Release year: 1940
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Philip MacDonald, Michael Hogan, Daphne Du Maurier (novel)
Starring: Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny
Ratings: 2 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Cinematography. 9 Oscar nominations: Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Actress (Joan Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Special Effects, Best Original Score.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #74, week 46 2015
When a shy and self-conscious woman (Joan Fontaine) meets the handsome widower Maxim de Winter whose love removes her from her lonely life and brings her to his mansion Manderley. But she soon learns that the shadow of the former Mrs. de Winter still looms over Manderley.
The first movie Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, 1960) made in Hollywood was also the only to win a Best Picture Oscar, though he didn’t win for best director, no matter how deserved it would have been for this intense adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s famous novel. With the opening lines from the book told over a shaky ride toward manderley the scene is instantly set for the gothic tale Rebecca is and even though what follows is a quiet and sweet tale of two people falling in love, the feeling that something is off stays with you until they arrive at the mansion whereafter it breaks out in full power. Without any gore or blood, Hitchcock manages to create tension with the use of shadows, camera angles, and by pulling the best possible performances from his cast making Rebecca one of the finest psychological thrillers of its time. Fontaine (Ivanhoe, 1952) is perfect as the shy Mrs. de Winter, looking every bit the fragile flower the part needs her to be it is not hard to be convinced she is someone easy for the more headstrong Mrs. Danvers to push around. The intimidating and domineering housekeeper is played by Judith Anderson (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958) in a performance highly deserving of its Oscar nominations. She almost glides supernaturally through the house with a closed face and problematic attitude towards the new mistress of the house and soon manages to make Mrs. de Winter a nervous wreck full of self doubt and seing the ghost of her predecessor everywhere. Through her uncomfortabality we find a tension typical of Hitchcock and he leaves us guessing throughout the movie, never giving us more information than the poor lady receives. With the title figure dead before the beginning and the leading lady never named, it is from the beginning clear what a big impact the spirit of Rebecca casts over everything and everyone just as it enhances the role of the mystery with the new Mrs. de Winter merely acting as a catalysator to bring forward the action. The movie is a classic mystery shot in crisp black and white to enhance the dark atmosphere of the story with Hitchcock’s expert use of shadows, proving how little you need to be an effective thriller if made with great skill. A must for Hitchcock fans and recommended to everyone else.
Laurence Olivier wanted his then girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play the lead and because Joan Fontaine was cast instead he treated her horrible on set. Seing the effect it had on the actress, Hitchcock told everyone on set to treat her the same way to help bring out the very real and raw performance by Fontaine that we see in the movie.
The second film by Hitchcock based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, the first was Jamaica Inn from 1939.
As many of his movies Alfred Hitchcock has a small cameo in the movie, though you have to pay attention to catch him walking past the phone booth just after Jack Favell (George Sanders) makes a call in the final part of the movie.