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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on October 5, 2002
This review refers to the Anchor Bay DVD release of Rebecca.....

What do you get when you have a great work of literature by Daphne Du Maurier, combined with the cinematic skill of Director Alfred Hitchcock,combined with the extrordinary acting talents of Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders and Judith Anderson? You get pure perfection on film. Combined that with the technology to take a movie made 62 years ago and make a transfer to DVD that looks as if it was made yesterday, and you have 2hr and 10 minutes of movie heaven.
The story begins in the South of France where a young, introverted woman(Joan Fontaine) meets wealthy widowerMaxim de Winter(Olivier) His wife,Rebecca, had recently died in a drowning accident and often he seems to be pensive and far off. They fall in love, marry, and go back to his home, an estate called Manderly. She is overwhelmed by the palacial grandeur, the huge staff of servants but mainly by the very prim but chilling head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers(Judith Andersson). The first Mrs. De Winter still seems to have a presence in the household that Mrs. Danvers keeps alive.
To say anymore will be giving away too much of this hauntingly chilling love story/mystery.However I must talk about this DVD.
Although not the more expensive version with all the extras(don't look for any with this one) this one gave us a beautiful picture, and great sound. Everything was bright and clean I saw things I had never seen before, and I have watched this movie dozens of times. The sparkling of the sequins on a woman,s gown,
the way the sun shone and the rain fell. This is a great transfer of a great film(Academy Award best Picture 1940). I personally didn't need all the extras for this one, I just enjoyed the film. There is another version by criterion with lots of goodies if you are interested in that though.
Which ever version you choose-- Enjoy "Rebecca" and the splendor of Manderly--Laurie
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on July 11, 2002
This 2-disc set is full of fun stuff -- my favorite bits are Joan Fontaine's costume tests -- she's wearing an early version of the Manderly ballgown, and then, SURPRISE, SURPRISE! Scarlett O'Hara's wedding gown (to George Hamilton) and then the ruby-red velvet-sequined number Rhett tells Scarlett to wear to Ashley's birthday party ("Gone With The Wind" costumes). I can't imagine why Walter Plunkett let those gowns even be *considered* for any other movie, but I gather Selznick (who was apparently a control freak, probably why this movie is so perfect) was trying to come up with a good look for the costume worn by "I" to the Manderly ball (the final of which I always loved, from the moment I saw this movie as a kid -- kudos to Irene for costume design, that ballgown may not be a real "period piece," but it's just yummy all the same. Oh, the layers upon layers of tulle and organza in that skirt!! Too bad Maxim wasn't overjoyed with it!). Interviews with Fontaine (over the phone, can be a bit draggy, though): commentary that shed new light on the film even for me; original trailers and publicity photos, screen tests by Anne Baxter, Viv Leigh and a bunch of other hopefuls for the role are fun to watch, and, best of all, super-clear transcription of the movie. THRILLING! Do not deprive yourself of this double-disc set. Don't settle for the single disc, bonus-material-deprived version that's out there. I guarantee you that this one's a keeper. -- REVIEW WRITTEN BY THE BIGGEST COSTUME (AND HITCHCOCK FILM) FANATIC IN BOSTON, MA.
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on May 1, 2002
REBECCA is based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. This 1940 film, marked the first collaboration between Director Hitchcock., and Producer David Selznick. It tells the story of a woman, (Joan Fontaine) who has a whirlwind romance with a wealthy widower, Max De Winter (Laurence Oliver), the couple marry. Soon after, the second wife De Winter realizes that she must compete with Max's first wife, Rebecca Not only is she sure that Max is haunted by the memory of his first wife, she is also convinced that, she is being driven insane by images of her as well. This is more of a psycological drama then it is thriller. That being said, the film still has plenty of Hitchcock touches, and with the film fully restored...It has never looked better.
The crew at Criterion have put together another fine 2 disc set. There is a bunch of solid extras to enjoy. The most exciting for me were the audio intconversations between Hitchcock and French filmmaker Francois Truffaut about the film. There are 3 full-length radio dramas of REBECCA, incuding one, produced by Orson Wells in 1938. The set also includes rare archival footage of the stars and different screen tests, a comprensive still gallery, deleted scene script excerpts, and actual production and casting notes. The Commentary from Hitchcock author Leonard J.Leff is the next best thing to hearing from the late director himself. While REBECCA is not my favorite Hitchcock film, I think it holds up, and is a must for anyone who admires him.
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on December 27, 2001
Let me begin by strongly discouraging you from purchasing the cheaper Anchor Bay issue over this Criterion release. Next, while I think either Notorious or Rear Window is Hitchcock's greatest artistic and technical achievement, neither film has enchanted me quite as much as Rebecca. Rebecca was the first film Hitchcock made in Hollywood and the first product of his collaboration with Selznick. The film upon its release was among the director's most popular and critically successful pictures, winning an Oscar for Best Picture (the only significant Oscar ever awarded to a Hitchcock film, and even this one was given to Selznick, as producer). Nonetheless, in Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock the director is rather unenthusiastic about this picture (a sentiment which Truffaut does little to challenge). Admittedly, Rebecca feels more like a Hollywood picture than much of Hitchcock's later work, which is understandable, given that he had little experience with working in that environment at the time. Some of the criticisms leveled against Rebecca, all of which I would contend are unfair, include: the plot exposition is long and meandering, the conclusion is drawn out, and Olivier and Fontaine are poorly cast (the former, coming across as stiff, the latter as excessively meek). Nonetheless, what strikes one most about Rebecca is where it departs from the Hollywood model for the Gothic romance, most notably, in the thrilling ending. I have always been struck by the parallels between "Citizen Kane" and "Rebecca," (which are nowhere more glaring than in the image of the letter "R" in the final shot of both films).
The Criterion DVD issue is superb; do not waste your money on the Anchor Bay release (which I owned prior to this release). Even if you do not care for the overabundance of extras, the superiority of the transfer alone is reason enough. I also owned the Criterion laserdisc issue of "Rebecca," which is an outstanding transfer; however, this DVD surpasses even the laserdisc in video and audio quality. Besides, I do not mind paying the extra dollars for Criterion releases, given their commitment to outstanding digital transfers of classic films. Now if only Fox Lorber would have shown a similar committment to consistent quality in its Godard series. Also, unlike some companies that load their DVDs with both useless and carelessly engineered extras, Criterion, as is its track record, has assembled a list of extras that enhance one's understanding of the film. Besides two separate audio commentaries, among the other valuable resources include numerous screen tests (including Joan Fontaine's), feedback from audience test screenings, and examples of the different letter "R"s considered for the film. Once again, this is an all-around excellent DVD issue of an even more excellent film.
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