After threatening Tippi Hedren with death by pecking in The Birds (1963), Alfred Hitchcock turned her into a traumatised, man-hating kleptomaniac in Marnie.
Hitchcock originally offered the lead female role to Grace Kelly, hoping to entice her out of royal retirement in Monaco, but Hedren proved to be rather more than second best, bringing insight and pathos to Marnie Edgar – the sexually inhibited thief in a film which told us much about the director’s own view of his heroine’s troubled psychopathology.
We first see Marnie striding down a railway station platform. In a hotel she washes her hair, rinsing out the black dye to become blonde again.
We discover that Marnie has recently robbed her employer, and gradually we realise something is deeply wrong with her. She suffers attacks of hysteria when she sees the colour red, and a visit to her mother reveals an unloving relationship.
Then Marnie is hired by handsome and suave naturalist-cum-businessman Mark Rutland (Sean Connery making his American debut).
In a brilliantly suspenseful scene, Marnie robs his safe while a cleaning woman mops the floor.
Marnie sees the woman before she can be discovered, and creeps past her in stockinged feet, only for a shoe to drop out of her pocket. But the cleaning woman doesn’t turn round – at the end of the scene, we discover she is deaf.
Mark soon tracks Marnie down and offers her a choice: marriage or the police. On their honeymoon cruise, Marnie tells him she can’t bear men touching her, but in an uncomfortable scene, he forces himself upon her.
Mark tries to psychoanalyse his bride, educating himself from a book entitled Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female, but Marnie’s response is to try and rob him again. This time Mark forces her to go with him on a visit to her mother, and there the secret of Marnie’s condition is traced back to childhood trauma.
As often happens to Hitchcock, the film was so multi-layered it was either misunderstood or put down by some critics who found its glib paperback Freud insulting to their massive intellects. In fact, the explanation is tacked on almost as an afterthought (just like Psycho) and is purposely played in a ludicrously barnstorming style against deliberately phoney back-cloths.
But the entire build-up is matchless – rivalled only by his other ‘trauma’ movie, Vertigo.
Rita the Cleaning Woman
S. John Launer