Hitchmania: Marnie (1964)



Alfred Hitchcock had initially wanted to make Marnie with Grace Kelly in the lead and had planned to do it after Psycho, but the actress had to withdraw due to issues in Monaco. The director went to work on The Birds instead and shelved the idea for the psychologically dense film about a sexually disturbed thief. One does wonder how well a princess would’ve played the role anyway.

After working with Tippi Hedren on the aforesaid avian thriller, Hitch elected to cast her in Marnie and fired the projected back up again. The filmmaker went through a raft of writers to pin down the 1964 movie, firing Evan Hunter after he objected to a rape scene and settling on Jay Presson Allen to adapt the Winston Graham novel.

Hedren stars as the titular character. She is a thief who steals from various businesses after getting hired for clerical positions. After the theft, she changes her identity. All the while, Marnie has a troubled relationship with her mother (Louise Latham) who has an odd attachment to the neighbour’s daughter (Kimberly Beck).

When Marnie gets hired by Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), she is unaware of the fact that he remembers her from a previous crime. She eventually steals his money, but he’s ahead of the game and confronts her. Rather than turning her in, Rutland blackmails her into marrying him. He discovers that she is frigid, which is just the tip of the iceberg for this disturbed young woman.

While Marnie can be somewhat convoluted at times, the various angles only add to the web of intrigue that sits at the core of the story. The quest to discover what’s wrong with the titular character leads her to destroy her past and eradicate her connections. In turn, that leaves quite a puzzle for the audience – and Rutland – to put together. This is where his zoological interests come in handy.

Marnie is, after all, a wounded animal and a predator. This is what makes the aforementioned rape scene so interesting. Rutland is turned on by the dangerous aspects of the woman and can’t contain his desires, which causes him to commit his own act of vile theft. He takes what he believes belongs to him, which dovetails into what Marnie has to say about women.

The character is forced into “decency” by her mother, a behavioural construct that relates to what’s expected of a woman. Marnie can be a thief and a liar and a cheat, but she better not take her clothes off with a man. When Rutland literally forces his “good intentions” on her, he represents all that a man expects a wife to be. The problem that arises, the one that delves deep into Marnie’s past, is sexual.

To underline this, it’s revealing that it isn’t the robbery that causes Rutland to drag Marnie back through the past. It’s her frigidity that does it. The path to any sort of psychobabble-based solution runs right to the most obvious of Hitchcockian markers: the mother. As Lil Mainwaring (Diane Baker) notes in Bates-like fashion, “I always thought a girl’s best friend was her mother.”

A lot of what goes on in Marnie has threads in Hitchcock’s other pictures, of course. The notion of falling in love with someone for rather animalistic reasons date all the way back to The Lodger, where Daisy Bunting feels an attraction to Ivor Novello’s character because she figures he could be a killer. Connery’s Rutland is doubtlessly turned on by Marnie’s criminal history.

There’s also the idea of marital fraud, which occurs in Rebecca among other places. In the case of that picture, the title character wants to continue sexual dalliances on the side and agrees to act as the perfect wife. In the case of Marnie, the agreement is more tenuous and the title character wants nothing more than to make a break for it.

François Truffaut would argue that Hitchcock wasn’t the same after the failure of Marnie. “This was not so much due to the financial failure of the film,” Truffaut notes, “but rather to the failure of his professional and personal relationship with Tippi Hedren…he entertained the notion of transforming her into another Grace Kelly.”

The drama behind the scenes is the subject of another essay, but one does see an image of Hitchcock here as a sort of flawed master. Marnie affords him the opportunity to exact his vision once more. And once more his purity of form revels in the intricate stuff of natural legend, owing a lot to his entire oeuvre but also pointing bravely forward to a psychological depth never to come.


11 thoughts on “Hitchmania: Marnie (1964)

    1. Really interesting comment, Rebecca. I don’t know much about Hitch’s feelings for Tippi, but he sure took it to her in these two films. She does such a great job, and they are two of my most favorite Hitchcock films. People seem pretty convinced that The Birds is simply a vehicle for Hitchcock’s misogyny, and while this is certainly the case in some ways, there is so much more going on.

      I need to check and see if you have written about The Birds, Jordan. Who knows, maybe I even commented on it…

      1. I have indeed written about The Birds as part of my ongoing Hitchmania series:


        As for the whole Tippi/Hitch thing, a story that’s gotten a lot of press over the last while thanks to an HBO flick called The Girl, I’m personally not sure what I think. There’s certainly no shortage of controversy, but I never found anything in The Birds or Marnie to seem misogynistic. If anything, I found both films rather sympathetic to the lead female protagonists. The latter in particular treats Hedren’s character with complexity and a certain degree of esteem, whereas even Psycho simply did away with its version of the thief.

        This site seems to mount a pretty convincing defence using some people who’d worked with Hitchcock during the two Hedren pictures:


        1. I like the extra-textual stuff about Hitchcock the person. It is fun and interesting. But far more interesting are the actual films. When I say something like “Marnie is misogynistic,” I am not leveling a personal attack on Hitchcock. I think Marnie is a great film because of how it probes the depths of of our cultural treatment of women. Marnie being presented as a caged, wounded animal, who must be “tamed” by the strong male figure no less, is loaded with history and ideologies regarding sex and women. The fear of women in The Birds (Hedren’s character is explicitly blamed for the phenomenon) functions in the same way.

          Alfred Hitchcock was most likely no worse of a person than the average American male, he was just really really good at articulating those masculine fears and anxieties about women and sex onscreen. That doesn’t make him a bad person, just a great artist.

          1. I know you’re not attacking Hitchcock personally, but Rebecca’s comment does suggest a motive (beyond the cinematic) to what goes on in Marnie. The notion that the filmmaker was especially prone to torturing Hedren within the confines of The Birds and Marnie is strange, in my view, but I personally don’t like to spend too much time on it.

            Hedren’s character in Marnie is theoretically the caged animal archetype, but she’s not a hated character and there’s no indication that she’s any lesser for it as a person. It’s not Mr. and Mrs. Smith (which I do think is misogynistic), where the woman is effectively won over by sex despite being in an abusive relationship. In Marnie, there’s a psychological depth to her character that is unearthed by the “strong male figure.” What we end up with is a collision of expectations as opposed to a base hatred of women, which is why I disagree that the film is misogynistic.

            In The Birds, Hedren is blamed by another character (a woman) for what happens – but she’s not blamed by the film and that’s the important distinction. Any negative connotations to her character come not because she’s a woman but because she’s a socialite. Her character is disliked by other characters in the picture, but what happens when the birds attack is an accident of nature (to use Hitch’s own words). So what we have is less a misogynistic element but an exploration of social class: a big city girl comes to Bodega Bay, all hell breaks loose.

            It’s clear that Hitchcock explores fears, anxieties and other considerations about women throughout his films. I’ve been keeping a close eye on that throughout this year-long project. But I’ve only seldom stumbled upon something that would reflect misogynistic tendencies.

            1. That is an interesting reading of Marnie. I will have to rewatch it before weighing in. I actually agree with you on The Birds. I like to think of that movie as engaging the tension between country and city, an important theme that has been with film pretty much since the beginning.

              I really appreciate your thoughts on Hitchcock. I come from an academic background, and most people pigeonhole him as a technical genius with mommy issues, but there is so much more going on in these films.

              1. I read volumes of books on Hitchcock before undertaking this project and a lot of what he’s had to say, especially toward the end, stands in heavy contrast to many of the conclusions of academia. Of course, that could be his coyness at work. There surely are deeper themes, but sometimes a shower scene really is just a shower scene.

                As always, thanks for stopping by!

  1. I love Marnie. A great and disturbing film that is deeply psychological. The casting of Sean Connery is so great, and he has to be the worst of all the horrible male protagonists in Hitchcock’s filmography.

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