From the author of The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds comes a tome which discusses Hitchcock’s following film, the controversial Marnie. From concept to critical reaction, this is a book that meticulously charts the making of the film and highlights how it was one of Hitchcock’s most personal projects.
Marnie is undoubtedly a difficult film. Hitchcock was aware of this when he decided that he wanted to adapt it, even as Psycho and The Birds had shocked audiences the world over some years before. Even half a century later, when those films appear tame compared with many horrors and thrillers made since, the moral aspects of Marnie, notably the psychological revelations of the film as well as themes of rape and sexual violence, remain challenging. Interpretations of the characters over the years have been many and varied, and often conflicting. A failure both at the box office and with the critics, reaction to the film hit Hitchcock’s confidence, even if he did return to this subject in a shockingly offensive manner in Frenzy (1972) some years later.
Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most respected auteurs of cinema and renowned as the ‘master of suspense’. He faced a number of issues during the making of many of his films; these ranged from financial, critical and personal problems as well as differing opinions and attitudes towards his works when they were released. However much Vertigo (1958) is adored (currently it is Sight and Sound’s top film for this decade’s critics’ list) it received a mixed reaction at the time. Psycho (1960) was made on a low budget, killed off its central actress before half way though the running time and caused controversy for its shocking violence. But Marnie was a different level of shocking. These days, where DVD/Blu-Ray extras are chock full of making-of documentary adoration, it is most welcome to be able to read a book about a production that is in-depth, not overly deferential about the film’s importance, is balanced in relaying the pros and cons of the finished product, and provides a wealth of background information that reflects the complexity of the production. Make no illusions, Marnie was a film with a multitude of issues both on-screen and off, and Tony Lee Moral goes to painstaking lengths to examine its development.
The inception of Marnie was an arduous process and one that took a large number of years to realise, even in pre-production. The adaptation of Winston Graham’s novel is explored in detail, from Hitchcock declaring that he wanted to film it to the multitude of screenplay writers employed to create a script that was not only suitable for filming but also appealed to Hitchcock’s vision, even when elements that they deemed unacceptable in the screenplay were challenged by the famous director. And while screenplay writers were employed and rejected, the casting of the central actress was also a serious issue. Initially Hitchcock had wanted Grace Kelly (star, of course, of Dial M for Murder , Rear Window  and – as a thief – in To Catch a Thief ) for the titular role, but she had become a princess of Monaco and was unable to play the part. The book helpfully alludes to this not only when describing the sequence of events but it also provides images of the correspondence between Kelly and Hitch, including a note from Kelly expressing her desire to play in the film and her sincere regret that it wasn’t to be.
This is a ‘making of’ with a long time frame, indeed pre-production had begun well before Hitchcock’s previous film The Birds was completed. Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie deals with the production from a ‘before, during and after’ perspective in terms of its concept, creation and the response when it was finally released – both at the time and how it was perceived over the fifty-odd years since. It is also helpful that the predominant starting place is The Birds, not only in the timeline of the film but also with the casting of Tippi Hedren when it was recognised that Grace Kelly would not be returning to the silver screen. Tony Lee Moral examines his subject through intensive research into screenplays, memoranda, records and correspondence from the time including letters between those involved, together with interviews conducted at a later time, where the interviewees recall their involvement and this demonstrates the professionalism that went into producing the film. There are some references to the films Hitchcock made after Marnie (they are covered, but not in great depth – that would be a different tome) and also the relationships that those connected could have made to the perceived follow up, particularly Jay Presson Allen and her involvement with the screenplay for Hitchcock’s long desired, never fulfilled project Mary Rose, based upon the J.M. Barrie play.
An essential purchase for anyone interested in the wonderful films of its director, Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie does exactly what its title suggests. Incredibly detailed and with a range of storyboards and production stills to illustrate the narrative, it provides both a fascinating history and a valuable re-examination of a controversial film.