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
This is a great movie, and very impressive as Hitchcock’s Hollywood debut. I’ve been menacing to watch this again since I read Bag of Bones by Stephen King because hr references it quite a bit. Great review!
Thank you very much Mel. With the tidal wave of new releases we’re constantly faced with, I’m often guilty of overlooking older films. I’m always glad when I’ve made the effort to go back in time and check them out though. This one was well worth the trip. I’ll be interested to read what you make of it, if you decide to write a review.
One of my favorite Hitchcock films
I can see why it might top a few ‘best of’ lists. Great stuff.
This is a GREAT film! A wonderful review, as always Gareth!
Thank you. Anything by Hitchcock seems to effortlessly hold my attention.
What a great review; and it’s such a classic. I can’t believe Hitchcock never got more Oscar notoriety – geniuses are never understood in their own time. >: (
Thank you very much my friend. It’s with a certain amount of self-consciousness that I approach writing a review for something this ingrained into movie history.
It always baffles me that this was the only one of Hitchcock’s films to win Best Picture – but it is a brilliant film, and the way he builds up the atmosphere is superb. Does full justice to du Maurier’s book.
It’s hard to see how he could be so blatantly overlooked. His film stand so far apart from so many movies released even today. A true master, I have never had the pleasure of reading the book, so it’s great to hear from someone who can verify that it lives-up to it.
Great review Gareth, this is another Hitchcock film I’m yet to see but plan to get around to eventually (even more so after reading this)!
Thank you my friend. I’m shamefully behind on Hitchcock films (I’ve only seen five in total), and am trying to catch-up at a steady pace, so I can fully digest them.
I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of Rebecca – I imagine it creeped the hell out of audiences back in 1940.
Yeah really do have to see this. Have you seen Strangers on a Train or Marnie? Probably not as well known as the likes of Psycho, the Birds and Vertigo but I can definitely recommend them.
I’m yet to see both of those, but I did screen To Catch A Thief earlier today. Nicely done, playful little caper.