on December 14, 2003
Note: Get the Criterion DVD before it is too late! (It's supposed to go out of print on the 31st of December, 2003). While Hitchcock's masterpiece is still stunning after all these years, the DVD I watched, published by Anchor Bay, is pretty weak; the Criterion Collection DVD of "Rebecca" has much more in the way of extras and special features, which is half the appeal of getting a classic on DVD.
Anchor Bay's DVD only has a chapter selection and "start" on the menu. Not even closed captioning, which makes this DVD inaccessible to older or deaf fans.
Still, even a weak DVD presentation can't take away from such a beautiful film. A TV presenter recently introduced "Rebecca", by saying that Joan Fontaine was too pretty to be believable in the role of a plain girl. Missing the point! "Rebecca" is a story from the point of view of a scared, insecure heroine who believes the worst of herself and is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like the heroine of "Northanger Abbey," perhaps the gothic atmosphere here is really created out of her hopes and fears - "Rashomon"-style where each person sees a different thing. The book "Venus in Spurs" has most of a chapter devoted to "Rebecca," and how much this film and book relate to women who struggle through insecurity, despite being loved. (To say more might ruin the movie for first-time viewers).
Fontaine is, of course, very good, as is Laurence Olivier, who has scarcely *ever* been more handsome and commanding. Among the strong supporting cast is George Saunders and Dame Judith Anderson. While Anderson's usually singled out in reviews and hindsight, her obsessive maid could hardly be that malevolent, if the audience didn't feel so sympathetic towards Fontaine's sweet, mild Mrs. de Winter. Really, Fontaine needed Anderson in this performance to really pull it off; and the reverse is equally true. I also think Florence Bates adds quite a bit here as the bitchy and bossy Mrs. Van Hopper, also providing a strong showing in another wonderful film, "A Letter to Three Wives," which, come to think of it, is also about wives and their suspicions of their husbands... and Bates' character sets up trouble for one of the "Letter" wives with her thoughtlessness in that picture, too.
on March 23, 2004
Joan Fontaine laments as she opens the film, obviously several years removed from her time at the lush, oversized estate, which recalls "Tara" from Gone With the Wind as a residence which is actually also a character in the movie. People remember the houses from these two films almost more than the characters. No coincidence that both films were produced by the ridiculously meticulous David O. Selznick. GWtW was of course the most popular film of all time, so Selznick figured he had the right idea about how to make a film. Details, right down to the last corner.
Alfred Hitchcock had made a career in London making films with complete autonomy. He basically called all the shots. When he got to America, he signed a four movie deal with Selznick. Rebecca is the first and best of the three. (no, not a mistake, I'll explain later) Rebecca was the only film by Hitchcock to win best picture from the Academy, although Hitch did not win best director. The film was basically a tug of war between producer and director. Selznick wanted the book followed religiously, Hitch wanted to take the basic idea of the book and add his own touches. Selznick wouldn't allow it, so Hitch was forced to make the film exactly by the book.
The film stars Fontaine as an unnamed young woman who while working as a paid companion for the unbearable Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates), she meets and falls in love with the brooding Maxim de Winter (Lawrence Olivier). They marry after a quick courtship and go "home" to Manderley, Olivier's mammoth estate. Fontaine is very young and has no idea what she is getting into, especially when it dawns on her that Olivier's late first wife, Rebecca, still dominates the house. Her stationery, napkins, and rituals are still present, and Fontaine feels she has no chance against this woman.
The other problem in the house is the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson),who creeps around the house, showing up at any time to frighten Fontaine. She is still obsessed with Rebecca, still keeps Rebecca's old room the same way, hairbrush at the correct angle on the vanity. She makes Fontaine feel she will never measure up, will never be a great lady of Manderley, something that Mrs. Van Hopper tried to tell her as well. Everyone and everything in the house revolves around this dead Rebecca, so much so that Fontaine almost can't live through it.
Rebecca never appears in the film, yet it is amazing how much of a character she is. When Fontaine tries to dress up for a ball, Danvers suggests a portrait on the wall which is supposed to be a long dead relative of Maxims. Of course, when Fontaine wears the dress, she realizes from Maxim's reaction that the woman and the dress were Rebecca and that she just reminded him of her.
Eventually the film goes into Rebecca's death in some detail. We never know for sure that we know all the details of the death, but it doesn't really matter. By the end of the movie, all the major characters in the film will have been changed. Some will have been destroyed forever.
Criterion has done a great job with this film, giving us a great transfer, as always, along with a superb commentary. The second disc features trailers, interviews with Fontaine and Anderson, making of featurettes, examples of Selznick's letters and his attention to detail, and how maddening it got for the master.
By the way, Selznick got three films out of Hitchcock. They were Rebecca, Spellbound, and The Paradine Case. Well, he really got four, but he gave one of them to RKO studios because he was unhappy with the story and he thought it would interest no one. What was the film Selznick gave away? It was Hitch's best film of all time in my opinion--Notorious. What a waste it would have been had Selznick been allowed to ruin Hitch's masterpiece.
on October 22, 2003
What distinguishes a true thriller from its more modest counterparts is that in the former a sense of eerie menace permeates throughout. Director Alfred Hitchcock, in his debut as a Hollywood director, began the first in a long line of effective character-driven dramas in which the protagonist must struggle through a maze of conflicting levels of reported truths before hitting the one that rings true. With REBECCA, Hitchcock takes the novel by Daphne Du Maurier in which a second wife must contend with the suffocating presence of the late first wife. What stamps REBECCA as a timeless film that explores the degree to which tormented minds hold onto the past even at the cost of the loss of the present is the seamless melding of mood to plot. The dark and brooding English landscape ought to have been listed in the actors' credits, so thoroughly does it impact on the audience. The magnificent mansion of Manderly is situated on a moor that seems right out of WUTHERING HEIGHTS--no surprise there since Lawrence Olivier, who played Heathcliffe, now is Maxim de Winter, a soul who is as every bit as troubled and moody as the demented hero of Emily Bronte's novel. Maxim has recently lost his wife Rebecca to drowning, a loss that occurred before the first reel. Enter Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter, a shy and insecure woman who is overwhelmed by the constant and heavy reminder that as far as the de Winters are concerned, she may have the name of de Winter, but not the grace to carry it. Maxim has a housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), who is exactly the menace-laden harpy that was to occupy so many of Hitchcock's future films. Mrs.Danvers is polite enough but her expressionless face and monotone voice nevertheless convey her stark disapproval of her master's new wife. Most of the first half is a character study of these three. It is almost as if Hitchcock is directing a cinematic race to see who will triumph first: Maxim, who will divest himself of the stultifying memories of his late first wife; the new Mrs. de Winter, who will settle comfortably into her new role as mistress of Manderly mansion; or the tightly-wound Mrs. Danvers, who seeks only to drive out her new mistress as a low creature unworthy to bear the name of De Winter.
Part of the joy of immersing oneself into the lives of the de Winters is to see how the supporting cast enriches the film with surprisingly effective stints that resonate even when they are off screen. George Sanders hits just the right caddish note as the former lover of the first Mrs. De Winter. Sanders has made a career of playing the erudite but roguish gentlemen who is a gentleman in verbal repartee only. Veteran character actor C. Aubrey Smith is policeman Colonel Julyan, who seeks to solve the unexplained demise of Rebecca De Winter. His presence lends the film the unmistakable aura of the dogged British cop who will follow any lead, regardless of where it may lead. It would be too simple to say that REBECCA belongs to the titular lead, Sir Lawrence Olivier, who truly is stunning as a wealthy but moody lord who has to overcome his own inner demons before he can relate to his new wife. What marks REBECCA as the masterpiece that it is is the unfolding at just the right moments of plot advances that always seem to fit seamlessly into the fabric. REBECCA was a justly honored winner for Best Picture of 1940.
on July 23, 2003
This is story of a naive young woman (played by Joan Fontaine) traveling in Monte Carlo as the companion to an older woman. In the dining room of the hotel, she meets the brooding Maxim de Winter (Sir Laurence Olivier), who is taking some time off after the apparent suicide of his wife. He takes a fancy to her and after a whirlwind romance, they wed.
After a long honeymoon, they return to Maxim's family estate, Manderley. Almost immediately, the second Mrs. de Winters begins to feel her inadequacy. She thinks the staff look down on her as a common girl, which is further re-inforced by the contemptuous looks from the first Mrs. de Winters' personal maid, Mrs. Danvers. And, then there is the presence of Rebecca -- the first Mrs. de Winters. She seems to be everywhere, and the new Mrs. de Winters constantly feels that she needs to live up to her popularity with the staff and the people of the town.
Through a series of disastrous events, the second Mrs. de Winters learns the truth about Rebecca's death and in the process grows into a stronger person.
Hitchcock's first American film is a fantastic adaptation of the Daphne DuMarier novel. With a great screenplay and fine performances by the actors -- especially Judith Anderson as the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- this film deservedly one the Best Picture Oscar. The DVD also contains many extras, such as radio plays of the novel and featurettes which enhance the entire experience of the movie. A true movie classic.
on June 30, 2003
If you love this movie, or love learning about the history of movies, the Criterion Collection version of "Rebecca" is money well-spent. It is a treasure trove of information about the film. I haven't had time yet to listen to the commentary, but I did go through some of the screen tests of the different actresses and correspondence regarding the casting of the role of the main character "I" (she doesn't have a name). For someone like myself who is unfamiliar with the movie business, it is amazing to see what a painstaking process this must have been. Also, seeing a 16-year-old Anne Baxter as "I" after recently seeing "All About Eve" (1950) is somehow amazing. She was actually quite good.
The transfer is pristine, not at all grainy, though a just a little blurry (I'm not sure if this is the analog filters on my TV or the DVD itself). The picture is not too bright, and the grays look wonderfully rich. A marvelous addition to a classics-lover's collection.
on February 28, 2003
Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock's debut as an American director and the only one of his films to ever win a Best Picture Oscar. Creatively the relationship between Hitch' and producer David O. Selznick was a tumultuous one but it yielded some of the finest examples of suspense cinema Hollywood has ever known. PLOT: Rebecca is the story of a rich playboy who remarries after his first wife's mysterious death. Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, Hitch' was forced to change a key element in the original story in order to get the production past the censors. No, I can't tell you what that is. It would ruin the film for a first time audience. Suffice it to say, if you haven't seen this classic you should. It's a chilling suspense film that continues to hold its own.
Criterion has done a masterful job on the transfer. However, I'd really like someone at Criterion to explain why an alternative main title sequence was used in the remastering of this disc. The original release of Rebecca through Anchor Bay Home Video retained the title sequence that audiences saw back in 1940. It also was a heck of a lot cheaper than Criterion's new version, though Anchor Bay's version is also out of print, unfortunately. In comparing the two transfers, they appear, other than the main title sequence, to be virtually identical. Black and white contrast is superb and the original mono tracks have been nicely restored. Criterion offers a "musical score only" track that I was really looking forward to until I realized that some of the tracks included herein were substitutions. That and the main title sequence substitution are two major sticking points with me since Criterion is usually a company that prides itself on "doing things right" and charging the customer royally for the priviledge. Also included: the Lux Radio broadcast of the film and a theatrical trailer and that's about it. No making of documentary which is a real disappointment. The detailed booklet included explains the film's production nicely. Still, a documentary would have been nicer. Overall, I wouldn't spend the extra money on Criterion's version if the option of finding Anchor Bay's original release in a used bin at my local video retailer became an viable option. Regardless, Rebecca is definitely a masterpiece, a great work of suspense and a brilliant addition to any DVD collection.
on January 30, 2003
A haunting masterpiece by Alfred Hitchcock begins on a cliff over the Mediterranean near Monte Carlo. A man is uncomfortably close to the edge of the cliff and close to falling when a young woman (Joan Fontaine) yells, "No! Stop!". On a later occasion these two cross each others path again and they begin to spend more time together. The young woman is suppose to work for an older lady as a friend for hire; however, she has taken ill and the young lady is presented with more opportunity to spend time with the man whose name is George Fortescu Maximillian de Winter (Laurence Olivier), also known as Max. During the young woman's time in Monte Carlo she finds out from her benefactor that Max has recently lost his wife Rebecca in a drowning accident. On the day when her boss is about to go back the United States the young woman becomes panicky that she will not see Max again. Thus, she seeks him out, finds him, and he proposes to her. She becomes the new Mrs. de Winter. However, as she arrives at Max's estate, Manderley in Cornwall, England, she finds herself still living in the shadow of the departed Rebecca. Everything in Manderley reminds everyone of Rebecca and the new Mrs. de Winter begins to feel the ghost of Rebecca being near her. Rebecca is a brilliant film where Hitchcock triggers thoughts and feelings of suspense and suspicion through breathtaking cinematography, stunning sound, and meticulous detailed mise-en-scène. The film is based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, who also grew up in Cornwall. This story is a remarkably well adapted for film, since it can get anyone to feel the anxiety of the new Mrs. de Winter as she lives in Manderley. When the audience exhales, they will have received some two hours of suspense and careful character development that leaves them with a excellent film experience.
on January 25, 2003
From the famous opening line "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.." any fan of Daphne Du Maurier's book of the same name will be satisfied with this story of an incredibly naive,silly and nameless young woman who meets the dark and mysterious Max DeWinter in the South of France and marries him in a flash, not realising that his life is haunted by Rebecca, the beautiful drowned first wife of incomparable beauty and talent.
The movie follows the book faithfully, (except for the cause of Rebecca's death, presumably for audience sympathy to Max)recreating the gloomy atmosphere of Manderly, the ancestral seat, the insanely loyal retainer Mrs Danvers (great performance and casting to perfection)the bumbling Colonel Juylan, and the smarmy blackmailing Favell.
But kudos go to Joan Fontain as Mrs Nameless DeWinter the Second:is such silly simplicity possible in a grown woman? She plays the part of the witless besotted wifey perfectly for that time and setting, whereas the never seen, ever maligned, gutsy independent but very dead Rebecca is my true heroine! Great for anyone who loves atmospheric black and white suspense.A must for Hitchcock fans.
on January 7, 2003
"Rebecca' would easily rate in my top ten of the best films ever to come out of Hollywood's golden age. Rarely have I seen a film that reeks perfection in every department that was responsible for realising the final product. A stunning American film directing debut for Alfred Hitchcock, perfect casting of both leads and supporting cast, a famous and totally compelling novel as a basis for the story, superb sets and atmosphere, all combine beautifully to make "Rebecca" the unforgettable classic that it is, cherished by generations of adoring movie goers.
Adapted from the famous novel by Daphne du Maurier, David O. Selznick tackled this as his first major project after the mammoth production of "Gone With The Wind". Like that movie classic "Rebecca" was not an easy film to make with constant difficulties with the casting, relations between Producer and Director and ongoing tension between the two leads, however none of this shows in the final product and it seems that so often out of movie production mayhem comes unforgettable work of the highest quality. Indeed high quality is the best way to describe "Rebecca". Rewarded with the 1940 Academy Award for Best Film it won a number of other nominations and I still feel strongly that Joan Fontaine should have won Best Actress for her portrayal of the shy and insecure young bride of Cornwall landowner Maxim de Winter who finds herself as the lady of the manor living in the shadow of his deceased first wife the mysterious Rebecca. All the acting roles are flawless in their casting and performance. Sir Laurence Olivier never a favourite actor of mine, is never better than here as the tortured widower who cannot seem to exorcise his first wife's memory from his life. Joan Fontaine is nothing short of brilliant as the nameless second wife who must not only adjust to life at the hauntingly beautiful Manderley estate but also contend with the ghost of Rebecca and worse still the strong disapproval of the unforgettable Mrs. Danvers who runs the house and maintains everything as Rebecca had it. Indeed it was a stroke of genius in not providing Fontaine's character with a name as it further emphasises her completely living within the shadow of Rebecca and the life she led. Dame Judith Anderson perhaps has the most famous role in the whole film as the sinister and totally frightening Mrs Danvers. Hers is a memorable performance filled with hatred, disapproval and sinister goings on and she makes a compelling presence in the story. Her stern expressionless face in her long black gown silently walking the corridors of Manderley is an image that always stays in my mind and it combines perfectly with the almost Gothic atmosphere provided in the story. One of my favourite actors George Sanders also appears as the scoundrel Jack Favell a cousin of Rebecca's, who sees an opportunity to enrich himself at Maxim's expenses when the full story about Rebecca's demise is made public. He is equal parts cynical rogue and witty observer of others failings with few redeeming qualities of his own, in short a perfect George Sanders type part and he has also been never better. The gifted character actress Florence Bates had probably her most famous role in "Rebecca" in the film's first section as the aggressive social climber Edythe Van Hopper who travels to Monte Carlo with Joan Fontaine's character as a hired travelling companion. Her scenes while filled with venom also contain the few moments of humour in the story. Who could ever forget her butting out her cigarette in the pot of cold cream!! She makes a wonderful impression playing the overpowering and bossy American dowager who is not aware of the whirlwind romance between Mr. du Winter and her shy and awkward charge..
The suspense story of "Rebecca" concerns the resurfacing of the mystery surrounding the boating accident that supposedly claimed the life of the first Mrs. de Winter. I wont go into detail concerning this so as not to spoil the suspense for those seeing the film for the first time. The beauty of this film is that also we never get to actually see what the famous Rebecca looks like, only brief descriptions of her social grace, lovely dark hair and extreme wit and indeed cruelty. Originally a prologue was to be inserted with Rebecca portrayed in it however it was rightly decided to scrap that idea to maintain the mystery by having the audience picturing Rebecca in their own minds as the story unfolds.
Visually "Rebecca" is full of rich images fully exploited by Hitchcock and the sombre Gothic tones of the story are seen in the forbidding old estate of Manderley, with its great rooms, sweeping driveway and proximity to the pounding waves of the ocean and in particular with the mysterious beach house once used by Rebecca for her romantic trysts. All this adds up to one of the most atmospheric of motion pictures and combined with the haunting and at times quite disturbing musical score really creates the right feel for a superb suspense tale of the first order.
I strongly recommend "Rebecca" to you as an excellent example of filmmaking at its very best. Certainly it is in the top five of Alfred Hitchcock's directing efforts. The original novel is also well worth reading and contains other interesting facets to this riverting story not included in the film. However "Rebecca" is a viewing experience to cherish forever. I never tire of it and regard it as a suspence masterpiece and one of the greatest films to come out of the golden years of Hollywood film making. Enjoy!
on January 3, 2003
"Rebecca," the first American film for director Alfred Hitchcock and the first film produced by David O. Selznick after "Gone With the Wind," is a beautiful, well-acted masterpiece. It was the only film of Hitchcock's to win a Best Picture Oscar. Based upon Daphne du Maurier's novel, the film is about Maxim de Winter and his new wife returning to Manderley, a mansion still filled with hints and the condemning presence of Maxim's first wife. The plot twists are startling. The villianous Mrs. Danvers, played by Judith Anderson, is particularly creepy. The Criterion DVD makes the film itself look grand.
But the reason this is one of my favorite DVD packages ever is the second disc, filled with extras. It's the only supplemental disc I've devoted hours to studying. It features loads upon loads of angry memos from Selznick to Hitchcock that detail just how difficult it was to bring "Rebecca" to the screen.
The second disc, which makes this DVD a must-have, gives the viewer a glimpse into film history, for things were not going well for Hitchcock on the set of his first American film. Selznick, who wanted the film to be as faithful as possible to the book, ordered multiple rewrites on Hitch's first treatment and questioned his judgment on hundreds of key decisions. His two leads, Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, were not getting along. Fontaine's part had been incredibly difficult to cast, which you can tell because the disc features screen tests from all sorts of actresses, including scenes from a 16-year-old Anne Baxter and an overacting Vivien Leigh.
I enjoyed this disc because it reminded me that Hitch was once just a novice trying to prove himself, that sometimes a film producer does have the audience in mind when making a film and, primarily, that film is a collaborative art in which all sorts of on-set conflicts can create a classic.
If you're a Hitchcock fan, get this right away.