Reading Hitchcock is an occasional series where I review the source material of Alfred HItchcock’s movies.
The Sixties are in interesting decade for Hitchcock. He started the decade strong, with Psycho and The Birds, and had a rough end with Topaz and Torn Curtain. Smack in the middle is Marnie, a movie that is thought of more fondly now than it was when it was released in 1964, though I don’t know why. I don’t remember much about Marnie the movie, only that I thought it was a ballsy career move for James Bond to play a rapist. Turns out, that was the scene that made Hitchcock want to adapt the book.
Evan Hunter, who had written the screenplay for The Birds, developed Marnie with Hitchcock, and wrote several drafts. Hunter was unhappy with the rape scene in the original 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 an additional, substitute sequence, which he pleaded with Hitchcock to use instead. Hunter was dismissed from the project on 1 May 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.
I imagine Winston Graham had a major headdesk moment when he saw what Hitchcock did to his book. Though, maybe he just cashed the check and didn’t care. But, Hitchcock wasn’t known for faithful adaptations, but by using source material as inspiration. Sometimes, the result was good (The 39 Steps, The Lodger), sometimes it wasn’t so good. His adaptation of Marnie is the latter.
Marnie in the movie is sexually frigid due to being molested as a child. Oh, and she steals stuff. Hitch focused on the sexual dysfunction when in the book, it is but one aspect of a very complicated character. Marnie on the page is a rich, complex character who finds herself in a situation she cannot control and, as a result, starts to unravel. What’s much more interesting than her inability to get close to men sexually is her inability to get close to anyone, male or female, to form any sort of close bonds with humanity. While I had a problem with a couple of the events in the novel* – the twisted logic Mark used to find her and that Marnie wouldn’t extricate herself from the situation by doing what she does best, running – the book is an interesting character study of a woman who was unknowingly molded by a mother who was flat-out crazy but seemed normal. The ending was a little heartbreaking but perfect based on the tone of the book. Good all the way around, but the writing style seemed a little dated. It’s a “I doubt this would get published now” book.
* Of course, the rape scene bothered me, especially when Mark blamed Marnie for it after. I rolled my eyes at his justification for Marnie seeing a psychologist being that is just isn’t normal for a woman to not want to have sex with someone who loves her. But, the book was written in the late fifties, check your modern sensibilities at the door and all. I’d like to be able to say those attitudes (no such thing as marital rape and not understanding an aversion to sex) are obsolete, but yeah. Not enough has changed.
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