Fridays With Hitchcock: Marine (1964)
Could someone explain Tippi Hedren to me? Okay, she’s Melanie Griffith’s mom, and she owns this big wild cat sanctuary - there’s even this self produced movie she made called ROAR that’s about living with and loving big cats - starring her whole family, including a kid version of Melanie. They have lions sleeping on the end of their bed as anyone else might have a big dog. So you get the idea that Tippi is an outdoor girl... except her image is ultra-glamourous. A director I know recently cast her in a film as a homeless woman... and she showed up perfectly manicured and in eveningwear. No dirt make up for Tippi! This made the scene... unusual... as you couldn’t figure out why wealthy looking society woman Tippi would be looking for a handout. Even in ROAR she seems more like a socialite with exotic pets than someone you might catch camping in the wild, or living in some cabin in the middle of nowhere. Tippi always comes off like a Barbie doll come to life - made of plastic.
Hitchcock had a thing for blondes, and most of his films starred blonde leads - you can go all the way back to THE LODGER (1927) which opens with a screaming blonde woman and a night club marque that says “Tonight - Golden Curls”. From Ingrid Bergman to Grace Kelly, Hitch always cast blondes in the female lead role - and when he was casting THE BIRDS he “discovered” Hedron and was grooming her to be the next big thing. Well, that didn’t work out so well. She’s mostly know for THE BIRDS but the follow up, MARNIE, didn’t catapult her to stardom. Part of that is the film’s problem... the rest?
Nutshell: MARNIE (1964) is kind of a big glossy Tennessee Williams soap opera - which makes it silly when it should have been gritty. Marnie (Hedren) takes an office job in a new town, works her way up to a position of trust, then steals all of the money in the safe and splits... changing her name and her hair color and getting a job in some other city and doing this all over again. The money she steals goes to her disabled mother living in a slum in Boston... well, sort of. She buys her a mink stole - which is exactly what all of the folks living in the slums need. The hair steals the show, here - and is often so distracting you lose track of the plot.
MARNIE takes place in New England, but seems to take place in some version of the South - just without the mint juleps and hoop skirts. People do have these grand balls and ride horses and go on fox hunts. Marnie owns a horse, that is boarded while she’s off stealing money in different colored overly-coiffed hairdos.
When Marnie, light red hair, interviews for a new job, the boss Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) thinks her recognizes her as the brunette who robbed his friend’s company - so he hires her, even though her resume is light... and he promotes her to that position of trust where she has access to the safe. Before Mark took over his father’s company, he was studying to be a zoologist and all of this is some kind of experiment to see how long it takes her to rip him off. I guess when you’re a handsome rich dude, you do experiments like this - I wouldn’t know.
As Mark studies Marnie, he notes all of her strange quirks... She can’t stand the color red - whenever she sees red, the whole screen goes red and the image is tinted red for a moment afterwards. (The sountrack album was a bright red disk.) Thunder and lightning totally freaks her out - she cowers in the corner like a dog. She can’t stand to be touched by men - she’s a frigid virgin (I’m not sure if that is technically possible, but that’s what she is). Eventually she robs him and runs away. Because this has to be the most screwed up woman with the most complex hairdo he has ever met, he finds her and marries her. Now, Mark is a chick magnet - this is prime James Bond era Connery - and he could have any woman he wants. In fact, his dead wife’s sister (Diane Baker) who lives in his grand country home, throws herself at him constantly... and she’s hot. So when Mark decides to marry a frigid virgin klepto with color red and lightning issues, you wonder what’s up with that?
They take a honeymoon cruise where there is no honeymoon... until Mark basically rapes his wife - and she just lays there like a carp. Of course, with Hedron’s acting it’s hard to tell what’s frigid and what’s just normal. When they return from the cruise, the soap opera kicks into high gear as the dead wife’s sister begins investigating Marnie’s past and Mark’s buddy who was robbed by the brunette version of Marnie is invited to a grand ball and Marnie’s horse breaks a leg on a fox hunt after Marnie sees the color red on the Huntmaster’s vest... and Marnie grabs herself a gun and blasts the horse. All sorts of silly soapy complications... and Mark continues his study.
Just to make this all kind of relevant, Mark’s father is played by Alan Napier who played Alfred on the BATMAN TV show. He doesn’t have much to do in the film.
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
Eventually Mark figures it all out, and we get our big Tennessee Williams family secret reveal... He takes Marnie back to her mother’s slum apartment where Carrie White style ultra-religious mom reveals she was filthy whore who screwed an army of sailors (or should that be a navy of sailors?) Including a young Bruce Dern as a sailor who hugs a child version of Marnie (also with overdone hair) and it’s implied that maybe he does more... so Marnie’s filthy whore mom tries to kill him. When she fails, and Dern starts beating on her, child Marnie grabs a firepoker and kills horny sailor Bruce Dern... red blood flowing, lightning flashing, thunder crashing.
Now that Marnie has gotten that off her chest, she hugs Mark and you just know that whole frigid thing is over and they’re gonna go home and get it on... “Don’t touch the hair!”
Hitch Appearance: Boring - he comes out of a hotel room.
Great Scenes: Again, a shortage of great scenes kills this film. When Marnie robs Mark’s safe, there’s a little suspense with a cleaning lady mopping the floor of the office, so that she has to take off her shoes and sneak out... and then she drops a shoe! This scene is almost a split screen - with Marnie stealing and sneaking out on the right side of the screen, with a wall splitting the screen, and the cleaning lady mopping on the left side. But this whole scene goes to hell after Marnie drops her shoe - making a loud noise - and the cleaning lady does *nothing*. Hey, she’s deaf! This removes any suspense the scene may have built... but the split screen concept is kind of cool, and probably influenced Brain DePalma.
There are some, um, interesting images in the film, including the opening shot of a purse that looks like female genitalia (there's a pun in there somewhere) - and some other suggestive shots throughout the film. Something kinky about Marnie riding bareback on her horse Forio in a skirt - the shots focus on bare flesh and horse mane.
The set pieces - the fox hunt, the grand ball, the horse races - all seem soapy and silly instead of exciting and interesting. When she shoots her horse, the gun in her hand might have been used for suspense... but it’s just kind of there. The big reveal at the end doesn’t really work, because - even though Marnie has all of these quirks - the film doesn’t spend as much time digging into that mystery as they spend on Marnie’s hair. So the reveal doesn’t shock us or suddenly solve the big mystery... it’s just kind of there. Hey, ultra religious mom was a filthy whore! I don’t care. I think part of this is just not caring about Marnie, because she always seems non-human. Distant, plastic, cold.
Sound Track: Lush, beautiful Bernard Herrmann score. If the film sometimes seems like Hitch was trying to find some way to remake VERTIGO, the score does a great job of making it seem like VERTIGO 2: THE REVENGE.
MARNIE isn’t as good as SPELLBOUND, another Hitch film about a character with a repressed memory (and the main film parodied by Mel Brooks in HIGH ANXIETY) . The best thing about MARNIE is that, since we’re moving backwards through Hitch movies, the best films are on the horizon... and that bright red vinyl disk with Herrmann’s score - his last to be heard on a Hitchcock film.