Rebecca (1940) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. With Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson.
Based on a book by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca is a psychological drama-thriller directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock – the only one of his films to win a Best Picture Oscar. An aristocratic widower (Laurence Olivier) meets a naïve young woman (Joan Fontaine). They wed and attempt to settle down in Manderley, the sprawling country house he once shared with his late wife, Rebecca.
With his prowling cameras and deep focus photography, Hitchcock creates a thick sense of atmosphere and tension that pervades and builds throughout. It’s reported that Hitchcock told Joan Fontaine that everyone on the set hated her, hoping a sense of unease would bleed into her performance. Wherever it comes from, Fontaine carries the anxiety well as she struggles to fill the shoes of her husbands dead ex-wife.
Laurence Olivier portrays the brooding intensity of Maxim de Winter, keeping we the audience and his new wife at arms-length by behaving in an oddly coy manner about anything relating to his ex-wife. Naturally, this only feeds her curiosity. Contributing significantly to the sense of general edginess is the excellent Judith Anderson as the ghoulish Mrs Danvers, the scheming head housekeeper of Manderley. Through Hitchcock’s mastery and George Barnes’ photography, Mrs Danvers appears to glide the halls of the huge house, her attitude verging on covetous and her intentions clearly ill towards the new Mrs de Winter.
Although the running time clocks up a few more minutes than it ought to (130 in total), Hitchcock (in his first Hollywood film) expertly changes through the gears as the foreboding plot gradually unravels. From an unsettling introduction to the memorable final shot, the black and white photography serves to enhance an overall spookiness that makes Rebecca a morbidly engrossing experience. 4.5/5