Marnie (1964): Critical Reception–Then and Now

When Marnie hit theaters, in 1964, contemporary reviews were at best mixed.

Eugene Archer of The New York Times wrote a lukewarm assessment: “at once a fascinating study of a sexual relationship and the master’s most disappointing film in years.” Archer’s criticisms were “an inexplicably amateurish script” and the casting of “relative newcomers” Hedren and Connery in roles that “cry for the talents of Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.”

A review in Variety found the opening to be slow, but once it got going the story “generally keeps the action fairly fast-paced—provided audience can overlook certain puzzling aspects, such as why the lady became a thief—and gets strong performances from his two stars and other cast members.”

Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “As a story it seems naggingly improbable and, as drama, a nightmare from which the spectator constantly pulls away, struggling to wake up in a less disordered universe. No question, though, that it is at least fitfully effective.”

Edith Oliver of The New Yorker called the film “an idiotic and trashy movie with two terrible performances in the leading roles, and I had quite a good time watching it. There is something bracing about Hitchcock at work, even when he is at his worst.”

The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that the film “opens quite brilliantly,” but that “things get out of hand” after the marriage, “with both leading players floundering badly as Hitchcock piles up his demands on them.” The review suggested that “the trouble seems to be that the film falls between the two stools of straight suspense (what is Marnie’s secret?) and the full-dress character study that would only have been possible with a more experienced actress.”

However, the film ranked 3rd on Cahiers du Cinéma’s Top 10 Films of 1964.

Marnie’s reputation greatly improved years later. Dave Kehr wrote in The Chicago Reader that while the film was “universally despised on its first release, Marnie remains one of Hitchcock’s greatest and darkest achievements” as “theme and technique meet on the highest level of film art.”

Richard Brody of The New Yorker considered it “Hitchcock’s best film.”

In her 2012 review of the film Emily Cleaver of The Guardian wrote: “The opening shots of Marnie are Hitchcock’s ideal of visual storytelling at its purest, and the rest of the film is an underrated gem.”

The film was a moderate box office success; it grossed $7 million in theatres on a budget of $3 million. In America, it earned estimated rentals of $3,250,000. Marnie was the 22nd highest-grossing film of 1964.

Robin Wood discusses the special effects of the film as having their roots in German Expressionism: Hitchcock worked in German studios at first, in the silent period. Very early on when he started making films, he saw Fritz Lang’s German silent films; he was enormously influenced by that, and Marnie is basically an expressionist film in many ways. Things like scarlet suffusions over the screen, back-projection and backdrops, artificial-looking thunderstorms—these are expressionist devices and one has to accept them. If one doesn’t accept them then one doesn’t understand and can’t possibly like Hitchcock.

In the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films ever made, Marnie received 9 total votes—six (out of 846) from critics and three (out of 358) from directors. Marnie was ranked 47th in BBC’s 2015 list of the 100 greatest American films.

The background to Hedren’s casting in the title role and some of the production challenges were explored in the 2012 made-for-television movie The Girl starring Sienna Miller as Hedren and Toby Jones as Hitchcock.