Without a doubt, Marnie (1964) is one of Hitchcock’s hardest films to handle — not because it’s overly suspenseful, but rather because of its intense, startling problems with gender roles within marital relationships.

Released just one year after The Birds, one of the director’s most well-known films, Marnie finds Hitchcock working with Tippi Hedren a second time, the actress once again playing the role of a woman who knows how to manipulate men with effortless poise — Hedren is certainly pretty easy on the eyes, and yet in both films one may remain hesitant to trust her.

However, this film’s treatment of her effect on men is decidedly different than The Birds. Here, Marnie is not necessarily trusted by her male counterpart. In fact, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery’s all-too-Sean-Connery-like-character) mistrusts her from the first time he recognizes her in his firm, taking an interest in her from a more-or-less purely psychological or even zoological perspective.

That zoological relation to women that Rutland  prescribes to is a little disturbing, especially considering the actor’s real-life outlook on gender relations.

“I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong in hitting a woman,” Connery once told Playboy Magazine, “Though I don’t recommend you do it the same way that you hit a man.”

Faulkner's novel, much like "Marnie," presents some problems with the ways it explores issues of gender roles, considering that the novel was written by a man, and the first three chapters are narrated by men.

In Marnie, there is an interesting relation between passive-aggression, male sexual (as well as nonsexual physical) aggression, and the effect those two types of aggression have on memory, especially intrusive memory. Additionally, I have been reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and find that the novel deals with these same issues, although in a less directly confrontational way than Marnie.

The hinging point of Marnie is Marnie’s intrusive memory of one of her mother’s (who worked as a prostitute in her daugher’s youth) client’s aggression towards both the young protagonist and her mother, which resulted in mother and daughter (but mostly daughter) killing the man with a blunt fire poker. But the driving force behind the narrative is the way that Marnie has spent her entire life trying to run away from this memory, using various aliases to move around the country, stealing money and funneling at least some of it back to her mother as some kind of subconscious way to pay restitution for their sins (and also as an unsuccessful attempt to win her mother’s love).

However, despite Marnie’s repeated attempts to escape a memory that the viewers don’t learn the full extent of until the end of the film, she simply cannot. Seeing anything red — not to mention men who seem sexually attracted to her — triggers a panic attack and an intense fear within her. In this narrative, it is only when Sean Connery, paragon of masculinity, slaps her around and yanks the memory out of her subconscious that she is cured.

The Honeymoon Scene: Mark and Marnie argue about her intimacy issues, but Mark soon enough circumvents them entirely, ripping off her robe and forcing her to have sex with him.

This interests me because in viewing these Hitchcock films, I have found that the director is not what one might call “fair” to the female sex. They always seem to be the troublemakers, and if not, they’re pretty helpless, needing a man’s guidance to set them right and save the day. The problem with Marnie is that it takes this motif (as I see it) a little too far — not only does Mark Rutland slap Marnie around and manhandle her on more than one occasion, but he actually date-rapes her on their honeymoon, in the name of “curing” her of whatever makes her afraid of sexual attention from men.

This motif of control on the part of men over women is fascinating in relation to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury as well, in that the novel also seems (on one level) to be about the male-female dynamic, in this case, within a family and across generations. Like Marnie, the characters of Caddy and her daughter Quentin represent this rogue-woman, someone that  the male characters they interact with feel are calling out for their control, to turn them into healthy ladies.

Smug as a Bug: The character of Mark Rutland struggles with agency in actually much the same way that Marnie does — both characters try to maintain a sense of control in their lives through the domination of other people.

In fact, the resemblance is palatable at times, with Mark saying to Marnie upon the drive back to the Rutland mansion, “Someone’s got to take on the responsibility for you, Marnie. And it narrows down to a choice of me or the police, old girl.” This conversation mirrors many conversations about the young, voluptuous Quentin between Faulkner’s characters of Jason Compson and his self-pitying, mopey mother, Caroline Compson in The Sound and the Fury.

“She ought to be home,” Caroline Compson says of her granddaughter, Quentin. “I can’t do anything with her. I’ve tried and I’ve tried.”

“And you won’t let me for some reason,” Jason retorts. “So you ought to be satisfied.”

This reveals an interesting parallel in the realm of discipline and control within both texts — the unruly, wild woman needs a man’s hand to steady her, and that hand may and will use force to accomplish the goal of taming the woman.

There's always the interesting parallel of the importance of the color red, but I'm not sure I could extrapolate a lot of meaning in relation to control and male-female relations within each of the texts. However, they do bring up the question of intrusive memory within both texts.

All of these things are well and good, and certainly interesting, but the thing that I still can’t quite pin down is the relation between these “triggers,” such as the color red or the presence of masculine men, and the intrusive memories that the conjure within our tortured protagonists. For instance, why is the color red so important in both? And why does it seem to incite a kind of intense desire for control, or to run away from (or after) something?

I think that there’s an important reason that Faulkner became a screenwriter as well as a novelist — his work is incredibly cinematic, especially in The Sound and the Fury. Like Marnie, the intrusive memories within his novel come without warning, and make little sense to the viewer until they have reached the end of the story and know “what happened.”

However, I am not trying to say that these two works are on equal footing: I believe that Faulkner does an immensely better job of keeping the power of the vague within his text, keeping the reader guessing if something that’s happened is a) dialogue, b) inner thoughts, c) action that’s happening in real time, or d) a mixture of all three that’s happening within the narrator’s memory.

Through this skillful blending of ways of interacting with the world and processing it and understanding it, I believe Faulkner really opens up his readers’ eyes to the possibility of thinking about the nature of experience, memory, and inner thought. After all, if one is experiencing the emotions of a memory afresh, such as Benjy does in the first chapter of The Sound and the Fury, how could one say that the memory isn’t happening in the realm of the real? What way do we have to classify what is real or not besides our most visceral experience of it, within our minds and emotions?

I fully recognize that this subject requires much, much more study — but alas, this is but a blog. There’s always a private reading. Or a senior project. Or a book later on, right?


Ah, Rear Window. Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece is considered a nearly flawless film from the powerhouse of Hollywood in the 1950s, and for damn good reason. It’s just a good film. Funny, interesting on many levels, enticing, full of Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart — there’s certainly something for everyone in this film.

Many a shot-by-shot comparison has been done on this film, as many a connection to the implications it makes about the nature of voyeurism (and whether or not it’s A OK) has been made — so I will spare you, the happy reader, of simply regurgitating what everyone has already said to and heard from everyone they know.

However, since that’s kind of the overarching point of the film, I can’t promise it will have no bearing on what I would like to say. But I will try not to make the same old same old the centerpiece of this veritable lazy susan that I call my blog.

Many a connection has been made to the fact that Jimmy Stewart considers his camera to be showing him "what's happening," when he can never be too sure, which seems to be a metaphor for people who make as well as people who watch movies in a search for meaning.

So. As you may have guessed, I chose to complete the Jimmy Stewart series I inadvertently started with Rope and continued with The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo. Though I did not initially know that I would make any real connections besides “I think Stewart and Hitchcock worked well together and made awesome movies,” I think I actually did. In a way that I think is much more overt than when Hitchcock works with, say, Cary Grant, I think that the films the iconic director made with Stewart revolve very much around rituals, and the power they have to reveal certain truths or bring people together.

Whether the quasi-communion ritual of the eating and drinking around an alter in Rope, the power of music and the way it brings people together in The Man Who Knew Too Much, or the rabid search for deeper personal identity through skin-deep looks in Vertigo, rituals seem to drive the meaning of Stewart-Hitchcock films.

An oft-cited frame from "North By Northwest," in which Cary Grant runs from an airplane in a field. The "Wrong Man" scenario that Hitchcock employed sporadically throughout his career never really made it into any of his collaborations with Jimmy Stewart. The closest one can come is in "The Man Who Knew Too Much," and even then, Jimmy Stewart isn't actually a suspect in the murder of anyone.

And Rear Window is no different — in fact, it quite possibly may take the cake, becoming purely about the ritual of watching a man (and an entire neighborhood) through a window and endlessly theorizing about what his actions could possibly mean, in a delightfully tongue-in-cheek revelation of how some people take theorizing about things they see too far.

(i.e., movie critics, cinephiles — people like your fearless leader — me.)

But what’s the point of figuring out what these rituals mean? I can’t possibly begin to explain why Hitchcock seemed to use Jimmy Stewart so much for these roles; indeed, the director wanted Cary Grant for Rope, but the brightly-burning star was afraid of what could happen to his career if he played a man that was very lightly implied to be gay, and possibly a pedophile.

But you see, that’s neither here nor there, anyway. What this blog needs now is focus. Sweet focus.

I must admit, I too thought Jeff to be a damn fool for being so ornery to Grace Kelly in the beginning of the film. You rarely see a woman this radiant.

So, what I would like to discuss are the wider social implications of the ritual, particularly those in Rear Window. The hinging point of the narrative prior to Jeff’s discovery that something fishy is going on in Thorwald’s apartment is his somewhat rocky relationship with Lisa (played by the incomparable Grace Kelly), which has been at least somewhat exacerbated by his broken leg.

At this point in time, Jeff’s leg has been broken for weeks, and his life has been distilled down to a series of rituals, performed mostly by others. His feisty nurse, Stella, takes care of him every day, and his extremely charming girlfriend comes in at some point to bring him dinner and hang out with him.

You know, it's hard to imagine anyone getting bored with Grace Kelly, but it can indeed happen. Beauty is indeed only skin deep, and the fact of the matter is that Jeff and Lisa have little in common but each other at the beginning of the film.

However, Jeff is incredibly bored with these rituals, and is getting cabin fever. The fact of the matter is that he likes to do something that seems worthwhile to him, that involves the outside world in some sort of real way — for example: he broke his leg by standing in the middle of a pileup at a stock car race. The strange thing about his and Lisa’s relationship is that they don’t really share any rituals that they both find meaningful. Sure, she likes taking care of him, but he’s a man that can and wants to take care of himself, or at least to reciprocate in some variety when people do something for him.

The fact of the matter is that the Lisa at the beginning of the film has nothing really to ask of Jeff, and so their relationship is really quite one-sided. Which is not inherently horrible, but just doesn’t make for a real, functional relationship — it sort of depends almost entirely on Lisa’s ability to continually take care of poor Jeff, and to withstand his snide remarks about her clothes, her personality, her friends, and even the things she does for him.

"Tell me everything," Lisa says to Jeff, and it's truly the first moment that they seem to want the same thing.

But! Then Thorwald starts acting all funny, and Jeff finds new meaning in his previously mundane life of looking out the window at (mostly) boring neighbors, his biggest thrills coming from Miss Torso, the chesty dancer. At first, the friction between Jeff and Lisa continues, as the lovely Grace Kelly thinks it unbecoming to spy on people from a window. But then (as I read it) she realizes that this is the way to Jeff’s heart. She has to find something that they have in common, so she jumps on the “Thorwald killed his wife” bandwagon. All of a sudden, Jeff, Lisa, and Stella are working well together, a veritable Lois, Clark and Sacagawea, Shaggy, Scooby and Velma — Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb.

Thus, they continue the film, working together to figure out the mystery of the murder of Mrs. Thorwald, against all odds, even after being told by a bonafide detective that there was no murder at all. Which is all well and good, and Grace Kelly is seen reading about the kind of adventures that she’s going to go on with Jeff once the two get married, but slyly reading a copy of Bazaar while he sleeps in his wheelchair, just as content as can be.

In the final scene, Lisa apparently learns to juggle her own desires and interests with those of Jeff, in the name of, I suppose, winning him. But my question is, ultimately, what for?

Now, I don’t want to be judgmental about the film, because I love it so. It’s just so fun — just the right amount of scary, with lots of comedy and good-feelings in your heart. But I just want to point out that, though the story is well-written, I’m not sure I agree with its message. Grace Kelly certainly doesn’t abandon her own personal, feminine interests to win over Jimmy Stewart, but it seems that he doesn’t ultimately cede anything in the bargain. It just seems a little one-sided to me, only slightly different than their relationship was at the beginning of the film.

Sure, relationships are about compromise, and doing the thing the other person likes sometimes in order to let them know that you care about their feelings. But is there much evidence that Jimmy Stewart’s character, Jeff, ever does any semblance of that for Lisa, when she essentially threw herself at his wild fantasies because she (probably) realized it was the only way to keep him loving her?

It just seems to me that if there were a Rear Window 2 — Murder in Morocco, we would find that Jeff is running the show, and Lisa is just falling right in line. Which I suppose was the norm in the 1950s, but still. It makes me wonder what we as moviegoers even now like to see in movies, because a great deal of people (yours truly included) consider movies a form of validation about their own lives and the choices they make within them.


And now, I will leave you with Grace Kelly’s inimitable entrance to the film: