Marnie is the first film in what I refer to as Hitchcock’s problematic trilogy. This is a frustratingly flawed film, which nonetheless has many great moments and sequences. I would like to break down the sequence in which Marnie (played by Tippi Hedren) steals the money from the safe at Rutlands.
The sequence runs just a couple seconds over five minutes, and contains 29 editorial cuts. This averages out to 10.4 seconds per shot, which is a high number for a Hitchcock suspense sequence. Sound is just as important as vision in this sequence. Let’s see how Hitchcock did it.
If you’ve read my deconstructions before, you may have noticed that Hitchcock often opens sequences with a dissolve. In this case the preceding scene fades to black, and he holds the black for two full seconds before fading in on this scene.
It is the end of the workday at Rutlands, and employees begin to file out. Marnie heads to the ladies restroom. Hitchcock does this in one shot lasting 26 seconds, tracking behind Marnie as she walks to the bathroom door. The office is a hum of activity.
We next cut to the restroom interior as Marnie enters, and goes in a stall. There are several women at the sinks, freshening their makeup and talking over each other in a constant murmur. This shot lasts 10 seconds.
Hitchcock next cuts to the interior of the stall, which is impressively lit. In many ways, this is the most important shot in the sequence. Hitchcock holds this scene for 54 seconds, which is a long time for a scene which is visually static. The key here is the sound. As Marnie waits and listens, the sounds gradually diminish as the other women leave the restroom. Finally there is complete silence. This silence is important; there is no musical score in this scene either.
We then get an 11 second shot of Marnie leaving the stall, listening quietly, and exiting the restroom. Hitchcock next cuts to the reverse with an exterior shot of Marnie coming out the restroom door. This 3 second shot is the first quick cut in the sequence.
Here Hitchcock gives us the first subjective POV shots of the sequence as we see Marnie glancing around the office, and then cut to what she is looking at. These are brief shots lasting only a couple of seconds. We then get a 28 second shot that tracks with Marnie back to her desk, showing her getting a bag from her purse, and walking to the desk with the safe combination. The emphasis here is on the key in her hand.
Next we get a close-up insert shot of the safe combination. Generally insert shots of this type are very quick, a second or two at most, but Hitchcock lingers a bit here, giving us time to read the specifics of the safe combination, and to realize that Marnie is doing the same.
Next comes another 28 second shot which begins with the camera above Marnie’s head, one of Hitchcock’s favorite places to put the camera in a moment of tension. The camera stays on her as she opens the door behind her and walks to the safe
Next up comes another fabulous shot: a long shot showing both the office with Marnie on the right, and the corridor on the left. The effect of the staging is rather like a split screen. As Marnie takes the money out of the safe, we can see the cleaning lady mopping the floor on the right. Hitchcock heightens the tension here by giving us knowledge that the characters on the screen do not have, and also by keeping us farther away in a long shot. This shot is held for 47 seconds without a cut.
We then cut to a medium shot of Marnie at the office door. We get two more subjective POV shots, as she looks first at the cleaning lady, and then at the stairwell, which is her means of escape. We then see a medium shot of her feet as she slips out of her shoes, then slips the shoes in her coat pockets, one on each side. It is important to point out that this sequence is still silent. There has been no noise since Marnie left the bathroom stall.
Hitchcock then cuts on movement, as Marnie begins to slowly walk across the floor. Here the cutting increases as the tension increases. Hitchcock gives us a medium close of Marnie’s feet on the floor, then a close up of the shoe starting to slip from her left pocket. He follows this sequence a couple more times, cutting from her feet to the shoe, with the cleaning lady now visible behind her. These shots are all short, averaging around 2 seconds each. Finally the shoe falls and hits the floor with a loud smack. It sounds like a minor explosion. Why? Because it is the first sound we have heard in over three minutes. This moment is why Hitchcock drained the sound from the sequence. Surely the cleaning lady must have heard it? Nonetheless, she keeps on mopping, her back to Marnie.
Marnie bends down, picks up the shoe, and quietly heads to stairs. Here we get another brief split screen effect; as she is starting to descend the stairs on the right side of the screen, yet another employee is approaching on the left. And this employee comes up to the cleaning lady to speak to her. We learn her name is Ruth, and we also learn that she is hard of hearing, which explains why she didn’t turn at the loud noise of the shoe hitting the floor. What a great way to relieve the tension at the end of the sequence, with a slightly comic touch. (Hitchcock buffs may be interested to note that this brief role of Ruth the cleaning lady was played by Edith Evanson, who had played the more substantial role of Mrs. Wilson in Rope 16 years earlier).
This great sequence then ends on a dissolve. So in this case, Hitchcock created tension by employing all three of his favorite camera techniques: the long take, montage, and the subjective POV. But more importantly he used sound, or the absence of sound, to great dramatic effect, making this one of the most memorable moments in the film.