By Arthur Flynn
Originally Alfred Hitchcock intended the title role in Marine as a vehicle for Grace Kelly who was then Princess Grace of Monaco. She was one of his favourite actresses and had appeared in three of his films Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955).
Hitchcock was so intent on getting her that he even travelled to Monaco to discuss the project with her. Grace was keen to play the title role but the citizens of Monaco strongly protested against their princess being in a movie. Reluctantly, she had to decline the role.
In most of his other films Hitchcock had cast blonde leading ladies including Kim Novak, Janet Leigh and Eva Marie Saint. Marnie was to be no exception and he finally decided on his discovery from The Birds, Tippi Hedren. She was then cast as Marnie Edgar in the film for Universal Films.
Hitchcock, following his usual practice of bidding for the film rights, bid for Winston Graham’s novel Marnie anonymously, so as to keep the price low. However, the plan backfired and Graham became suspicious and asked for twice the amount when he realised the identity of the true bidder.
Finally, Hitchcock acquired the rights and assigned Jay Presson to write the screenplay.
As usual Hitchcock assembled a strong production team headed by director of photography Robert Burks, musical director Bernard Herrmann and production designer Robert Boyle.
The plot of the film centred on Mark Rutland, a rich man, who realises that Marnie Edgar is a kleptomaniac who specialises in stealing from her employers. He is fascinated by her and blackmails her into marriage, intent on curing her frigidity and criminal nature.
When Sean Connery was offered the male lead of Mark Rutland, he immediately accepted. He was at the height of his fame as 007 James Bond, and wanted to show that he had more depth as an actor.
The other leading roles were played by Diane Baker as Lili Mainwaring, Martin Gabel as Sidney Strutt and Louise Latham as Bernice Edgar.
The first section of the film is a cool study of a professional serial thief, Marnie Edgar, who changes identities and hair colors as she takes jobs in a series of conservative firms and wins enough trust to walk away with substantial sums of money. She is highly strung and is terrified of thunderstorms and the colour red. Hitchcock includes a set-piece robbery complicated by a daft cleaning lady. Marnie also has an uncomfortable relationship with her mother who dotes on a Marnie-substitute little girl but is nervous of her daughter.
The second section of the film is a sadistic love story between Marnie and business man Mark Ruthland as he attempts to control her. It is basically a psychological drama.
Hitchcock was always on the look-out for methods to cut down cost on his films. It was no exception on this film. He wanted to film real horses riding without having to work outdoors. Hitchcock came up with the idea of running the horses on a giant thread mill. Crew members objected as they believed that it was unsafe. Hitchcock was determined to try it and it worked perfectly.
It was not a happy production as Hitchcock and Hedren had a number of differences of opinion and interruptions of the script. Finally there was a major falling-out during filming. Eventually he ended up directing her through intermediaries.
The film was released in 1964. The reviews were mixed and included the following: “it’s thrilling to watch, lush, cool and oddly moving”. “A far-sighted yet unassuming thriller with brilliant desires to deconstruct a human mind”. “A professionally crafted film that focuses primarily on character development”. “Universally despised on its first release, Marnie remains one of Hitchcock’s greatest and darkest achievements”.
The film did display some shoddy aspect in production that lowered the over-all quality from dummy horses, to backcloths to back projection.
Despite giving a far superior performance than in The Birds and receiving rave reviews, Tippi Hedren was not even nominated for the Best Actress Oscar that went to Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins.
Sean Connery finally got to show that he was more than James Bond 007 as the publisher-playboy with an interest in taming dangerous animals. He received positive reviews.
He filmed Marnie in between Dr No, From Russia With Love and Diamonds are Forever.