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If you want to return to Manderley, get Criterion's version
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.