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Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (Revised Edition) (2013)

Cover of Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie

A book review by Liza Palmer.

In 2004, I had the pleasure of reviewing the first edition of Tony Lee Moral’s Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie for Scope. When I was approached to review the revised edition, I did not hesitate, recalling the first version to be a strong, organized production history – a model of textual analysis, informed by primary interviews, secondary sources, and archival documents. I am happy to report that this latest edition is equally strong – an exemplar of revision; not only does Moral’s book correct and update an earlier work, but also expands and enhances with new content that shapes our previous understanding. And this is a timely re-release, given the recent surge of interest in Hitchcock, coalescing around the 90th anniversary – in 2012 – of him making his first film, as well as the appearance of contentious biopics The Girl (2012) and Hitchcock (2012). What results, in the hands of Moral, is a book that celebrates the uneasy position of Marnie as, depending upon your point of view, the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning of Hitchcock’s directing career – while recognizing that, in light of recent attention (I hesitate to use the word scholarly here, as debate continues about the accuracy and fairness of some depictions, particularly in The Girl), Hitchcock may not have always been the person Hollywood thought he was.

marnie2Reflecting upon the puzzle that is Marnie – for scholars, audiences, and fans, alike – Moral offers the following: “In many ways, Marnie is the corollary of Hitchcock’s obsession with control and what happens when he loses that control. Hitchcock was a perfectionist who valued order foremost, but during production of Marnie he lost control of the finished product” (258). This quote nicely accounts for the compromises that plagued Marnie and its production – compromises that Hitchcock was often comfortable making, if the memories of his contemporaries are considered, despite his reputation for extensive preparation and previsualization.  But with all the variables at play during Marnie – an untested and limited novice in Tippi Hedren; a script with three different writers; a director, seeking to deserve his developing persona as an artist, working at the cusp of industrial technology but not willing to sacrifice his expressionistic vision for the sake of realism or perspectival accuracy – these compromises, this time, were telling, with Marnie failing to make much of an impact at the box office.  Hindsight and theoretical jostling have since resurrected Marnie’s place in the Hitchcock pantheon. And Moral demonstrates ably, in his chapter “Critical Reception,” how a film can become grist to any critical mill, depending upon the whims/demands of the critic and the discipline.

marnie 1Moral’s revised edition reproduces the strengths of the earlier edition – notably the extensive range of storyboards from the racecourse and hunt sequences, and the delightful series of related photographs and production stills – while adding a wealth of new material:  four chapters, to be precise, bolstered by new personal interviews and archival collections from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Of the new chapters, the only one that feels superfluous is “Mary Rose,” about Hitchcock’s passion for the J.M. Barrie play, which he tried unsuccessfully to bring to the screen. While the endeavor became a pointed, late-phase frustration for Hitchcock – and is perhaps revealing of how he was trying to nuance his career in an industry and system that was resisting change – in a book focusing on Marnie, it is a footnote at best and would be more appropriate as a stand-alone work. And, though chapter eleven, “Through the Lens,” is a welcome addition to the book, concentrating on Robert Burks as Hitchcock’s cinematographer, it should have been located closer to – if not incorporated within – the chapter on filming. Indeed, at several points, Moral repeats quotes and, in certain cases, content – a danger, of course, in any revision – which is repetitive, diluting the power of the words or anecdotes, and ultimately suggesting that he did not carefully coordinate his book as an organic whole but rather appended to it piecemeal. However, chapter twelve, “Hitchcock Remembered,” is a fine coda to the book and overall project, at once reflecting on Hitchcock in the aftermath as well as redeeming him in the wake of the previously mentioned films that have shed an altogether different light on him and his character. And Moral rescues Hitchcock in the best way possible – through primary interviews with the collaborators and colleagues who knew, and had occasion to observe him best. The afterword, furthermore, is a quality piece of incisive writing, a voice that Moral tends to reserve for the – usually too brief – concluding sections of each chapter. Moral clearly has some interesting impressions to share and conclusions to draw regarding Marnie, but appears reluctant to feature them in favor of a safer approach via primary materials. Admirable restraint, to be sure, but also a lost opportunity to manage the conversation.

Nevertheless, Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie is a valuable text on an unstable film – and a film that is all the more fascinating for this instability. Whether you think Marnie a masterpiece or a dud, it is a misadventure that needs to be told. Tony Lee Moral, as such, provides an immersive experience that captures and recreates the process of a film production from start to finish in a compelling and very readable fashion.

Liza Palmer is managing editor of The Moving Image, co-editor-in-chief of Film Matters, and contributing editor of Film International.

 

Book Details

Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (Revised Edition), Tony Lee Moral, (2013)
Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 283 pp., ISBN-13: 978-0810891074 (hbk), $80.00

3 Comments for Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (Revised Edition) (2013)”

  1. Wheeler Winston Dixon

    Can’t wait to read this; thanks, Liza, for a solid review. Glad that the book notes that none other than action specialist William Witney was brought in to direct the fox hunting sequences from Hitchcock’s storyboards. The man’s fingerprints seem to be everywhere. A deeply flawed, and deeply fascinating film. Thanks much!

  2. Wheeler Winston Dixon

    And, of course, director James Brown. My mistake for not crediting Brown properly; Witney actually shot material for the Atlantic City racetrack scenes. Brown shot the fox hunt footage.

  3. Thanks, Wheeler! I enjoyed both editions of this book, then and now.

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