Blogathons

The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon: Marnie (1964)

The Hitchcock Blogathon 4

This is my second entry for my Hitchcock blogathon. This time I’m writing about Marnie. This is one of Hitch’s later films, and it is one which I think really deserves to be better known and appreciated by audiences today.

This one hasn’t been as well received by audiences as the vast majority of Hitch’s other films were. I think that was because this isn’t really your typical Hitchcock film. Marnie explores problems of the mind, and it’s far from the usual suspense/thriller films audiences had come to expect. 

This is the second and final Hitchcock film to star Tippi Hedren. She was excellent in The Birds, but I really think she outdoes herself in Marnie. Tippi lets us see that this woman is truly messed up (both emotionally and psychologically)she really makes you feel and believe that Marnie has some major issues in her life that have left her emotionally scarred. In the scenes where Marnie is scared of something, Tippi looks truly petrified and traumatised.

This is an interesting film as most of the suspense lies in unlocking the secrets hidden within Marnie herself. There are some other suspenseful moments (such as the shoe dropping on the floor etc)but it is mainly Marnie’s psychological issues which keep us on the edge of our seats throughout.

This film has become famous for the scene where it is strongly implied that Mark rapes Marnie on their wedding night onboard the passenger ship. This sequence caused friction between Hitch and the original scriptwriter Evan Hunter . When Hunter left the project, the script was written again, and this time around by a woman! Jay Presson Allen, who had no trouble in writing that scene, or in writing it the way Hitch wanted it to be.

The sequence as it stands is shocking, but we don’t actually see the act of rape take place, so to be fair we don’t actually know for sure if that is what happens to her as we don’t see anything. The way it’s cut together though does strongly suggest that was what took place. I’ll come back to this sequence later.

Margaret “Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren)is a compulsive thief who is on the run after robbing her employer of $10,000. Getting another job as a secretary at Rutland’s Publishing Company, Marnie attracts the attention of its widower owner Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). Unbeknown to Marnie, Mark saw her at the previous company she just robbed and keeps a close eye on her.

Marnie robs Mark’s firm. This time though she is caught by him. Mark blackmails her into marrying him in return for his silence. Marnie agrees and Mark tries to unlock the many mysteries that surround this woman.

Marnie hates being touched, is repulsed by the idea of sex, has panic attacks when she sees the colour red, and freaks out during thunderstorms. Mark slowly begins to uncover the horrific events in Marnie’s past that have caused her to become the woman she is now.

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Sean plays a pretty unique character for a Hitchcock film, in that he appears to be pretty much unlikable. At first glance there is an air about him that makes it appear that he is studying Marnie, and at times it looks like he gets a kick out of forcing her to work on her issues. Marnie herself says to him “I’m just something you’ve caught!”

Having said that though, I’ve often wondered if he appears like that to us because we see him from Marnie’s point of view? Her perception of him may well be warped by her issues and how she is so wary of men and sees them all as things to be avoided and not trusted. Going back and viewing the film with that possibility in mind makes it more interesting I think.

It even makes you go back and think again about that suggested rape sequence, should that sequence actually be taken at face value? Was Mark actually doing nothing more than being a husband making love to his new wife, but due to how damaged she is, to her the act of making love seemed like rape to her? It also makes you think if he was a genuinely horrible person, why is he even trying to help Marnie at all with her issues? If he was so bad why would he care about her at all? Towards the end we see that he does care about her and she comes to trust him and values his help.

Mark also seems to care more for animals than he does people, and he talks about slowly gaining an animals trust. Throughout the film he uses the same techniques with Marnie, he is patient with her and allows her to come to him over time.

Tippi and Sean are both excellent.  There’s strong support from Diane Baker as Mark’s trouble making sister in law, Lil. She openly flirts with Mark, and it’s obvious she is jealous of Marnie when Mark brings her home.

Louise Latham plays Marnie’s mother. At first she is a typical Hitch mother, cold, distant, seemingly responsible for messing up her child etc. As the film goes on though we see her in a very different light. Louise is excellent particularly in the scenes when the truth about what happened to Marnie is revealed.  

Mariette Hartley plays Susan, a fellow secretary at Rutland’s who befriends Marnie. She is only in a few scenes but steals each one she is in. I love her amusement over her boss constantly forgetting the safe combination.

There’s also a small appearance by Bruce Dern, as a violent sailor who causes problems for Marnie and her mother.

Those watching this and expecting a typical Hitch film will be surprised. This film is quite unlike his others. I think the negative response to this one is a real shame, as the film is very good and has many memorable moments. The performances from the entire cast are also solid throughout.

My favourite scenes are the following. Marnie and Mark playing the word association game. Marnie dropping the shoe. Marnie freaking out over the red ink. Marnie and Lil meeting for the first time over tea. Mark telling Marnie he trained Sophie (a wild animal)to trust him. Marnie trying to get the gun off Mark. The final sequence when we learn all about what happened to Marnie.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

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Horror

The Birds (1963)

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I’d like to talk today about one of my favourite Hitchcock films, the nature horror, The Birds. The film is based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier (whose work had been adapted for the screen by Hitch before)with the story setting changed from Cornwall to a coastal American town.

When this film was released in 1963, Alfred Hitchcock had been the master of suspense for decades, but he had never before made a film that could really be classed as a horror film. Psycho released in 1960, certainly has some horror elements, but it is still essentially a suspense thriller. The Birds however is certainly an all out horror film.

From its opening titles, which feature no music, only the squawking of birds; we know we are in for a very different experience than we are used to from this director. The film makes us afraid of something we share our lives with everyday, the birds we see eating off the floor, flying through the air, and sitting on trees, buildings etc, it makes us think what would we do if they ever decided to attack us all the time. When I first saw this, I have to confess to being wary of birds for a while after viewing.

I like how the ordered lives of the characters are completely destroyed, they find themselves out of control and pursued by something they would never have thought could hurt them.

Wealthy Melanie Daniels(Tippi Hedren)meets lawyer Mitch Brenner(Rod Taylor)in a bird shop. He is trying to find some love birds to give to his younger sister Cathy(Veronica Cartwright), when he recognises Melanie as the woman who is always in the news for practical jokes, and scandals; Mitch decides to have a bit of fun at her expense, and give her a dose of her own medicine. Mitch pretends that he thinks she works in the shop and asks her to show him some birds, this leads to some very amusing scenes until he tells the truth(much to her annoyance).

There is an instant attraction between the two, and Melanie buys a pair of lovebirds, and finds Mitch’s weekend address(family home)out in Bodega Bay. Melanie drives up to leave them for Cathy, she takes a boat over to the house(to arrive unnoticed) as she is trying to leave without being noticed Mitch catches sight of her and drives over to the dock to await her return, as she comes closer to the dock she is attacked by a seagull. From this moment on there are more bird attacks, and large groups of birds congregate in public places. Mitch, Cathy, their mother Lydia(Jessica Tandy), Melanie and schoolteacher(and former girlfriend of Mitch)Annie(Suzanne Pleshette)try and figure out what is causing these attacks, and find a way to survive.

The more I’ve watched this, I’ve picked up on something that I haven’t seen anyone else mention when discussing this. The majority of the bird attacks happen at moments of increasing intimacy between Mitch and Melanie, they increase as Mitch and Melanie’s feelings for one another grow. Hitchcock was a perfectionist and everything in his films was there for a reason, I would find it difficult to believe that the bird attacks coinciding with emotional moments/sexual tension were not intentionally included. If you pick up on this I think it adds another layer to the film. I also love the way Rod and Tippi play these scenes, I love the sexual tension/banter between their characters.

Rod Taylor is superb as the strong, playful Mitch devoted to his family and trying to protect those he loves from these attacks; his performance in this is what made me a fan, I love him in this.

Tippi Hedren makes a strong debut as Melanie, and does a good job of portraying a strong woman becoming vulnerable and falling in love. It is a real shame she didn’t go on to become a bigger star, her performance here and in Hitchcock’s  Marnie are very good indeed.

Suzanne Pleshette steals every scene she is in as the knowing Annie, she can see Mitch and Melanie are falling in love, even if they themselves might not be aware of it.

Jessica Tandy is moving as the widowed mother of Mitch, desperate not to lose her son and being cold towards any woman he loves.

A very young Veronica Cartwright is good as Cathy Brenner, terrified by what she is seeing but still loving towards her lovebirds.

The ending is bleak and we are left hoping the best for these characters, but it doesn’t look likely that there will be a happy ending. The original scripted ending was even bleaker, and I do wish it had been filmed as it shows how far the attacks had spread; they drive through the town to find utter devastation, dead bodies and thousands of birds as far as the eye can see.

My favourite scenes are the following. Mitch and Melanie talking about her mother up on the hill. The banter between Mitch and Melanie when he is treating Melanie’s cut. The attack where Melanie is trapped in the phonebox. Melanie and Annie discussing Mitch and Lydia before the bid hits their door. Lydia finding the dead farmer. The birds gathering behind Melanie at the school, and the scene with the bird expert lady talking about the attacks.

I also love the scene where Melanie is driving, her body leans left and right when she turns corners, on the seat next to her, the lovebirds are leaning left and right too. That scene always makes me laugh whenever I watch this. A brief moment of humour in a very chilling film.

One of Hitchcock’s best films, and a very good horror film in it’s own right. If you’re a fan please leave your thoughts. If you’ve never seen it, I hope you’ll check it out.