Marnie is unusual in clearly showing its protagonist’s sexual impotence a complete frigidity which becomes the story’s main theme. Hitchcock offers us two versions, or more precisely two visions. The first is in the style of a Hollywood script. The poor young woman from the slums meets Prince Charming who, driven by pure love, like knights from times gone by, frees Marnie from hardship. He needs to heal her, but above all save her. At the end of the film we are granted the dull satisfaction of a ‘happy ending’: the poor thief finds her way into the extremely wealthy but very ‘presentable’ aristocracy.
However, the opening credits, in the form of elegant cards, move from right to left instead of vice versa: a sign that the film should be read in reverse. The film’s opening sequence starts with a close up of a dazzling yellow handbag clutched under an arm (the same golden yellow which for more than a decade had been the color of Hitchcock’s leading ladies’ hair, including Marnie, and which Technicolor brings out wonderfully). The image takes shape, and we see a lone, determined woman walking away from the camera on the platform of a railway station – in the center of a stark rectilinear composition. She does not stray from the safety line marked on the platform, as if she were heading towards a fate that she was absolutely determined to control.
The final shot of the film echoes this scene. Prince Charming, Mark, has just elicited Marnie’s secret from her, and she is healed; however, her hatred of men, at the root of her rebellion, was her reason to live. A social interpretation also helps to change the stakes. A hidden conflict keeps the two class extremes apart, with the ruling class represented and reinforced as the aristocracy (the hunting party which couldn’t be more British).
Such a society offers the lower classes the illusion of being able to live like the ruling class. That is how Marnie is able to have a horse (with the sexual transference that results) just like any aristocrat. With the help of clothing and behavior she can also imitate belonging to a class which at that point becomes the perfect prey. Between Marnie and Mark, which of the two is the sickest, who is more of a thief? Let’s look at the final scene. The same central perspective of the road – bordered on both sides by the rectilinear uniformity of the workers’ houses – blocks any escape route. When Marnie leaves her mother’s home, the playing children look as if they had seen a ghost. She has given up rebelling and completely entrusted herself, body and soul, to Mark. But her soul is dead. The car that takes the couple away descends into an immense backdrop where you can see the sea and, more importantly, a giant ship dramatically shutting off the road. Unlike the opening shot of the film, the perspective obstructs any hope for the future. At that point, the film’s ‘happy ending’ is terrifying.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Winston Graham. Scen.: Jay Presson Allen. F.: Robert Burks. M.: George Tomasini. Scgf.: Robert Boyle. Mus.: Bernard Herrmann. Int.: Tippi Hedren (Marnie Edgar), Sean Connery (Mark Rutland), Diane Baker (Lil Mainwaring), Martin Gabel (Sidney Strutt), Louise Latham (signora Edgar), Bob Sweeney (il cugino Bob), Alan Napier (signor Rutland), Henry Beckman (primo detective), Edith Evanson (Rita), Bruce Dern (marinaio). Prod.: Alfred Hitchcock per Universal. 35mm. D.: 130’. Technicolor.
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Céline Ruivo (Cinémathèque française)