Marnie (1964): Hitchcock’s Underestimated Psycho-Sexual Thriller, Starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery

Marnie, Hitchcock’s psycho-sexual thriller, starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery, is still one of his most underrated achievements.

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)


Theatrical release poster

Though initially greeted with mixed-to-negative critical response, Marnie is now considered to be an underestimated feature, not least because of its ever-shifting narrative, complex characters, neo-noir format, and expressionistic style–all elements that were not discussed at the time,

The screenplay by Jay Presson Allen is based on the 1961 novel of the same name by writer Winston Graham

The music was composed by Bernard Herrmann, his last of seven critically acclaimed scores for Hitchcock.

Marnie also marked the end of Hitchcock’s collaborations with cinematographer Robert Burks (his 12th film for Hitchcock) and editor George Tomasini (who died later in the year).

Narrative Structure:

In the first scene, Marion Holland is seen at the train station, fleeing with nearly $10,000 which she had stolen from the company safe of her employer, Sidney Strutt (Martin Gabel), the head of a tax consulting company, who she charmed into hiring her without references.

Changing her appearance and identity, Marian, whose real name is Margaret “Marnie” Edgar (Tippi Hedren), travels to Virginia, where she stables a horse named Forio.

She then goes to Baltimore to visit her disabled (blind) mother, Bernice (Louise Latham), whom she supports.

Meanwhile, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), a wealthy widower who owns a publishing company in Philadelphia, meets with Strutt on business. He learns about the theft and recalls Marnie from a previous visit.

Some months later, Marnie, posing as Mary Taylor, applies for a job at Mark’s company, without realizing his connection to Strutt, and is hired after Mark recognizes her.

While working weekend overtime with Mark, Marnie has a panic attack during a thunderstorm, threatened by visions of color. Noticing that “something is wrong,” Mark comforts and then kisses her. They begin dating.

Marnie suffers from bad dreams, nightmares, and the color red seems to trigger an extreme emotional reaction.

Soon after, Marnie steals money from Mark’s company and flees again. Mark tracks her to the stable where she keeps Forio. He blackmails her into marrying him, much to the chagrin of Lil (Diane Baker), the sister of Mark’s late wife, who is in love with Mark.

Lil grows suspicious when she discovers Mark has spent a considerable sum since marrying Marnie. On their honeymoon cruise, Marnie is repulsed by any physical intimacy. Mark initially respects her wishes, but then rapes her. The next morning, she attempts to drown herself in the ship’s swimming pool, but Mark saves her.

After overhearing Marnie on phone call, Lil tips off Mark that Marnie’s mother is not dead, as Marnie said, but still alive, in Baltimore. Mark hires a private detective to investigate. Meanwhile, Lil overhears Mark telling Marnie he has “paid off Strutt” on her behalf. Lil mischievously invites Strutt and his wife to a party at the Rutland mansion. Strutt recognizes Marnie, but Mark persuades him to say nothing. When Marnie later admits to additional robberies, Mark works to reimburse her victims to drop charges.

Mark brings Forio to their estate, which pleases Marnie. During a fox hunt, Forio bolts. After a wild gallop, Forio misses a jump, breaks a leg, and lies on the ground screaming in pain. Marnie frantically runs to a nearby house and manages to obtain a gun, and shoots her horse.

Crazed with grief, Marnie goes home, where she finds the key to Mark’s office. She goes to the office, opens the safe, and finds herself unable to take the money she wants to steal, even after Mark arrives and “urges” her to take it.

Mark forces Marnie to go with him to Baltimore, to confront her mother and extract the truth about Marnie’s past. They arrive in a thunderstorm.

As it is revealed that Bernice was a prostitute, Marnie’s long-suppressed memories resurface. When she was a small child, one of Bernice’s clients (Bruce Dern) tried to calm a frightened Marnie during a thunderstorm. Seeing him touch Marnie and believing he was trying to molest her, Bernice attacked him. As the man fended her off, she fell and injured her leg, leaving her disabled.

Marnie, frightened and attempting to protect her mother, fatally struck the man in the head with a fireplace poker. The sight of his blood caused her hatred of the color red, the thunderstorm that night caused her fear of them, and the connection of the deadly night to sex caused her revulsion at physical intimacy.

In the aftermath, Bernice told police that she is the one who killed the man, praying that Marnie would forget the event. Bernice had become pregnant as a young, unmarried girl and says she has always loved Marnie.

Understanding the reason behind her behavior, Marnie asks for Mark’s help. He promises to help her, and they leave the house holding each other closely.

Hitchcock began developing the adaptation of Winston Graham’s novel Marnie in 1961. He commissioned Joseph Stefano, the screenwriter of Psycho, to work on the script. Stefano made extensive notes and wrote a 161-page treatment.

The director’s first choice to play the title role, Grace Kelly, then Princess Grace of Monaco, withdrew from the project when the citizens of Monaco objected to her appearing, especially as a sexually disturbed thief. Also, when Kelly married Prince Rainier in 1956, she had not fulfilled her contract with MGM, which could have prevented her from working for another studio. When Kelly departed, Hitchcock put it aside to work on The Birds (1963).

After completing The Birds, Hitchcock returned to the Winston Graham adaptation. Stefano dropped out of the project due to his commitments to the ABC TV series The Outer Limits. Evan Hunter, who had written the script for The Birds, developed Marnie with Hitchcock, and wrote several drafts. Hunter was unhappy with the rape scene in the novel, as he felt the audience would lose sympathy for the male lead. The director, however, was enthusiastic about the scene, describing to Hunter how he intended to film it.

Hitch held up his hands the way directors do when they’re framing a shot. Palms out, fingers together, thumbs extended and touching to form a perfect square. Moving his hands toward my face, like a camera coming in for a close shot, he said, “Evan, when he sticks it in her, I want that camera right on her face.”

Hunter wrote a draft containing the rape scene but also wrote a substitute sequence, which he pleaded with Hitchcock to use instead. Hunter was dismissed from the project on May 1, 1963. His replacement, Jay Presson Allen, later told him that “you just got bothered by the scene that was his reason for making the movie. You just wrote your ticket back to New York.” Just as Hunter had been unaware of Stefano’s earlier work on Marnie, Presson Allen was not informed that she was the third writer to work on the adaptation.

Hitchcock offered Princess Grace the title role in March 1962, and she accepted; but in Monaco, the reaction was negative. “Monegasques did not like the idea of their princess being filmed kissing another man,” Brown wrote. “Little did they know that Hitchcock also had plans for him to rape her.” The film was also being developed during tense period of France–Monaco relations in which France threatened to revoke Monaco’s special status, leaving the ruling Grimaldi dynasty anxious to preserve the country’s public image. Grace’s announcement that she would donate her $800,000 fee to charities did nothing to appease the critics, and she dropped out of the project in June 1962.

Marilyn Monroe also sought the role of Marnie. “It’s an interesting idea,” Hitchcock admitted. In his book Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie, Tony Lee Moral revealed that a studio exec at Paramount suggested Lee Remick. Hitchcock also considered two other actresses who were, like Hedren, under his personal contract, Vera Miles and Claire Griswold, wife of director-actor Sydney Pollack. Eva Marie Saint, star of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), and Susan Hampshire also pursued the role as well. In the end, Hitchcock opted to use Tippi Hedren, a one-time model he had seen in a commercial for a diet drink in 1961, then cast successfully in The Birds.

According to Hedren, he offered her the role of Marnie during The Birds.  She was “amazed” that Hitchcock would offer her this “incredible role, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” In 2005, Hedren declared in an interview that Marnie was her favorite of the two Hitchcock films, because of the intriguing, complex, challenging character.

Sean Connery had been worried that being under contract to Eon Productions for both James Bond and non-Bond films would limit his career and turned down every non-Bond film that Eon offered him. When asked what he wanted to do, Connery replied that he wanted to work with Hitchcock, which Eon arranged through their contacts. Connery also shocked people by asking to see a script; he was worried about being typecast as a spy and he did not want to do a variation of North by Northwest or Notorious, spy-themed movies directed by Hitchcock starring Cary Grant. When told by Hitchcock’s agent that Grant did not ask to see even one of Hitchcock’s scripts Connery replied, “I’m not Cary Grant.” Hitchcock and Connery got on well during filming. Connery was happy with the film “with certain reservations.”

Marnie became a milestone for several reasons. It was the last time a “Hitchcock blonde” would have a central role in one of his films. It was also the final occasion when he would work with several of his key team members: director of photography Robert Burks, who died in 1968; editor George Tomasini, who died soon after Marnie’s release, and music composer Bernard Herrmann, who was fired during Hitchcock’s next film, Torn Curtain (1966), when Hitchcock and Universal wanted a more contemporary “pop” tune for the film.

Actress Catherine Deneuve indicated that she would have loved to have played Marnie. Naomi Watts dressed up as Hedren’s Marnie (whose outfits were by Edith Head) for the March 2008 issue of Vanity Fair magazine.

Although they played mother and daughter, Latham (42) was only 8 years older than Hedren (34). In the script, the mother was only 15 years older than the daughter character.

In the DVD release, unit manager Hilton A. Green explains that shooting had been scheduled to begin on November 25, 1963, at Universal City Studios but had to be postponed because the nation was in mourning for John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated 3 days before. Filming concluded on March 14, 1964.

Hitchcock noticed a strong similarity between Herrmann’s score for Joy in the Morning and Marnie and believed that Herrmann was repeating himself. Herrmann’s music for Marnie included excerpts in his special album for Decca Records. Lyrics were written to Herrmann’s theme that were to be sung by Nat King Cole. Herrmann’s later score for Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1968) also repeats the main theme in Marnie, slightly altered in its harmony.


Tippi Hedren as Margaret “Marnie” Edgar
Sean Connery as Mark Rutland
Diane Baker as Lil Mainwaring, Mark’s former sister-in-law
Martin Gabel as Sidney Strutt, Marnie’s ex-boss
Louise Latham as Bernice Edgar, Marnie’s mother
Bob Sweeney as Mark’s Cousin Bob
Alan Napier as Mr. Rutland, Mark’s father
Mariette Hartley as Susan Clabon, Marnie’s co-worker
Bruce Dern as the sailor from Marnie’s childhood
Meg Wyllie as Mrs. Turpin
Kimberly Beck as Jessica “Jessie” Cotton, whom Bernice babysits (uncredited)
Melody Thomas Scott as Young Marnie (uncredited)

Hitchcock Cameo:

Hitchcock’s cameo can be seen five minutes into the film, entering from the left of a hotel corridor after Marnie passes by.


Directed, produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen, based on Marnie by Winston Graham
Cinematography Robert Burks
Edited by George Tomasini
Music by Bernard Herrmann

Production company: Geoffrey Stanley Productions

Distributed by Universal Pictures

Release date: July 22, 1964 (New York City)

Running time: 130 minutes
Budget $3 million
Box office $7 million