Daphne du Maurier used this phrase to speak of both of her most famous novels, REBECCA and MY COUSIN RACHEL, which have frequently been compared. They both feature Cornish seaside ancestral homes, and they both explore confusing erotic triangles involving the dead and the living. Fittingly, both novels were turned into great Hollywood Gothic films; though the film of REBECCA is one of the most famous of all films from Hollywood's Golden Age, MY COUSIN RACHEL is far less well known today, although it is as powerful and may even be as great. Like REBECCA, it also features an unforgettable score by Franz Waxman (which can be beautifully isolated on this Twilight Time limited edition DVD), and great costumes, set design, and especially cinematography. The parallels seem to have struck the studio too, since Twentieth-Century Fox cast Olivia de Havilland, the sister of Joan Fontaine (the lead in Paramount's REBECCA), in the title role, and in the male lead, instead of Laurence Olivier (the Max de Winter of the 1940 Hitchcock film), Richard Burton, who in his debut film performance here very much recalls Olivier.
Why the film is not better known today is hard to say, and may have something to do with its setting in the very early Victorian period: certainly this was not the most attractive era for women's fashions, and De Havilland's hairstyle in her early scenes (in braids coiled round her ears, like Princess Leia) could not flatter anyone. But when her hair is brought down later in the film she shows herself as still one of the greatest beauties of Hollywood's Golden Age, and her intensity and fine Method training in the Forties serve her in excellent stead too. Originally Fox was said to have wanted Vivien Leigh for the role of Rachel Sangeletti, and though she certainly would have given a more carnal performance than De Havilland (whose exquisite diction is perhaps not put to its best use as the sensual Rachel), she could not have played the role with more intelligence--always De Havilland's best asset as a mature actress. As Philip, the nephew of Rachel's first husband (and like the elder man Rachel's cousin), Burton sometimes recalls Olivier's worst tendencies, such as his habit of speaking too quickly and loudly when he's angry, such that Burton's explosive scene in the church with Audrey Dalton is overdone. But he is here at his most beautiful, and he exhibits an almost palpable passion before De Havilland (reportedly the two did not get along, which may have given heat to their many scenes together).
The film's greatest asset, however is Nunnelly Johnson's relative fidelity to Du Maurier's beautifully constructed story. Was Rachel innocent, or was she guilty? MY COUSIN RACHEL is ambiguous in ways even REBECCA was not, and dares to suggest that this key question may ultimately unanswerable. Philip believes Rachel has murdered his cousin, but like his cousin becomes so besotted by her he cannot refuse her anything--his money, his family's jewels, even his own hand in marriage... which the wily Rachel is of course far too canny to accept. Twilight Time made only 3000 copies of this DVD edition, and it is absolutely worth buying. This is one of the forgotten treasures of the Hollywood studio era.