, the physical, costumed appearance of the title character." "We go to close-up," he said, "to show her hair blowing in the wind while she's riding the horse - that's a leitmotiv that goes through the film." Hitchcock's detailed storyboards and pre-planned camera set-ups prior to production were legend but so was his intractable attitude about certain scenes and Hunter soon found himself clashing with the director over a controversial sequence - one where Mark rapes his wife on their wedding night. Hunter was disturbed by the scene and argued that it would destroy all sympathy for the male character but Hitchcock, who didn't like to have his judgment questioned, soon parted company with Hunter and replaced him with Jay Presson Allen, a relatively unknown playwright and screenwriter who had just scored a critical success with her play, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Allen later recalled, "I think he wanted a woman's point of view on Marnie and that's why he asked me....Hitch was a very Edwardian fellow. He put lids on himself. To work out his repressions, he created a framework - his art. It was his way of legitimizing everything and transforming his feelings and repressions into something creative."
From the beginning, there was little question that anyone other than Ms. Hedren would play Marnie (There was some brief interest in Claire Griswold, the wife of director Sydney Pollack, but she turned down all acting jobs to become a fulltime mother). Hitchcock had initially discovered Hedren in a Sego (a diet drink) television ad which led to her debut in his previous 1963 film, The Birds and it was obvious he was grooming her to be a star on the order of Grace Kelly. At the same time, his interest in her became obsessive and all-controlling. He started sending champagne to her dressing room at the end of each day. He began proclaiming her "his ultimate actress, the one he had waited decades to direct, and that she was giving the finest performance in any of his films" (Donald Spoto, The Dark Side of Genius). He even revealed a recurring dream he had to Hedren where she came up to him and said, "Hitch, I love you - I'll always love you." When she heard this, she replied "But it was a dream. Just a dream," and excused herself from his presence. The situation eventually turned ugly and it was rumored that Hitchcock made an overt sexual proposition to Hedren when he was alone with her. The actress was appalled and humiliated and, according to biographer Spoto, after that "he refused to address Tippi Hedren personally. He never even uttered her name, referring only to "that girl." His directions on the set were given through assistants, and her questions had to be relayed to him by an equally circuitous route. From that day forth he also lost all interest in Marnie."
When Marnie opened theatrically, most critics were negative in their reviews. While many had been divided on his previous feature, The Birds, almost everyone complained about Tippi Hedren's acting abilities, the use of rear-screen projection, the artificial, painted sets, the general lack of suspense, and the simplistic resolution of the heroine's psychological problems at the fadeout. A typical reaction was this excerpt from The New York Times review which called it "the master's most disappointing film in years...not only is Marnie burdened with the most glaringly fake cardboard backdrops since Salvador Dali designed the dream sequence for Spellbound (1945), but the timing of key suspense scenes is sadly askew." It wasn't until recent years that critical consensus has changed toward Marnie. Now, many Hitchcock admirers feel it is one of his strongest films, a genuine work of art that tackles disturbing themes in an experimental fashion. His use of rear-screen projection is now defended as an inspired creative decision that reflects the unreal nature of Marnie's world and Tippi Hedren's performance is likewise highly regarded as one of the finest female portrayals in any Hitchcock film. One thing is certain. Marnie is unique for being the last of its kind. It was the last Hitchcock film to feature a blonde heroine, the last to feature a music score by frequent collaborator Bernard Herrmann, and the last time Hitchcock would work with cinematographer Robert Burks.
Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Jay Presson Allen, based on the novel by Winston Graham
Art Direction: George Milo Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editing: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Tippi Hedren (Marnie Edgar), Sean Connery (Mark Rutland), Diane Baker (Lil Mainwaring), Martin Gabel (Sidney Strutt), Louise Latham (Bernice Edgar), Bob Sweeney (Cousin Bob), Alan Napier (Mr. Rutland), Mariette Hartley (Susan Clabon), Bruce Dern (Sailor).
by Jeff Stafford