Marnie (1964, Alfred Hitchcock)


An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A con artist is rumbled by a businessman who then tries to help her with her psychological issues…

Much like its lead character, the movie Marnie is complex, fascinating and often admirable – but there’s also something very wrong. It’s the story of a damaged woman who’s a thief and a liar and has many deep-rooted problems stemming from a childhood trauma. But sadly it’s also the story of the man who attempts to ‘fix her’ via simplistic therapy and misogyny.

This project had a long gestation. Initially, Alfred Hitchcock planned it as his next production after Psycho (1960), but the script took a while to come into focus and eventually went through three writers. For the all-important title character, the director hoped for a huge casting coup: his former muse Grace Kelly, who’d retired from acting in 1955, was keen on a Hollywood comeback. It would have been an interesting role for her, one very different from her three previous Hitchcock characters. However, she then pulled out of the project, worried about how such a provocative movie would be taken in her new home of Monaco. Various other names were considered for the part – Marilyn Monroe, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Remick, Vera Miles and others – until, while filming The Birds in 1962, Hitchcock decided to cast its leading lady for a second time.

Tippi Hedren has always maintained that Marnie is her favourite of all her films – despite the fact she and Hitchcock fell out during filming – and it’s easy to see why. She gives a sensational performance, which is both dynamic and dangerous. She plays the eponymous Marnie Edgar, who drifts from town to town, gets jobs at high-flying firms, rips them off and does a runner. But when she shows up at a new company in Philadelphia, boss Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) recognises her from a previous encounter and twigs that she’s hiding something…

Connery was then two films into his original stint as James Bond, and he looks the part of a dashing movie star. But for some reason he doesn’t quite gel in this role. Maybe it’s the incongruous accent (to try to explain it away, the character is given a British father played by Alfred from the 1960s Batman TV show), maybe it’s his age (Connery was only 33), but he’s rather miscast as a Pennsylvanian widower from the American aristocracy. It also doesn’t help that the character is lumbered with a storyline that is at best naïve and at worst exceedingly sinister.

Marnie the movie is an attempt at some rigorous psychology. Its lead character has turned to crime in order to compensate for something lacking her life. She has a troubled, seemingly hollow relationship with her mother; she has a pathological hatred of men touching her; and she suffers from panic attacks when confronted with the colour red. The script holds back the reason for these issues until the final act when we learn that, as a child, she killed a pervert (Bruce Dern) who was attacking her prostitute mother.

But when Mark Rutland takes a shine to new employee Marnie, even though he’s worked out that she’s stolen from his company safe, he decides to help her. It’s presented mostly as curiosity and affection, but there’s more than a hint that he’s sexually attracted by the danger. And in 21st-century terms his help amounts to nothing less than abuse. He essentially blackmails her into starting a relationship with him and even marrying him. Then, on their honeymoon, while she cowers and shakes with fear, he rips off her nightdress and rapes her.

The first person to work Marnie up into a screenplay – Evan Hunter, who also wrote The Birds – was fired from the project when he left the rape scene out of his draft. It appears in the source material, a novel by the British writer Winston Graham, but Hunter argued that there’d be no way back for Mark as a character if he did something so despicable. Hitchcock disagreed. So did Hunter’s replacement, Jay Presson Allen, who gladly included it in her rewrite. (Disturbingly, given some of the accusations made about Hitchcock down the years, Hunter later said the rape scene had been the primary reason why the director had wanted to make the film. ‘When he sticks it in her,’ Hitch had told him, ‘I want that camera right on her face.’)

If that wasn’t bad enough – which it is – the film also has a ham-fisted approach to trauma therapy. Marnie is forced into a cathartic remembrance of what happened when she was a child… and then all is fine and she and Mark walk off into the sunset. Psychoanalysts scoff at this moment. So should we. Most Hitchcock films might get away with this kind of simplicity, but that’s because we understand the popcorn context. Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest is a cartoon character, a precursor of James Bond, so we don’t especially fret when his life is threatened or when he’s framed for murder. Margot Wendice is put through a horrifying time in Dial M for Murder – attacked in her home, forced to kill a man in self-defence, jailed despite her innocence – but she’s essentially a character in a Cluedo-style parlour game. She only exists for the 100 minutes she’s on screen.

Marnie Edgar, however, is a woman with a life, with baggage, and we feel for her desperately. She’s been severely damaged by the actions of one sexual pest and is now being groomed by another. Tippi Hedron deserved huge credit for making her so watchable and both strong and vulnerable at the same time.

But while its treatment of its lead character is antiquated and objectionable, much more impressive is the movie’s style. Early in his career, Alfred Hitchcock worked in the German film industry, where he directed his first full-length film, The Pleasure Garden (1925), and the buzz and innovation of Weimar Republic cinema had a lasting impression. ‘I worked there for many months,’ Hitch said in a 1960s interview. ‘And I was able to absorb a lot of the methods and style.’

In Marnie, as in many Hitchcock films, you can see the influence of German Expressionism, a style that dramatises stories, characters and settings in non-realistic ways. It uses lighting, set design, editing, costumes and all the other tools of filmmaking to turn subjective emotion into something that can be *seen* and which has a physical affect on the world of the fiction. (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), for example, takes place on off-kilter, out-of-proportion sets in order to reflect the twisted story and the unbalanced characters.)

The most obvious piece of Expressionism in the present movie is the use of the colour red. Whenever she sees it, Marnie has a physical reaction. She pulls away, scared, at the sight of ink spilt on her blouse, for example, or the polka dots of a jockey’s silk. But it’s not just the acting that tells us she’s suffering: the screen becomes infused with a crimson wash. It’s not ‘literal’; it’s not actually happening in the diegetic world of the story. It’s Hitchcock using a cinematic device to *show* us her emotional state. (Not that every visual in Marnie is for art’s sake. The indoor sets for exterior scenes and the painfully dated backscreen projection for car journeys are most likely just down to Hitchcock’s dislike of location filming.)

There are other more trad, yet still tremendous, sequences in the film too. Marnie stealing from the Rutland & Co safe is a tension-sustainer of the highest order – complete with the absurd detail of her nearly being rumbled by a deaf cleaner – while the death of a beloved horse is genuinely moving and sees Hedren’s acting reach a fever pitch of emotion. The climactic flashback, which shows us Marnie’s violent experience as a child, is also very impressive – not least the fact that the scene begins with a disorientating zoom-in-and-track-out shot that seems to place the events inside a nightmare.

It’s an odd mixture of genres, this film – part psycho-drama, part perverted romance, part heist movie. The central storyline has many troubling issues, especially when viewed today in the era of #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein, but Tippi Hedren’s superb performance and the general flair of the filmmaking means it’s still worth seeing.

Eight men in a corridor out of 10

Carry On Cleo (1964)


Roman general Mark Antony becomes smitten with Egyptian queen Cleopatra, then plots to murder his friend and leader Julius Caesar…

What’s it spoofing? Famously, the film is a satire of 1963 epic Cleopatra, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. That movie was based at Pinewood Studios before decamping to Italy in search of better weather, so the Carry On team reused some of the leftover sets and costumes. Also being ridiculed are Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt and prehistoric Britain. The film begins with a jokey credit: ‘Original screenplay by Talbot Rothwell, from an original idea by William Shakespeare.’

Funniest moment: Well, it’s the obvious one. Usage in a thousand clips shows and documentaries can’t dull the priceless comedy of “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” (The line first appeared in a radio show called Take It From Here – Rothwell got permission from the writers to use it here.)

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Connor (8) plays British wheelwright Hengist Pod (a role first offered to Bernard Cribbins). He’s a henpecked husband whose workmanship leaves something to be desired: his wheels are square. But due to plotting reasons, he ends up as Julius Caesar’s personal bodyguard.

* Jim Dale (4) is Horsa, Hengist’s neighbour who invents the window but then becomes a slave.

* Sid James (5) plays Mark Antony. It’s Sid’s first full-on letch in a Carry On movie.

* Kenneth Williams (9) is a childlike Julius Caesar, who gets annoyed when people keep needlessly prompting his ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’ speech.

* Charles Hawtrey (9) plays Seneca, Caesar’s father-in-law who gets visions and is a bit of a dirty old man.

* Joan Sims (5) is back after four films off, to play Caesar’s moany wife, Calpurnia.

Notable others:

* Amanda Barrie plays Cleopatra dim and ditzy. Aside from a quick clip at the beginning, she doesn’t join the action until the halfway point. Barbara Windsor was originally cast in the part, but the rumour is she was dropped because she was rude to director Gerald Thomas.

* Shelia Hancock has a small role as Senna Pod, Hengist’s whiney wife. Oddly, all her dialogue seems like it’s been looped.

* Victor Maddern plays Mark Anthony’s second in command.

* Warren Mitchell gets an awful gag in his role as a slave trader. Mark Antony calls him Marcus, so he replies: “I’m Spencius. It’s my brother what’s Marcus. Yeah, we’re in partnership now, you know. Marcus and Spencius.”

* Wanda Ventham appears at the slave auction. When a frumpy old maid outbids her for Horsa, Horsa himself offers to lend Wanda the extra cash.

* Peter Gilmore has another minor role, as a Roman.

* Jon Pertwee makes the first of his four Carry On appearances. He plays an ancient, doddering soothsayer who has a long white beard and a shaky voice.

Top totty: A 29-year-old Wanda Ventham? Yes, please.

Kenneth Williams says: “I got the script of Carry On Cleo today and I must say I think it is very funny.” – Tuesday 12 May 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p234)

“This Roman tunic I’m wearing in the film is really quite attractive. In white and gold. I continually lift it up and expose my cock & everything at the Unit. They’re all rather disgusted and laugh it off, but quite a number of them have remarked ‘O! Kenny! Not again – put it away…’ etc etc.” – Tuesday 4 August 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p238)

Review: This is a very silly spoof, with lots of corny gags and comic anachronisms. The period setting is used to excuse some horrendous sexism and homophobia, but there’s a lot of fun to be had too.

Eight poisonous asps out of 10

Carry On Spying (1964)


When the British Secret Service learn that an enemy agent called Milchmann will be in Vienna for the next 24 hours, they dispatch operative Desmond Simpkins and three trainees to find him…

What’s it spoofing? James Bond. Ian Fleming had written 10 novels and a few short stories by the time Carry On Spying began filming. More significantly, there’d also been two movies released with a third in production. Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) were all made at Pinewood Studios alongside the Carry Ons, and this spoof actually irritated the Bond producers to the point of threatening legal action. Carry On Spying contains specific 007 references such as From Russia’s gadget-laden briefcase, as well as more general similarities like flamboyant sets, sexy henchwomen and a featured song. But the longer it goes on, the more the satire spreads to also cover classic thrillers such as The Lady Vanishes (1938), Beau Geste (1939), Casablanca (1942) and The Third Man (1949).

Funniest moment: Agent Crump tunnels out of his prison cell, egged on by his colleagues. However, he comes up just a few feet away – ie, still inside the cell.

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Williams (8) plays Desmond Simpkins, the bungling leader of the team. It’s a performance of relentless comic energy. Williams used a ‘snide’ voice/character that would have been familiar to contemporary viewers from radio comedies such as Hancock’s Half-Hour and Beyond Our Ken. We even hear the persona’s catchphrase: “Stop messing about!”

* Barbara Windsor (1) debuts in the Carry On series, playing Daphne Honeybutt (aka Agent Brown Cow). She has a photographic memory, an impressive bust line and slightly more intelligence than her teammates. Windsor is really good and often very funny.

* Charles Hawtrey (8) plays agent Charlie Bind. It was originally scripted as ‘James Bind 006 ½’ but then the Bond producers took umbrage.

* Jim Dale (3) has great fun with the role of Carstairs, the service’s man in Vienna. He’s a master of disguise and looks different each time we see him – as a ticket inspector, a customs official, a cigarette seller, a lady of the night, a waiter and an Arab. His code-word catchphrase – “Café Mozart, 10 o’clock” – gets a bigger laugh each time he says it.

Notable others:

* Eric Barker gets a third Carry On character, here playing the chief of the secret service who’s surrounded by fools.

* Bernard Cribbins returns from the preceding movie to play trainee agent Harold Crump. He has fun comic business when trying to help Daphne into her gun holster, then later has some cross-dressing to do.

* Victor Maddern, who’d also had small roles in Constable and Regardless, plays Milchmann. He was later in a seemingly very good, but sadly lost, Doctor Who serial.

* Dilys Laye sexes it up big time as femme fatal Lila. The character appears first as a nightclub singer, then is revealed to be an enemy agent… then announces she’s a sleeper for a third party. Laye is unrecognisable from her character in Carry On Cruising. At the end of the film, she gets to quote “Stop messing about” at Kenneth Williams – an ad-lib, apparently.

Top totty: Barbara Windsor is *very* fetching in her Algiers outfit.

Kenneth Williams says: “This is the first picture I’ve done the ‘snide’ voice in. I just hope it works.” – Monday 3 February 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p228)

“I must say I like this Barbara Windsor. She is a charming little girl.” – Thursday 6 February 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p228)

“The script of Carry On Spying is so bad that I’m really beginning to wonder. I’ve changed one or two things but the witless vacuity of it all remains.” – Thursday 20 February 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p229)

“On Wednesday I took Sybil Burton to see the trade show of my latest ‘Carry On Spying’. She sat there, speechless. There was hardly a laugh. At one point in the picture I have to come out of a cubicle lavatory and say to a man who is waiting to use it, ‘I should give it a minute if I were you…’ and Syb said, ‘O Ken – that is really terrible!’ and I said yes but we’ve all got to earn a living.’ – Kenneth Williams to Noel Willman, 8 July 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Letters, p55)

Review: This is a joyfully silly film. We get almost every type of humour imaginable: sight gags, wordplay, groaners, satire, physical comedy, cultural stereotypes, arch music cues, intertextual asides… The team of regulars, meanwhile, are dumb, dumber, even dumber and Barbara Windsor – and there’s great energy and comic timing between the four. A full-on spoof of spy movies, this preempts Austin Powers by 33 years and is fantastically entertaining. (It’s also the final black-and-white Carry On.)

Nine fezzes out of 10

Beatles For Sale (1964)


Title: It’s often taken to be a pessimistic reflection of the group feeling like a product, having been ‘sold’ all over the world for 30-odd months – a view not dispelled by the…

Cover: Four glum-looking Beatles in an autumnal Hyde Park. It’s moody and, I think, rather magnificent.

Best song: No Reply, the opener written by John. It has quite a sedate feel for most of its 135 seconds, but about a minute in there’s a tremendous little crescendo powered by piano and handclaps.

Honourable mentions:

* John’s I’m a Loser has mournful lyrics, harmonica solos and a bubbling bassline that drives the chorus.

* Paul’s breezy I’ll Follow The Sun is enormously charming – I especially like George’s ‘solo’ (four strikes of his guitar, each one slid up its string).

* How the polished Eight Days A Week was never a single is beyond me – it’s catchy and has a cute structure (including a famous fade-in intro). Although worked on by both Lennon and McCartney, it was based on an idea of Paul’s – so why John sings the lead vocal is a bit of a mystery. The usual rule was that whoever initiated the writing took the lead.

* Another ‘wrong singer’ song is Paul’s Every Little Thing – it’s one of the many usually ignored gems you can find on Beatles albums. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say they like it, yet each time I hear Beatles For Sale it sidles up like an old friend and makes me feel very happy. Ringo pounds on a timpani to inject some effective drama into the choruses.

* The drum pattern on What You’re Doing, meanwhile, is also great fun. The whole song, with its Byrds-like guitar work and detailed harmonies, sounds like it should be from later in the Beatles’ career (Rubber Soul, say). It’s terrific.

Worst song: For once, it’s not something sung by George or Ringo! Mr Moonlight, first recorded a couple of years earlier by Piano Red, is like something from a tired student cabaret. Lennon seems to be enjoying himself, but the whole thing is just nonsense. And that Hammond-organ solo: Jesus!

Notable outside contributions: George Martin again plays piano when needed – listen to him go all Jerry Lee Lewis on the tubthumping cut of Rock and Roll Music!

Review: Overall, it’s a mixed bag – there are some world-beaters, but with a few tracks there’s a sense of the group padding out the LP. Perhaps what’s most interesting about this album is the development of the lyrics – songs such as No Reply and I’m a Loser show more thought in the words than the ‘boy loves girls’ stuff of earlier albums. Bob Dylan – who the group met in August 1964, just as they were starting to record Beatles For Sale – had an undoubted influence. Yet, after the totally self-written A Hard Day’s Night, it’s back to a mix of originals and covers – while four albums in, George and Ringo have contributed only one song between them. It was definitively John and Paul’s band at this point, but even they couldn’t keep up with demand.

Seven tears falling like rain from the sky out of 10.

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)


Title: A malapropism of Ringo’s, which tickled John so much he used it in his book of poetry before it became the name of a Beatles song, film, album and EP.

Cover: Rows of thumbnail pictures: five per Beatle as they lark about for the camera. Is George smoking in one of them?! I’ve never spotted that before. The cover deliberately echoes a scene in the first Beatles movie, of which this is in effect the soundtrack album: George pulling funny faces while he has his picture taken at a party.

Best song: It’s a real toss-up between two tracks. The title song is so packed full of energy, drive and fun it’s impossible not to love. I can’t help but picture the opening scene of the film whenever I hear it – the band being chased by fans, darting into Marylebone Station, hiding in phone boxes and photo booths, climbing over a wall, and rushing onto a train. The song’s famous opening chord – a mission statement, really: strap yourself in – has been analysed to death, with many explanations of exactly what each instrument is playing. I’ve no idea who’s right, but my favourite deconstruction is by a gleeful Randy Bachman (of Bachman-Turner Overdrive). However, Paul’s Can’t Buy Me Love is equally effervescent. It has a *terrific* lead vocal, a hip, lolling rhythm, a clipped guitar solo and one of Macca’s best early basslines.

Honourable mentions:

* There are lots of great tracks. And I Love Her – written by Paul, but I’ve seen him warmly credit the main acoustic riff to George – might have bland lyrics but is a pleasant, soft tune.

* John’s Any Time At All, meanwhile, is whip-crack quick and infectious.

* Things We Said Today (by Paul, about his long-distance relationship with Jane Asher) is fantastic and interesting and pleasingly pensive: I love the acoustic guitar flourishes.

* It’s a shame the lyric to John’s You Can’t Do That is such misogynistic tripe, as it’s a wonderful rock’n’roll tune.

* His I’ll Be Back has a nice warm vocal sound and closes the album well.

Worst song: Every song is at least good. I’m Happy Just To Dance With You, written by Lennon and McCartney as George Harrison’s showpiece in the movie, is probably the weakest. (Though there’s a bit of the otherwise fine Tell My Why where the vocals go annoyingly shrill…)

Notable outside contributions: More piano-playing from George Martin, most effectively on the title song.

Review: The entire album was written by Lennon and McCartney, which given their schedule in the winter of 1963/64 (a relentless rush of gigs, TV and radio appearances, location filming, interviews, studio days and almost daily travel) is quite astonishing. The level of quality is so high, and the Beatles sound is being defined more and more: reverb-y vocals, a warm cushion of music (there’s lots of acoustic guitar on this album). While working on this review, I rewatched the film too. Obvious thing to say, but it’s bloody entertaining.

Eight diamond rings, my friend, out of 10.

Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964)


What strikes me most is just how many of the classic Bond moments, scenes and lines of dialogue are in this one film. The pre-titles sequence, with Bond wearing a tux under his wetsuit. Shirley Eaton covered in gold paint. Q’s laboratory and gadget show-and-tell. The Aston Martin DB5 with its ejector seat (“You’re joking?!”) and revolving number plates. Bond cheating at golf. Oddjob flinging his hat at a statue. Bond strapped to a table with a laser heading towards his crotch (“Do you expect me to talk?”). Fort Knox. The nuclear bomb and its counter stopping at ‘007’. Pussy Galore and her Flying Circus of beautiful pilots. Goldfinger getting sucked out of an aeroplane window (which is scientific bullshit, right?). It’s the movie that weekend afternoons on ITV were invented for. This one’s so much fun it practically turns and winks at us. It moves at a real lick, is never boring, and is tremendously entertaining. Eight bars of gold bullion out of 10.

Bond: He’s just freewheeling through the role now, is Connery. Seemingly effortless.

Villains: Auric Goldfinger is a cartoon villain, big and blustery. And his voice has been replaced by another actor’s (an oddly common occurrence in early Bonds), which doesn’t help with the suspension of disbelief. Chief henchman Oddjob, however, is a wonderfully eccentric creation.

Girls: Wow. The film’s full of them. There’s Bonita, the woman in whose eyes Bond sees the reflection of an approaching baddy (so uses her as a shield!). There’s Goldfinger’s cute handmaiden Mei-Lei. There’s Jill Masterson, of course, covered in paint; and her sister, Tilly, who’s a bit of an irrelevance (both in terms of her character and her role in the story). And, obviously, there’s Pussy Galore – easily, easily, the best female role in a Bond film so far. Honor Blackman has that killer combination of being able to act and being incredibly sexy, and she gives Pussy real depth. This is a woman with an agenda, with feelings, with reactions and opinions. And the fact Blackman was nearly 40 only adds to the confident, powerful performance: it’s the first time Bond has met an equal, rather than a simpering girl following his around. (I must also quickly mention Dink, who I’m incredibly fond of. She’s in the film for an entire 20 seconds, giving Bond a massage and then getting patronisingly slapped on the arse. But Margaret Nolan is daydream-inducingly attractive. A few years later, she was by some distance the best thing about Carry On Girls.)

Regulars: Felix Leiter’s been recast, and Cec Linder is much better than Jack Lord was in Dr. No. You buy his and Bond’s friendship easily. M and Moneypenny show up again, while we get the first proper appearance of Q (as he’s now called). It’s here that Q’s character is set – his weary impatience with Bond’s recklessness is a joy.

Action: There’s a good car chase filmed in and around Pinewood Studios, full of cute gags. The Fort Knox section features a big battle outside and Bond’s inventive fight with Oddjob inside.

Comedy: There’s a clear step up in humour here, reportedly at the urging of new director Guy Hamilton. “Shocking,” Bond deadpans after a henchman is electrocuted. His response to Pussy Galore introducing herself (“I must be dreaming…”) is fantastic. And meeting with a Bank of England bigwig, Bond out-snobs M with his knowledge of the vintage and quality of the brandy.

Music: Obviously, the theme song is an all-time great. The score is cracking too, especially when bold, brassy and bombastic. At one point, Bond says, “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”