Retro Baltimore

Retro Baltimore: Remembering when Alfred Hitchcock shot a Sean Connery thriller in Federal Hill

Sean Connery, the actor who died Oct. 31 at age 90, starred in a film partially set in 1960s Baltimore. There is no record of his actually working here on the movie, but its director, Alfred Hitchcock liked Baltimore’s marble steps, which appear in the completed film.

The film is “Marnie," a psychological tale.


“Only Alfred Hitchcock could create so provocative a love story," an ad of the time read.

According to an IMDB synopsis of the film, “Mark (played by Connery) marries Marnie (Tippi Hedren) although she is a habitual thief and has serious psychological problems, and tries to help her confront and resolve them.”


It features a long shot of actress Hedren walking down a long railroad platform. It looks like Camden Station. There is even an industrial circular gas holder in the background that could be South Baltimore. Except it’s actually California. Hedren’s name appeared before Connery’s in the billing.

“Marnie” is set in rural Virginia, Philadelphia and Baltimore, where she visits her religious fanatic mother.

Film historians and blog posts indicate that Hitchcock came to Baltimore and scouted atmospheric locations for what the home of title character Marnie’s mother should be. He wound up on Federal Hill’s Riverside Avenue and chose one-block long Sanders Street. He said he liked Baltimore’s white marble steps and the street’s location on a small bluff overlooking Baltimore’s then industrial harbor.

Film histories also note that he hired children from a parochial school to appear as extras in a short part of the movie. He gave away copies of a book he autographed as part of his non-publicized visit to Baltimore. The school children were paid $50 and got part of the school day off.

Mark Adams, a Baltimore resident, has preserved a copy of the old News American from Nov. 22, 1963, that contained a photograph and caption, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” The photo of assistant director Jim Brown and actress Missie O’Brien said the pair were in Baltimore the day before to shoot scenes for “Marnie.” The photo was taken on Fort Avenue.

“Some area residents are being used as extras,” the story also said.

Hitchcock wanted Baltimore to appear as he envisioned it — a city with a working harbor. It was not unusual for ships to be visible in the old Bethlehem Key Highway shipyard not far from Sanders Street. But on the day the Hollywood cameras arrived, no ship was in for repairs. The shot that appeared in the finished film was indeed a classic Baltimore street scene, helped along with a studio technician’s painted background version.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated the day the picture of the assistant director and the actress appeared in The News American. Accordingly, the filming of “Marnie” was set back a few days as the country went into mourning.

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The finished film made its local debut in August 1964. Almost nothing was mentioned about Sanders Street and the parochial school children seen playing on the street in a brief glimpse. The Sun’s two film critics, R. H. Gardner and Louis Cedrone wrote about “Marnie," but did not discuss the specifics of the location, except to criticize the Sanders Street shot as a “phony looking Technicolor studio street.”

Gardner, however, said it was Hitchcock’s best film since “Vertigo.” Cedrone also praised the film. “Suspense is the old boy’s trademark and ‘Marnie’ is full of it.” He described the film as "a two hour Hitchcockian tour along the sex and psychiatry trail.”

The film opened in Baltimore neighborhood theaters — The Boulevard in Waverly, the Vilma on Belair Road, the Ambassador in Forest Park, the Patterson in Patterson Park, the Pikes in Pikesville, the Strand in Dundalk and at Harundale Mall.

Curiously, in that first run, “Marnie” did not play the McHenry Theatre, on Light Street, just blocks away from Sanders Street.

In his review of the film, Gardner concluded, “Experts in psychiatry may smile indulgently at the rather pat ending in which all the heroine’s emotional problems are resolved by a simple act of enforced recall, but the inveterate mystery fan will not care. As is true of most Hitchcock movies, ‘Marnie’ is less an accurate interpretation of life than a patently contrived bit of cinematic legerdemain whose sole purpose is to capture and hold the spectator’s interest throughout.”

The film was nominated for two awards: Cashiers du Cinéma, for which it took third place in 1964, and a Satellite Award for outstanding classic DVD in 2005.


“Marnie” is available for streaming on Peacock Premium.