“Marnie” – the Perfect Interval

- Hitchcock's Pure Cinema 08 -



HITCHCOCK made many of his best works in the 1950’s and the craftsmanship of his films peaked in the 1960’s. HITCHCOCK’s 49th film “Marnie” was released in 1964 and his superb techniques are apparent in this film. When we edit a film, we give a good consideration to both the length of a shot and that of a scene, which also include subtle and delicate intervals between dialogues or between scenes. These intervals are often influenced by the movement on the screen, the speed of conversation, or the psychological state of a character. Excellent editing can show a great way of using this interval. However, HITCHCOCK succeeded to create some of the most amazing intervals in “Marnie” without the help of editing.

Interval without the Help of Editing

Marnie is a kleptomaniac, who has been repeatedly stealing, changing their identity and moving to a new location. She comes to a new city and visits a publisher for a job interview. However, she is unaware that the owner of the company, Mark, recognizes her and knows that she stole money from her last employer. Being intrigued by her beauty and her past, he pressures the head publisher to hire her. After spending some time together, Mark realizes that Marnie has an undeniable fear of something deep in her mind. Marnie, on the other hand, notices that Mark becomes attached to her too much. She goes along with it, but she actually holds a strong hatred towards men. She has been using her sexuality to deceive men, and she considers Mark as one of them. Thinking that it’s time to go, she decides to carry out her original plan to steal money from the publisher.
The film “Marnie” has polarized reviews due to its sexual content including a rape scene. However, it’s clearly outstanding with its filmmaking craftsmanship. The most notable scene is where Marnie steals money from the publisher’s safe. When a bell rings, signaling the end of the work shift, all the workers in the office quickly head to the exit except Marnie, who quietly walks into a restroom. The camera follows her from behind and we cannot see her face. However, a slight movement of her head shows us that she is secretly taking in her surroundings. In the restroom, Marnie quickly passes behind the women powdering their noses and walks into a stall. She then stands behind the door in dim light coming through from above the stall door. As she stands still listening, the audience’s attention is also drawn to the commotion outside. When it all goes quiet, Marnie attempts to move out but stops abruptly when she hears women’s voices. Once the noise subsides, she cautiously leaves the stall.
HITCHCOCK used one medium shot of Marnie standing in the stall for fifty seconds without a cut. Fifty seconds on a screen is very long time. If there is little movement, it feels even longer. Yet, the length doesn’t bother you at all in this scene. This is because the audience’s suspense is already rising with the expectation that Marnie is about to steal. On the other hand, fifty seconds is a very short amount of time in real life. All the workers in the office can not be gone in just fifty seconds. Yet, this shot convinces the audience to be realistic because HITCHCOCK knew the perfect length of the interval. Usually this length of interval is controlled by editing, but here in this scene, there is no cut. Only HITCHCOCK’s genius of filmmaking made this shot work.

50 seconds of suspense

After coming out of the restroom and confirming that no one is there, Marnie takes out a bag, opens a drawer with a key and checks the combination numbers. As she enters a room with a safe, she stops and hesitates at the door. She seems to think for a brief moment and decides not to close the door. Does she think that it would be easier to spot someone coming, to hear somebody approaching, or to make her excuse to be in the room believable? Whatever the reason is, it is now affirmed for her to leave the door open while she is breaking into the safe. This is an example of Hitchcock’s fine direction. In the next wide shot, Marnie with the safe and the rest of the office are shown in a same frame. On the right half of the screen, we see Marnie in front of the safe through the open door. Then, on the left half of the screen, we see a cleaning lady appear and mop the floor toward the open door. This is the moment, when the audience’s suspense quickly heightens.
Hitchcock uses this wide shot for fifty seconds again without a cut. While the cleaning lady approaches, Marnie quickly puts money in her bag and moves to the door. This is again the perfect interval of fifty seconds, in which our suspense is raised by simultaneously watching the complete action of Marnie stealing money and the cleaning lady approaching the door. There is also another reason why this wide shot is so effective. In order to raise the audience’s suspense, you must show two things happening simultaneously and a character being oblivious about the approaching danger. These are the rules of making suspense, which HITCHCOCK repeated to tell in many interviews. The wide shot in this scene of “Marnie” is an apparent example of these rules.
Controlling audience’s mind visually with the minimum effect of sound and dialogue, these scenes are the proof of HITCHCOCK’s craftsmanship of pure cinema. Making an adequate interval is usually the job of editing. Editing can make it possible to figure out the best interval through trial and error, but it’s too risky to do this in camera while you are shooting. Yet, HITCHCOCK did this repeatedly. He clearly mastered the feat of filmmaking.