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 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
on May 24, 2001
This is tied as my favorite romantic film noir-with Jane Eyre(starring Welles and Fontaine). The story is one of mystery. And I will not give a hint of the plot. But you have to see it. But the set up is simple. Man remarries and finds a niave young bride. But the groom vant seem to get over his dead wife. But that's where the fun starts. The acting is top notch, Olivier is at his best charming and high-cheek boned as ever, Fonatine using every facial muscle she has to convey her pain but ultimately it's JUDITH ANDERSON who rocks!! ... she is cold hearted in this film and you believe every minute of her. But Fontaine does her magic too! And let it be known that to draw that performance out of her Hitchcock told her the first day on the set that all the actors hated her guts and vice versa. This led to complete paranoia by everone and it's brilliant to witness on film. And the opening lines is movie history at it's best. Watch it love it and be shocked at what you will learn. Oh and it won Hitchcock's only best picture oscar! Well deserved over all his other movies in my opinion.
on March 13, 2001
Rebecca ranks as my third favorite Hitchcock film (just behind The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo). I remember when this film first came out and there was a buzz of anticipation to see this film (I'm really showing my age here). Obviously Alfred Hitchcock was a blip on the radar screen in regards to popularity (no one knew who he was), but David O. Selznick was a household name and a world acclaimed producer.
Looking back in retrospect, I truly believe this film was the launching point of Hitchcock's career. He went on to have one of the most glorious careers in Hollywood history. Although he never won an Academy Award Oscar and to my knowledge was never even nominated for the Best Director award; Hitchcock showed that he truly belonged in the top echelon of directors. Especially in his golden era: circa 1951 to 1959.
I remember vividly it was a very big deal to see his motion pictures in the mid 1950's. People would evoke his name with quality filmmaking and very well made motion picture productions.
It's ironic that the only motion picture of his, to my recollection, that was ever nominated for the Best Picture Award from the Academy actually won the award in 1940. This was due to Selznick's influence in the industry not the quality of the motion picture itself; and this is an important bit of information to know. The Academy disdained Alfred Hitchcock and Hitchcock films in general, but in 1940, again Hitchcock was a blip on the radar screen.
The reason why he lost with Rebecca was they didn't want to give the award to an Englishman. In particular an Englishman with Welsh roots (John Ford won best director in 1940). It was a long-standing tradition at that time that absolutely no foreigners were ever allowed to win any Major category Oscars. This film would have easily been overlooked and past over by the Academy in 1940 if not for Selznick.
Back to the film. It's a torrent of emotional and psychological warfare. Olivier, Fontaine, and the villainous Judith Anderson were a primer of things to come later in Hitchcock films. This film has all the Hitchcock elements in place, but with only one thing missing...The producer decided to go the straight route and contain Hitchcock's element of unnerving suspense, his uncanny sense of the absurd, supreme visual storytelling techniques and most importantly, his dry, sarcastic, cunning sense of humor. The straightforward effect works here and there is plenty of mystery and most important a developed triangle of interesting characters. This film really plays as a modern day "Cinderella" and there is no doubt that the acting is the glue that holds this motion picture together. I really liked watching the relationship with the Fontaine and Anderson characters develop. There is a profound and deeply disturbing rhythm to it.
So here's to the most unique collaboration I can think of in Hitchcock's career. Again, a very contained Hitchcock...
The pacing of the story, the majestic sets, and the broad "big time" movie theatrics are all pure David Selznick. The sinister evil antagonist, the three dimensional portrait of the protagonist with all of it's complex angst and guilt ridden characterization, and the surprise plot twists are pure Hitchcock.
One last very important note...Orson Welle's Citizen Kane was made one year AFTER Rebecca in 1941. You will notice a very strong influence of Rebecca in Citizen Kane. A lot of people are uninformed about the originality of Citizen Kane...Most of the films glamour shots of sweeping cranes movements, close-ups, extreme depth of field, and extreme low and high angles, were not that original at all. Take it from someone coming from that era. These shots were performed before.
The Academy did get one thing right in 1941. It did not award Citizen Kane (very poorly constructed cheesy story) with Best Picture or Welle's with Best Director. That's justice and well deserved for a mediocre movie at best. The Academy made a very smart decision there. There are, after all, a lot of things in life that are fair and just!
on July 19, 2000
Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock's first American film, is a classic suspense thriller and his only film to win an oscar for Best Picture. It is a haunting story about a young woman (Joan Fontaine) who marries a rich widower (Laurence Olivier) and who begins to learn dark secrets about his first wife, Rebecca. I liken the tone of the film to that of Vertigo, which is probably my favorite Hitchcock film. The story has an almost supernatural, gothic feel to it, and one almost expects a ghost to appear. It is a chilling story that works very effectively and is a good demonstration of why Hitchcock is considered one of the greatest suspense-thriller directors ever.
The performances are quite good. Olivier's character is like a caged animal, and one can practically feel his frustration boiling under his cool exterior. Fontaine plays her usual mousy screen persona, which is very effective at portraying the uncertainty and low confidence of the young wife. And the character of the maid....brrr. Very chilling.
Those who have seen this movie before will enjoy the DVD. The transfer is quite good, and the film shows only a few minor signs here or there of its age. The image is a tad bit soft but nothing that distracts in any way from the movie. Sound, of course, is monophonic. My only real complaint about the DVD is that it is quite bare-bones. It is just the movie and nothing else. Still, this movie is a worthy addition to any collection and is a strong testament to how "they used to make 'em."
on July 14, 2000
A sumptuous film version of Daphne du Maurier's Gothic suspense novel. Brilliant direction by Alfred Hitchcock (his first American-made feature), dazzling cinematography by Oscar-winner George Barnes, and splendid art direction by Lyle Wheeler underscore impeccable performances by the entire cast. Laurence Olivier is excellent as the enigmatic Maxim, whose brooding ambivalance masks a dark secret; Joan Fontaine hits all the right notes as the confused and insecure Second Mrs. de Winter; and Judith Anderson (made up very much like Gloria Holden in Universal's "Dracula's Daughter") is chillingly repellant as the malevolent housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. These three Oscar nominees are ably abetted by George Sanders playing Rebecca's cad of a cousin, and Florence Bates as the vitriolic social butterfly Edyth Van Hopper. In what must have been an incredibly close race, this film beat out 20th Century-Fox's landmark "The Grapes of Wrath" for the 1940 Best Picture Oscar.
The Anchor Bay DVD offers a fine video transfer of this classic mystery. The picture is sharp and clear with excellent contrast throughout, and the soundtrack is clean and crisp. Although the package doesn't mention it, the DVD does offer Chapter Search (always a welcome plus). There aren't any bonus materials like theatrical trailers, cast biographies, photo galleries, etc., but this is still a worthy edition of a genuine film classic.
on May 26, 2000
This is a classic suspense movie. You have the frail Mrs. DeWinter in constant battle against the chilly Mrs. Danvers climaxing in a haunting scene in which Danvers nearly coaxes DeWinter into sucide. There is the ever present, thought oftem cryptic, memory of Maxim's first wife, the title character. The movie has a nice flow, wonderful perfomances and direction, and, of course, great atmosphere. There are, however, two flaws. One is the screenplay, which was based religiously on the original novel. The problem is, there are times when it doesn't quite work because they had to cut corners and condense scenes together usually unconvincingly. The diologue itself was a little trite and often sounded written (as opposed to sounding like actual everyday conversation). The other problem is the fact that the movie was in black and white. Though this wa most likely done for money reasons, it really needed to be in color. In the book, Manderley was filled with bright flowers and colors in general. Seeing Manderley in black and white wsa a little underwhelming based on what I excpected from the book. However, this sin is easily forgivable, and the screenplay can be forgivin because it still preserves the great story, and the performances are good enough to make the script sound better.
on January 4, 2000
There are not many films that can equal this one. In fact, at the moment I can think of none. I first saw this as a teenager on cable, and even on a lowly 19" box, this movie was absolutely captivating. I can only imagine what seeing it on a big screen when it was first released might have been like. Anyone who has done so would surely remember it to this day if they are still around.
The performances are all first-rate (I would use the word 'perfection', but it would be easy to over-use that word here, so I'll try to use others). Just thinking of the characterizations brings back the forcefulness with which they are all delivered from the very finest of casts.
This is my favorite Hitchcock film by far. I love all his work, but this one stands out to me as nothing less than a masterpiece of darkness. The scene with Judith Anderson among the flames comes back vividly into my mind just as clearly as if I was watching it now.
The sets are all masterfully rendered, and can cause a person to easily believe they are right there. To get caught up in the flow of events comes naturally and the movie is over before you know it. I would advise you to see this movie with no distractions, but that's really not necessary. If anything can distract you while you're watching this, I'll be very surprised.
Even as a teenager, I appreciated this film. I didn't know why exactly, but when it was over, I sat back on the sofa and said "Wow". It still has the same impact 20 years later, in spades.
on December 4, 1999
A bleak old manor of the rocky coast of Cornwall fired the imagination of Daphne DuMaurier. Against the gloomy pile of stones, she concocted an ingenious melodrama, filled with inscrutable characters, lit with somber romance suggestive of the 19th century Bronte sisters. Though told in the first person by a girl whose name is never given, its real heroine is flaming, sinister character of Rebecca, who, long after her death, dominates the lives of those she touched, turns their happiness into bitter sorrow. When David O. Selznick purchased the tale for a mere $50,000, and recruited Alfred Hitchcock from England to direct his first American film. Curiously enough, the character of Rebecca never appears and the high drama surrounding her strange death is never shown, but rather only talked about. Hitchcock directed with brilliant detail plus a subtle evocation of mood; Hitchcock once remarked that a screen story of a man's conscience can be "extremely photogenic". REBECCA was a great hit with the public when it was first released in 1940. Sixty years later it's still a fantastic treat and clearly better on DVD! This was Hitchcock's first Hollywood assignment; he collaborated with David O.Selznick (who spared no cost in production) and with all these ingredients it really couldn't miss and it didn't. Some feel Olivier's performance as Maxim de Winter is less than inspired but Joan Fontaine's performance made her a star. Florence Bates is terrificly believable as the vulgar Mrs. Van Hopper and Judith Anderson is in her element as Mrs. Danvers (although I think her lines are a mite too sinister and melodramatic at times). Manderley is also visited by such folks as George Sanders (as a cad, natch) the always welcome Nigel Bruce and at the famous costume party (in a blonde viking wig) the great Gladys Cooper.
on August 17, 1999
Leave it to genius movie-maker, David O. Selznick, to be responsible for yet another classic which only gets better with time. (He did make that little film entitled "Gone with the Wind" and another one in l943, almost as good called "Since You Went Away").Everything in Rebecca, from the ravishing photography, lighting, outstanding acting, directing (from Alred Hithcock)only improve with age since its first release in l940--and for which it won Best Picture by the Academy Awards. Before I saw the movie on the late show in the fifties, I was obsessed with the book and read and re-read it. Even now, I read it several times a year. And when I discovered a movie had been made about it back in l940, I was hysterical to see it. It finally showed up on the late show one night, and I was hypnotized. Frankly, I never had much patience for the anonymous heroine. She was so mousy and akward and gutless I wanted to throttle her. In the movie, I could understand better her hidden strengths. A remake of this was planned back in the 70s, with Elizabeth Taylor playing the never-seen Rebecca--but visible in flashbacks. Richard Burton was to have been Max de Winter, the director would have been Mike Nichols (this was right after their triumph in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf") and Sarah Miles would have been the anonymous heroine. Even more fascinating, Vivien Leigh, just a week after completing Gone With the Wind, was actually screen-tested by Hithcock so she could co-star with her then lover, Sir Laurence Olivier. Several people who saw the tests said Leigh--hard to believe--was completely unsuited for such a drastic change of pace (from fiery, gutsy Scarlet, to quivering, meek Mrs. De Winter. Another rumor had it that Selznick most definitely did NOT want Leigh to get this role. He felt, with some justification, that it would be too drastic a change from the public's view of her as the very embodiment of Scarlett. Bravo to a genius movie mogul whose passion for quality and beauty can be seen in the handful of fabulous movies he made during this period--Intermezzo, made at the same time as GWTW, is a knockout; Portrait of Jennie is another gem.