Friday, March 11, 2011

Rebecca ( 1940) **1/2


(This article is from guest contributor The Lady Eve and first appeared at  The rating in the title is my own.)

By the late 1930's, Hitchcock's reputation was riding high based on several suspense films he'd made in Britain. He came to Hollywood under contract to producer David O. Selznick. Selznick intended Rebecca to rival his previous film, the award-laden Gone With the Wind (1939). The two men had a contentious collaboration on Rebecca but ultimately produced a critical and commercial success that was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won two: Best Picture and Best B&W Cinematography.

Rebecca is a favorite of mine, and here are a few reasons why...

A strong sense of atmosphere that underscores the story's gothic quality and mood of vague but insistent foreboding. Manderley, where much of the action occurs, conveys a cavernous and chilly ambiance of inhospitable elegance.

Multi-layered characters, evocative performances. Joan Fontaine is palpably anxious and apprehensive as the second Mrs. de Winter. She doesn't miss a beat and, late in the film, smoothly portrays the young woman's transition as she gains poise and confidence. Laurence Olivier's Maxim de Winter is guilt-riddled, highly strung and volatile...with aristocratic charm. Judith Anderson creates one of Hitchcock's and the screen's great villains as the unbalanced and eventually dangerous Mrs. Danvers. George Sanders as Jack Favell and Florence Bates as Mrs. Van Hopper both play unsavory types, but with comic overtones. Favell is an oily bounder, but a witty one. Van Hopper is insufferably demanding and grandiose - and more than slightly ridiculous.

A final note...Hitchcock reportedly edited "in camera" to prevent Selznick from re-editing his work. Rebecca strikes me as classic Hitchcock with the Selznick treatment: top-notch cast, the finest writers and technicians - and a big budget that shows.

Those are some of my thoughts...but what do you think? What are your opinions, observations and comments...and, if you've read Daphne du Maurier's novel, how would you compare the film to the book?


  1. Hmmm..there's some reason I just love Rebecca. Let's see -- fabulous movie, Hitchcock, score, Olivier, George Sanders, crazy Mrs. Danvers, fabulous cinematography and sets.......Oh, I know, it's because I was named after the book. I don't think my Mom actually wanted me to be LIKE Rebecca, but the second wife didn't have a name anyway. Loved this post.

  2. Becky, I sometimes think there is something not right with you. LOL!

  3. The truth is I simply adore Hitchcock's movies as well as DuMaurier's books ("My Cousin Rachel" is another piece of her I recommend for those who liked "Rebecca"). I know Vivien Leigh wanted to play the second Mrs. De Winter, however, she failed during the screen test. I remember her in a wig looking not ok for the part, I guess. I read she was told she would be a perfect Rebecca has she ever appeared in the book. I agree with this. Vivien would be terrific if the character would be something more than a remembered nightmare and secret. Nevertheless, I really liked this movie and I agree with the post's author - the acting was terrific.

    1. This is probably the strongest performance of Joan Fontaine's career.