Marnie – 1964 – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
The rumor mill reports that following her neophyte triumphs in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie, Tippi Hedren spurned the director’s advances (Hitch was notorious in his predilection for frosty, young blondes), and so he ruined her career in movies. Hedren certainly has never done any work as lastingly memorable as she did in these two films. One cannot off the top of one’s head think of any other of her movies. And that is a shame because the much-underrated Marnie and Hedren’s searing, knowing performance in it stand as proof that she was, outside her looks, an actress of skill and depth.
In Marnie, she plays a cold, calculating thief. Hedren is, in fact, so cold here, she makes Grace Kelly (originally slated to play the part until she stood Hitchock and filmmaking up to become the Princess of Monaco) look like Mrs. Santa Claus. Hedren could play stiff and unbending, but deliberately, and for this character, her demeanor fits perfectly. She never has a single hair out of place in that platinum helmet of hers; the avian nose is aristocratic in its stance, sometimes
making her look as if she has just smelled something bad. And she knows how to pose her body (she was an accomplished model in New York City prior to her discovery by Hitchcock) to create an effect of entitled detachment. The proud head is always held high (until love interest Sean Connery tries to cut it and her down to size) and her bearing is that of a bitch queen or queen bee; she dares you to mess with her. In one scene, notice how completely the mere jostle of one of her curls makes her (and us!) unfurl when Connery shakes her. Can she come so easily undone?
We see the vulnerable little girl beneath the hard veneer.
At first, Marnie might grate with its over-stylization, its rigidness. But this is done on purpose to lure us in. There is something very wrong here, over and beyond the fact that Hedren likes to steal. We don’t know what it is exactly but we want to follow her around, enter her story and see WHY she steals, why she keeps her distance from men who clearly care about her. We are frustrated, dissatisfied with Hedren’s defenses. It’s going to tale the length of the movie but yes, there might be satisfaction in the end, freedom from years of self-loathing, self-imprisonment, the armor she wears as thick as the bitterness and hate that created it and yes, the fear she feels about what happened to her as a child.
Sean Connery — the best James Bond ever — makes an able and understandably confused husband. In direct contrast to Hedren’s iceberg, he oozes fire and warmth, that voice! So rich, as if he has just swallowed a shot of cognac, the purring burr of that Scottish accent. If anyone can melt Hedren’s heart, we know it would be him.
Louise Latham was a staple of movies and television in what became a brilliant career; a character actress of such scope and disguise; often she was unrecognizable in a role, and along with Hedren, she carries this film to heights greater than might have been intended. Her final scene, where she admits to her daughter that she (Hedren) is the only thing she ever did love is an acting student’s
dream of how a scene can be elevated and how an actress can rise to exalted planes transforming a small moment into an epiphany.
Look for Bruce Dern, too, as a serviceman, in one of his first film appearances.
The lasting tragedy is Hedren. What a career she might have had if not for being branded by the great master for refusing to cave to his seductions! She did give us both The Birds and Marnie, and better gifts than these are not easily found in the world of the movies. Celebrate her and celebrate her performance in the dangerous world that is Marnie.