|"I say, marriage with Max is not exactly a bed of roses, is it?"|
|Time: 133 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Picture.
REBECCA was one of Hitchcock's first American films where he collaborated with the powerful producer David O. Selznick. Both being perfectionists who thought that they were the pre-eminent filmmaker, it was not a pleasant experience. One would never know that from the final product. Adapted from the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, REBECCA is a powerful story about true love and dark betrayal. It begins happily enough, like most Hitchcock films, but soon descends into fear, anger, and murder. This is a psychological thriller, where the truth is always right around the corner and each discovery is worse than the last. Olivier and Fontaine have wonderful chemistry as newfound lovers trying to forge a future in spite of the past. Above all REBECCA is a romance, however, we all know the path to true love is never smooth, especially with Hitchcock behind the camera.
The film begins with the unusual courtship of a young, simple British woman (Fontaine) and a wealthy, sophisticated older gentleman named Max de Winter (Olivier). They meet and fall in love in Monte Carlo. She's there as a secretary to an obnoxious elderly American woman, who believes her money will gain her entrance to high society. He's there to forget his past, his previous life at Manderley, his mansion by the sea where his beautiful, worldly wife Rebecca drowned. The girl can't understand what he sees in her. Lucky for her, she's exactly what he's looking for. When she is suddenly called to America with her employer, he asks her to marry him. She doesn't initially believe him, but is soon reassured that he loves her and wants to bring her back to Manderley. The new Mrs. de Winter (she's never given a first name) is overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the estate. Though most of the servants accept her immediately, it's apparent from the start that the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Anderson), is highly displeased by her presence. She had a special relationship with Rebecca and makes it quite clear that Max has never gotten over her death and that she will never be as deeply loved as the first Mrs. de Winter.
It doesn't take long for her to begin to believe it. Whenever she mentions Rebecca, Max either gets quiet or angry. With the help of Mrs. Danvers, she gets it into her head that Max will never love her as passionately and that it would be better for all involved if she just left. However before she leaves, she discovers the reasons behind Max's moods about Rebecca and it's not at all what she was led to believe. When Rebecca's boat is discovered with her body still inside it, Max is implicated in her death. This new challenge to their relationship only strengthens their love for each other. They are determined to put the ghost of Rebecca behind them once and for all. It becomes easier said than done, since there are a number of people who want Max to pay for Rebecca's death. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Rebecca was not the person everyone believed her to be. Though in the end Max and his new wife pay for their love, they still wind up in each others arms.
It's the performances in this film that elevates it from the usual melodrama. Olivier is perfect as the sexy, elegant, brooding Max de Winter. There's no way the pretty, naive, trusting 2nd Mrs. de Winter could have resisted him. Fontaine plays her well, giving her a simple, loving demeanor with a backbone of steel. Mrs. Danvers may not want her around, but she's not about to give up the best thing that ever happened to her. Judith Anderson is wonderfully evil as the devoted, crazy Mrs. Danvers. No one can take her first mistress's place, especially not a simple young girl like the new Mrs. de Winter. If it had been me, she would have been gone before my head hit the pillow my first night there.
This film won several Oscars because of it's brilliant cast, great direction and editing and interesting story. Every scene pulls you deeper and deeper into this twisted tale. You just can't stop watching and waiting for the next layer to be pulled back and some new horror to be revealed. It's storytelling at it's best. That being said it does have its hokey moments, but hey, it's over 60 years old so that's to be somewhat expected. REBECCA may not have been one of Hitchcock's favorites, but it sure is one of mine.