Release Date: 12 April, 1940
Oscar Ceremony: 27 February, 1941
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine
Another great movie! This project is finally starting to pay off and not feel like a waste of time. Rebecca is based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, master of Gothic literature and mystery, and is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, master of suspense. I had plenty of reasons to be excited for this match made in heaven, and I am happy to say that I was not disappointed. It’s just so addictively eery.
I don’t even care that it’s in black and white. It happens to contribute to the overall haunting mood. I remember reading that Hitchcock’s Psycho was intentionally shot in black and white to make it less scary to the viewers. I’m not sure if this was the case with Rebecca, but either way I find it to be an effective choice. Another great choice is the casting – I’m not a huge fan of Laurence Olivier but he really nails the role and plays it with great nuance. Joan Fontaine sometimes overdoes it, but everything she does seems fitting for her doe-eyed clumsy character. Fun facts related to my previous movie, Gone With the Wind: Laurence Olivier was Vivian Leigh’s lover at the time. They were both married, but eventually divorced their spouses in 1940 due to their love for each other. Fun fact number two, Joan Fontaine is actually Olivia de Havilland’s sister, but they didn’t really get along. Fontaine died three years ago and de Havilland is still alive at the age of 100. Good genes. Anyways, back to our current Best Picture winner, colour or black and white, it’s still a hit.
The story opens with an unnamed young woman (Joan Fontaine) visiting Monte Carlo as a paid companion for an older woman. What does one have to do to get this job? Getting paid to visit Monte Carlo? Sign me up. She eventually meets your typical tall dark stranger, the brooding widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Nature runs its course and Mr. de Winter ends up proposing to our unnamed protagonist, and she accepts. As a result, she agrees to return with him to Manderley, his country mansion. I’m starting to love this tradition of naming estates… first Tara in Gone With the Wind, now Manderley… Any suggestions for what I should name my 600 square feet apartment? I feel like it’s time. Anyways, it seems like everything that happens at Manderley still revolves around Mr. de Winter’s deceased wife, Rebecca. In fact, Rebecca’s initials are still printed on most objects in the house and everyone keeps talking about her and praising her. How on earth is the new Mrs. de Winter supposed to live up to that? People, including Maxim, clearly aren’t over Rebecca’s death, and the new Mrs. de Winter has to find a way to carve her place in this strange world that she’s just committed herself to.
Throughout the movie, we can sense that something is wrong and that there might be secrets that we, along with the new Mrs. de Winter, are not a part of. Here are my top three red flags:
1. The film’s title
Lots of movies and books are often named after their protagonist. Most people might assume that this is the case with Rebecca. However, a few minutes into the movie, it is revealed that Rebecca died drowning and we never actually see her. In short, the movie is named after a dead woman. If you don’t see anything wrong with that then I don’t know what to tell you.
The new Mrs. de Winter is going to live at Manderley with her new husband. Here is a shot of the estate:
It’s every girl’s dream! I don’t know about you, but I’d think twice before agreeing to live here. Seriously Mrs. de Winter, can’t you take a hint? In what world does this look like a happily-ever-after home?
3. Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper
Tell me, does this look like a sane woman whose company you would enjoy?
She keeps Rebecca’s old bedroom intact like a shrine, can’t stop obsessing over her to the new Mrs. de Winter, and frankly, I don’t think I saw her smile once. At some point in the movie she actually tried to convince the new Mrs. de Winter to kill herself because she has nothing to live for.
On top of all this, Mr. de Winter himself doesn’t seem too warm either. Everyone in the house is just really strange, and I do not mean that in a good whimsical You Can’t Take It With You way. It’s brilliant though, because it builds up the suspense nice and slowly. Who exactly was Rebecca and what actually happened to her? You’ll have to watch to find out.