The Hitchcock Conversations is an ongoing project between me and James W. Powell, in which we study Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography in chronological order. I’ll be publishing one conversation per week.
(By necessity, spoilers ahead!)
Synopsis: A retired San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend’s much-younger wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.
James: Marnie is the first Hitchcock film that actually bored me. Yeah, that’s right. Damn, what a terrible film. I know the film is filled with the usual Hitch symbols and themes, so our discussion will bring a lot to this film, but talk talk talk talk. This film is way too long. Cut out half an hour, and I think you’d have a much tighter film. Marnie has a lot in common with Spellbound, as far as its psychological mystery is concerned, but it somehow makes the earlier film seem a masterpiece.
Jason: I’ll agree with you to a certain extent. Marnie is too long, yes, and it’s quite talky at times. I felt my interest waning in the third act. But I definitely wouldn’t call it a terrible film. I had never seen this film before, and I would say it actually exceeded my expectations. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, for some reason, but in the end, it came across as a fairly intriguing cross between Vertigo and Spellbound (which you mention). This movie has flaws, but it’s better than I thought it would be.
James: I’ll just say it’s mediocre. Not terrible—that was hasty. But it has more than a few flaws. First of all, I didn’t care for any of the characters. At first, I liked the central male character, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), but by the end of the film, he feels so evil. It’s weird, he tries to help Marnie (Tippi Hedren)—a thief who has obvious, deep-rooted psychological problems—but he just goes about it all wrong. And Marnie, damn! I was really disappointed by Tippi Hedren’s acting through most of this movie.
Jason: See, I think it’s the characters that make this film interesting. I felt there was a strong mystery behind why Mark is attracted to this woman whom he knows is a thief. He figures out her modus operandi—landing jobs in profitable companies, stealing money from their safes, and then escaping and changing her identity—and instead of blowing the whistle, he falls for her, covers for her, and wants to marry her. To cure her. To have her. He’s an interesting character, and there’s even some forward sexual themes later on, when we come to understand that, like Scotty in Vertigo, he wants to bed this image of her that he has—but she turns out to be something he didn’t imagine—cold and distant and not interested in men. As for Marnie, she’s an equally interesting character, I think. She’s an enigma through most of the film. We meet her from behind, with that bulky, yellow purse under her arm, so immediately she has that mysterious quality, as if we’re not going to know all the answers about her until deep into the film. (We also get yet another train sequence from Hitch.) And we slowly get to know her through these weird opening scenes, such as the sequence she shares with her odd mother, Bernice (Louise Latham) and the little local girl, Jessie (Kimberly Beck). There’s a strange dynamic there, a weird jealousy for the girl, and these little oddities start to build until we get evidence of psychological discord.
James: I’ll admit that Marnie’s opening is very intriguing. Watching Marnie from behind, we know something’s up. I was immediately captivated. And when we find that she’s stolen a bunch of money, I thought of Psycho. But here, Marnie is more intent on her crime. She’s a practiced thief. The opening robbery isn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. And my first instinct was that, for the first time, our heroine—our main character—is a “bad guy” (of sorts). And later, when we meet Marnie’s mother, I immediately made comparisons with Hitch’s other mother figures. As in The Birds, Tippi has a mother that doesn’t care for her. It didn’t take long for me to guess that, at least in some way, Marnie caused her mother’s accident or was involved in some way.
Jason: Well, we’ve had a few “bad guys” as main characters. Rope and Dial M for Murder come immediately to mind, not to mention Psycho.
James: I should’ve said bad “women” I guess. But yeah, there are others. Marnie just seems different from those earlier films, somehow. Maybe because the others focused on more than one person, whereas here Marnie is the main character—she even gets the title.
Jason: Okay. But you make really good comparisons with both Psycho and The Birds. When you think about it, Marnie is kind of an assemblage of Hitch themes and plot points. Again, he seems to be retreading favorite material, and yet I think Marnie stands on its own as a unique story. Not a great one, but at least worth the price of admission. I loved the reveal early on, when we first see Marnie’s face. Through the first 5 minutes of the film, we only see her from behind, as a mysterious raven-haired woman, but then she washes the dye out of hair and suddenly she comes into focus as Tippi Hedren, platinum Hitch blonde.
James: The hairstyles in this movie are just terrible. Good god, man. What were they thinking? Hahaha.
Jason: Yeah, the first time I saw Marnie’s bouffant, I had a good laugh. But then, a little later, Hitch showed us the back of her head, and I immediately recognized the Vertigo swirl, indicating obsession. Marnie is a movie about obsession, not to the degree that Vertigo is, but you have two characters obsessed with separate things: Mark is obsessed with the idea of Marnie, and Marnie is obsessed with the outward effects of a childhood trauma she doesn’t remember.
Jason: Hey, yeah, why the hell does she drop that key? Well, maybe she was locking away all the residue of her past identity? Or did she lock the stolen money in that baggage she put in there?
James: I think she’s locking away her former identity. But that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If she were locking away the money, we could make the leap that she’s stealing for fun or because of mental instability, and not for the money itself. But that’s weak, too.
Jason: You’re right, it’s unclear.
James: One thing I didn’t like about the scene between Marnie and mother is that the song the kids are singing outside is a little too obvious. The lyrics are about being sick and needing to go to the doctor.
Jason: I agree. But the scene with the mother is very strange. There’s that queer moment when they both say, “We don’t need men,” leading me to believe, at first, that Marnie is a lesbian. Was that your first thought? And then we get a fairly poignant moment when Marnie asks her mom in the kitchen, “Why don’t you love me?” From the start, we know there’s a history between them, and we know it will have something to do with the film’s resolution.
James: I saw the “We don’t need men” line as a foreshadow of what would come with the introduction of Mark. Mark is a sort of skirt-chaser, and he fixates on a woman who hates men. I saw that as the beginning of a tension that would play itself out later. So no, I didn’t think Marnie’s a lesbian.
Jason: Well, you know me and lesbianism. It’s my own fixation.
James: I liked the use of Jessie to play off Marnie’s psychology. Marnie’s mom loves this little girl more than she ever loved Marnie. I like that. And the fact that Marnie is jealous and hateful of this innocent little girl is intriguing.
Jason: Moving on, another thing that reminded me of Vertigo, obviously, is the color effect with red, how it always saturates the frame, as with a filter, every time Marnie focuses on the color. Later, we’ll come to understand that red represents blood, but these early effects shots, combined with Marnie’s fearful reactions, are effective.
James: I actually thought about Spellbound and the ski-tracks motif whenever Marnie obsessed about the color red—most likely because both films share central ideas, particularly in the sense of someone trying to mentally help another.
Jason: Nice catch! Yes, the two films are quite similar. What did you think of the job-interview sequence, in which Marnie applies for a job at Rutland Publishing, and Mark recognizes Marnie, slowly realizing what she’s doing? Were you surprised when he goes ahead and insists that the company hire her?
James: I knew he would hire her. Not sure why, but once Mark recognized her, I expected her to get the job. I wasn’t sure why or what he was up to, but I certainly saw it coming. I liked how the manager doesn’t want to hire Marnie and questions her lack of references and qualifications. Up to this point, I still like Mark. He’s a little more than the average man we’re used to. In a way, he’s like the lead in North by Northwest … wealthy, arrogant, smirky.
Jason: Yeah, I knew he would hire her, too, as far as moving the story forward. I do like the way we see Mark realize who she is. The knowledge comes over his face gradually, and we know he holds that knowledge over her. What’s he going to do with it? You have to admit, he ends up using the knowledge in an unpredictable way. I like your comparison with North by Northwest. But it’s interesting to think that Mark has his own psychological issues, which adds some interesting depth to the character, even though those issues aren’t dealt with in the wide open, but rather subtly. In essence, he wants to have sex with a thief—sort of like Grace Kelly’s character wants to have sex with a thief in To Catch a Thief.
James: Nice! And I really liked the Rutland secretary, Susan Clabon (Mariette Hartley), and her relationship with Marnie. Seemed that there was a genuine connection there. But I couldn’t quite place where I’ve seen Hartley before. Some television show …?
Jason: I liked that secretary camaraderie, too. Mariette Hartley has been on TV a lot. In that scene, I think it’s amusing the way Marnie sees an obvious way to break into the company safe during her first few minutes on the job at Rutland Publishing. Is it lazy screenwriting to show the safe outright and have the manager unable to remember a simple combination, having to check a desk drawer for the secret every 5 minutes? That felt a bit too easy.
James: No, I liked the fact that he needs to check that drawer all the time. It makes him a bit of comic relief in the story. I didn’t see it as lazy writing, although part of me wanted it to be more difficult for her. Then again, the point of the story isn’t to see how good she is at stealing, but rather to show her mental problems and see Mark save her, in his strange way.
Jason: Good point. Anyway, this is followed by another incident with the color red: Marnie spills red ink on her sleeve. It’s a nice little sequence (suggesting loss of virginity?), but if she’s so horrified by the color red, why would she ask for a bottle of red ink in the first place?
James: Hahaha, that’s a good question. I’m sorry, but Hedren’s acting just sucks during these crazy scared moments. Her reactions are way too over the top. I wanted something more subtle. She could start breathing heavy or sweating or fainting, but she didn’t have to swoon and gasp and fall all over the place.
Jason: I think you’re being too hard on Tippi. I thought she did a fine job. Maybe Hitch told her to go a tad too far in a handful of scenes, but overall, I thought her performance was great. Everything was better than her into-the-camera freak-out at the end of The Birds.
James: Sorry, man, but we disagree. Her freak-out in The Birds was exactly the same as her freak-out in this film, especially with the lightning in Mark’s office. Oh, and did you notice, in that office scene, that the tree breaks through and smashes the last belongings of Mark’s wife that he kept? It symbolizes that his relationship with her is over. He’s now got Marnie.
Jason: Yep. By the way, Mark has a great line in his office, just before the lightning and thunder start. He and Marnie are talking about predatory animals, and he says, “Lady animals figure largely as predators.” And he gives her a significant look: Here’s where you realize that he’s attracted to her predatory, criminal nature. It’s a great dialog exchange. We also get their first kiss, and you can tell that Marnie isn’t into it. She doesn’t move her lips at all. It’s like she’s lost in the horror triggered by the blocked childhood memory. I like when he asks her, “What do you believe in?” And she says, “Nothing.” Yeah, I didn’t think the acting was bad. She was just terrified.
James: Terrified? Good god, man. That was terribly acted. The back of the hand on the forehead. The wide eyes. The falling against the door. That was bad, bad acting.
Jason: Well, sure, it doesn’t have the realism of today’s terror scenes, but it was all right. Are you basing your opinion of Tippi’s entire performance on a handful of scenes and particularly the office scene, or did you find anything of value in her acting? I thought, overall, that she did remarkably well—especially considering that Marnie was her second film ever, and it’s a difficult leading role.
James: Sure, Hedren had her moments. Some of her acting was fine. But for the most part, it felt forced. Wrong somehow. I just would’ve liked it more understated and internal, not this external explosion of confusion and madness. But yeah, Mark’s line pretty much spells out what he likes about her. I thought he wasn’t necessarily attracted to the thief in her, but that he wanted to study her like he did other animals.
Jason: I think the two ideas are intertwined.
James: We forgot to mention Mark’s ex-wife’s sister, Lil Mainwaring (Diane Baker). I liked her quite a bit. Reminded me of several other secondary women in Hitch’s movies, the amateur sleuths of Hitch’s earlier films.
Jason: Yeah, I liked Lil. At first, I thought Mark and Lil were really brother and sister, and I was shocked when she kissed him full on the mouth. But then I caught on that she was his sister-in-law. Still, this kiss lingers. You wonder how long she’s pined for Mark. I just read that Diane Baker played Senator Ruth Martin in The Silence of the Lambs. Cool!
James: Interesting! But yeah, Lil has been pining for Mark for a long, long time. She’s so in love with him, it’s crazy. And in a way, she’s predatory, too, in the fact that she’d do just about anything to get rid of Marnie.
Jason: There’s a great little deleted-scene snippet in the DVD documentary (in script form only) in which Lil confronts Marnie and, smilingly, tells her to just disappear because it would be better for everyone.
James: That should be in the film.
Jason: Did you catch the echo of Notorious when Marnie and Mark go to the race track?
James: There were a lot of similarities in this film to a lot of others, but yeah, I liked the “echo” of Notorious here. Had a very similar feeling.
Jason: What follows is a great suspense scene, of Marnie breaking into the safe at the Rutland office. She’s on the right side of the screen, and a cleaning woman comes into view on the left. This scene totally has Hitch’s signature, that slow buildup of tension. Will she be caught? And then, as she tiptoes out of the room on stocking feet, with her high heels in her pocket, one of the heels starts slipping out, threatening to fall to the floor! Nice. And when it falls—ha! The cleaning woman is hard of hearing. Now, why didn’t the black dude who comes out of the bathroom see Marnie leaving?
James: I loved the tension of the shoe falling out of her pocket, and then again when the black dude comes into the office. That was nicely done. I’m assuming Marnie was far enough down the stairs so that he just missed seeing her. Seems plausible.
Jason: It’s a purely Hitchcockian scene.
James: See, so far, this film’s okay. Not great, but okay. But once the next few scenes unfold, it falls apart for me. When Mark shows up to confront Marnie about stealing the money, I liked the idea of that dynamic—Mark hunting her down and all but forcing her to admit the truth. And listening to her lie, all the while knowing she’s not telling the truth, and knowing that he knows she’s not telling the truth … that’s good stuff. But Mark seem like a complete ass. And she seems fruity or dumb. Overly dramatic. I think one of the reasons this doesn’t work for me is that the story is no longer romantic. Marnie now hates Mark, and he’s an ass by forcing her to bend to his will. Just hated that.
Jason: I don’t think she hates him. The traumatized part of her hates what he’s trying to do, but deep down, I think she’s falling for him, too. She just can’t help but be repelled by his advances at first—until after he cures her. By the end, she’s his girl, and you can see in her eyes that she loves him. Anyway, yeah, I’m liking the film at this point, even though the pacing is off, and I continue to like it past this point. Mark knows all along that she’s going to make her move, and when she does, he covers her tracks by replacing the money (we learn later), and thus has this big advantage over her. I was actually surprised when he proposes to her. I thought, So that’s what he’s after. He doesn’t want to turn her in or make trouble for her. He just wants her. I find that fascinating: to gain the upper hand and force her to be with him. Yes, it makes him seem a jerk, but on the other hand, I think he genuinely cares for her and wants to see her get well.
James: You liked the fact that he just comes out of left field and asks her to marry him? That was ridiculous. I can see his need to gain the upper hand and maybe to deceive people, but good grief, that was just too much. Worse than Hedren’s acting. It just didn’t make sense. And if he really cares for her, would he force himself on her? I think not.
Jason: I think that’s one of the cool aspects of this film: It’s not only about Marnie’s twisted, trauma-based psychology but also about Mark’s own inner demons. He’s got another great line: “I’ve trapped you and caught you and by God I’m going to keep you. I’ve really caught a wild thing this time!” In the Spoto book, he talks about how Mark is both a cause of pain for Marnie and her best hope for her own future, as far as psychological health. Mark is the strongest hero of Hitch’s later work, but, as you said, his methods for helping Marnie are appalling. He’s manipulative, exploitative, and as mentally sick as Marnie in his own way. So, for me, to see these two come together in Mark’s surprising demand for her hand in marriage—“It’s me or the police!”—that works! Remember, by this time, he doesn’t know how deeply Marnie is scarred. Little does he know how pathologically frigid she is.
James: I think this movie is much better on paper or viewed with a scholarly eye. I like what you’ve written here about Mark being the cause of her pain and her only savior, but while watching it, this all meant nothing. Well, not nothing, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t care for the characters, and all that talk. I wanted more. That’s all there is to it. This felt like a huge, deep novel brought to the big screen with a lot of the key elements missing. I just didn’t get into their minds enough.
Jason: Fair enough.
James: What did you think of the wedding?
Jason: You’re going to have to remind me of the wedding sequence. For some reason, I’m spacing it.
James: There’s not much of a wedding, actually. Just the newlyweds leaving the house, and then the others talking about them as they drive off. And Lil discussing with Mark’s accountant (I presume) how much everything is costing. You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Lil is my favorite character in this movie.
Jason: That’s high praise for Lil, whom we really don’t see a lot of. I’m still not really sure about her motivations. We just get hints. What’s she all about? I don’t know enough about her to say she’s a great character. She is more likeable than either of the main characters, at least until the end, when both Mark and Marnie become more sympathetic.
Jason: I can say that I really liked the honeymoon sequence. Not only do we get yet another ship cruise in a Hitch flick, but we get the realization on the part of Mark that Marnie is very different from what he expected. She’s a cold, troubled bitch queen. “I can’t bear to be handled!” she screeches. You can tell, at this point, that Mark’s motives are pretty nakedly focused on sex. There’s that great scene where he whisks off her robe, and she stands there, nude, rigid, and he sees what he’s done: She’s nothing like what he hoped she’d be in bed. He thought she’d be an animal, ferocious, in tune with her criminal actions, but she blindsides him with her lack of responsiveness. That’s great stuff. And it’s why he ultimately forces himself on her.
James: I like the fact that Mark is expecting this crazy sex appetite but gets this cold statue of a woman. That’s good. I hadn’t really thought of that before. Still, to me, the choice between jail and marriage (another sort of entrapment or cage) wasn’t that well done. So I couldn’t even accept the fact that they were on this honeymoon.
Jason: You couldn’t accept the fact that they were on a honeymoon? Oh, you mean a “legitimate” honeymoon? Well, can you accept that it’s a honeymoon against Marnie’s will? It sounds to me as if you’re rejecting the core premise of the entire film. Given that Mark’s methods are horrible, can you accept the events of the film that follow?
James: Nope. Once Mark forces her into marriage, I totally lost all respect for this film. Never bought that for one instant. I can see that she would want to stay with him because deep down she really likes him or loves him, but it just felt wrong. Why not run? Why not try her luck with the police? I don’t know, something. Here, let’s go get married. That’s the ticket. Wrong.
Jason: See, I’m accepting the fact that, at first, because of their abnormal psychologies, these are flawed protagonists. For me, it’s possible to enjoy a story about unlikable characters. And I thought it was well established that going to the police wasn’t an option. Also, I do feel that Marnie is, at some level, drawn to Mark. In the end, we see that she loves him.
James: I actually never really bought his desire to be with her, either. I can understand his attraction to the “bad girl,” but wanting marriage? Come on. Sure, back then, a man and woman had to be married to do anything on screen in the bedroom, but still. This film makes Spellbound (which has so many similarities with the basic premise) look like a great film.
Jason: Marriage is just Mark’s way of “owning her.” Well, heck, I’m not going to convince you to like the film. It’s not even one of my favorites. But I do see a lot to admire, and I think it’s probably going to be Hitch’s last effort at a heartfelt, emotional film in the vein of Notorious and Vertigo.
James: And that suicide attempt. Get real. What, he shows up right after she dives into the pool? Right. What about all those shots of Mark running all over the boat, searching everywhere? It doesn’t take long to drown, even if it would be hard to do. No, that was all wrong too. Sure, we need a way for Mark to realize the extent of her mental problems and a reason for them to cut the honeymoon short, but that was weak.
Jason: Some of your objections to this movie are just mean, man. Hahaha. I did think he showed up right after she jumped in. Well, anyway, I like the scenes in which Mark takes Marnie home, and they put up a married facade. He even calls the house a kind of “correctional facility.”
James: Hahaha. I remember that “correctional facility” line. That’s good. Says a lot about their marriage.
Jason: One touch I thought was funny was when Mark brings out a book with the too-appropriate title, Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female. I laughed at that, a naughty Hitch touch that also neatly encapsulates the entire film. Loved Marnie’s exasperated line, “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
James: So, the story does pick up a bit for me after Mark and Marnie get back home. I love the way Lil forces the issue by inviting Strutt (Martin Gabel) to the dinner. I liked that. Forces Marnie to deal with her past, and that made the story interesting. Watching her find a way out of that dinner—good stuff. And Lil, she’s doing it to protect Mark, but more to just get Mark for herself. I liked that aspect of it.
Jason: The formal dinner is interesting for several reasons, but the most obvious is that it contains a shot that’s directly reminiscent of the famous Notorious shot, in which the camera descends from the balcony to enter an extreme close-up on the main floor. In the case of Notorious, it was a key in Ingrid Bergman’s hand (the MacGuffin). In this case, it’s the re-emergence of this film’s MacGuffin—in the form of Strutt, the man she stole from at the start of the film.
James: I liked the formal dinner, for some reason. There’s not much to it, though. Just a nice bit of tension in the middle of the film. I do wish that the scenes in which Mark gets Strutt to hold off on going to the police should’ve been done off camera. I don’t know why. Those scenes just didn’t seem necessary. I would’ve liked to have guessed how Mark gets Strutt to keep his mouth shut.
Jason: Agreed. And would you agree that the MacGuffin in this film is the fact that Marnie is a thief?
James: Yeah, I would agree with that. It’s certainly the aspect of the film that gets the plot rolling and helps keep things moving. I’m dying to talk about the horrid process shots with the horse. Good god!
Jason: Oh yeah. The process shots of Marnie’s beloved horse, Forio. I totally agree that they look terrible, but in the documentary, they talk about how the shots were filmed, and I ended up admiring them for that, at least. They brought real horses into the studio and filmed them as they trotted on huge treadmills! Can you believe that? Hitch shot these scenes just as he shot the kids running in The Birds, except on a grander scale. The downside: The shots look like crap today.
James: He had horses on treadmills? That’s crazy. But when Marnie is flying through the air, and that horse stumbles … I laughed out loud. Hahaha. That was just plain bad.
Jason: I totally agree. And I think it would have worked all right if he’d edited the shot a little tighter. So, your thoughts on the scene in which Forio is mortally wounded when Marnie rides her too hard and forces a too-high jump? The way I see it, Marnie subconsciously wanted to kill Forio, which would equate to the symbolic “death” of her own trauma. This is the beginning of her healing process. As much as it wrecks her to shoot Forio, it has to happen in order for her to be able to confront her memories. “There, there now,” she says to the horse, the same words used in the trauma-flashback scene later.
James: Where did you get that notion about Forio? I can see where you’re coming from, but man, that’s a little high end. I kind of saw it like Vertigo. Remember that line Scotty has about him needing to have a traumatic experience again for him to get back to normal? I saw this horse drama being that same deal. In order for Marnie to find her happiness and to exercise her demons, she first has to be jolted out of her current role. So in a way, we agree.
Jason: Yeah, these are similar ideas.
James: Did you like the introduction of the gun into the whole movie? I liked the fact that she had to put Forio down, but I didn’t like the gun being an issue later. Tippi takes the gun home and again to Mark’s work, where she’s about to steal more money. The gun is laying on a desk, and it’s between them, as if she’s going to run to it and shoot him (or herself). I never really saw her as suicidal despite her attempt on the boat, and I never pictured her as capable of killing anyone, either. It just didn’t ring true. Sure, she’s in a daze at this point, but the introduction of the gun didn’t add anything. Never felt powerful. Just felt like a tool for the writer.
Jason: I can see where you’re coming from, that the whole business with the gun doesn’t ring true. Nothing bothers me more than plot developments that call attention to the screenwriter, rather than feeling like logical extensions of character. So, all we have left to talk about is the big climactic scene with the mother. She’s a dirty whore!
James: That ending came so unexpectedly. Sure, we could figure out that something happened and that it involved a man, but I assumed it was a drunk father or something. Not this. I really liked this ending, at least in the revelation. I mean, Marnie’s mother was a whore. How crazy is that?
Jason: I think the ending is just about perfect, logically and emotionally. I mean, there’s a ton of emotional weight here. The flashback is very powerful, and everything in the entire movie makes sense after we learn about what happened that fateful night. We learn about the sailor (Bruce Dern) who tried to assault young Marnie, and we learn how she traumatically killed him. We learn about why the color red makes her go crazy—it’s the color of the sailor’s blood. Of course, it was a dark and stormy night, so that explains her fear of lightning and thunder. This is a great “revelation” sequence, made even more effective with the character moment that Marnie’s mom has afterward, telling Marnie the story of Marnie’s father—it was all about exchanging sexual favors for a “basketball sweater.”
James: Yeah, that ending is great. Had it capped off a better movie, it would have been top notch. As it is, I knew I should feel something but really didn’t. But I loved how it all unfolded. I even liked how it could have been read that the sailor was simply trying to comfort the girl in a way her father couldn’t. I know, I read it the same way you did, but it was subtle enough to be seen in both lights. So in that regard, the mother/child could have killed an “innocent” man. I like that.
Jason: And then the great line, “You did love me!” And her mom says, “Why, sugarplum, you’re the only thing I ever did love!” Does Hitch get any more emotional than that? This ending really elevates the film for me. Again, I’m not saying Marnie is great—far from it—but I think you’re being a bit hard on it. There’s a terrific sense to this ending that Marnie is coming to terms with herself. I really saw her as a person after these final moments.
James: I’m not being too hard, just realistic. Marnie has a lot of great moments, some good things on paper. But it just never adds up to much. Maybe on multiple viewings. Either way, the ending does help this movie become a better movie, just not enough of a good movie.
Jason: Also, as you mentioned before, the ending reinforces the role of the “mother” figure in Hitch’s late movies. Think about how essential mothers have become—in Psycho, The Birds, and now this one. You might even say this late fixation really began with North by Northwest.
James: Yeah, this is a great mother role. Whatever Hitch is studying and delving into for himself, it seems to come to a head with this one. It’s an interesting take on the “child killing for the mother” again. I also like the fact that Marnie wasn’t directly responsible for her mom’s limp. I was expecting something much more obvious, like Marnie bumping her mom and making her fall down the stairs or something. This was much more dramatic and traumatic.
James: I also really liked Marnie seeing that girl outside. Nice touch. But I still don’t like that song the kids were singing.
Jason: I guess the final thing I wanted to talk about is Tippi Hedren herself. We’ve already talked about her acting—she didn’t click with you, but I thought she did pretty well. But there’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes story involved with Marnie. Apparently, Hitch originally wanted Marnie to be a return to the screen for Grace Kelly, and they actually got pretty far in negotiations. Prince Ranier was even supporting her. But at the last minute, the people of Monaco objected vocally to the notion of their princess portraying a sexually tormented and raped thief. So she backed out. At that point, Hitch went to Tippi Hedren, with whom he was deeply involved in post-production on The Birds, and offered her the role. Soon after, he began fixating on her and developed a deep unrequited love for her. In an ugly scene that’s only partially described in the biography, he made a pass at her, and later, in front of the entire cast and crew, she called him a fat pig. This was late in the filming, and after that, her performance seemed to gain a new tortured quality and depth. I think this story is very interesting, when you consider it in the context of the film, the way her character deepened emotionally because of behind-the-scenes circumstances. Hitch never spoke to Hedren again, and never even spoke her name, calling her instead “that girl.”
James: Wow. That’s an amazing story. I’m planning on reading the biography soon, but it makes it sound like Hitch was a bit of an ass to some of his leading ladies. I wonder if he approached them with inappropriate requests. Did he fall in love, or did he just lust after them? Grace Kelly would’ve been great in any role. I liked her a lot. But I wonder if she might’ve been too glamorous for the role of Marnie? I liked Tippi because she was attractive but could also look a little disheveled.
Jason: Well, that’s the last of my notes. Anything else? I think it goes without saying that I found a little more to admire in Marnie than you did.
James: I’ll watch it again someday and determine if it really is as bad as I’ve said it is. Overall, I didn’t care for it at all.