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You thought I loved Rebecca?
on February 23, 2014
No director could have been more perfect to direct "Rebecca" than Alfred Hitchcock.
After all, Daphne du Maurier's classic tale of romantic suspense is a complex psychological study, wrapped up in a tale of murder and manipulation. So Hitchcock was in his element in this movie -- he gives it an elegance and glowing beauty, but there's still a raw sea of emotion boiling under the surface. And yes, Rebecca haunts the entire movie, never seen but always present.
A timid young woman (Joan Fontaine) is working as a paid companion in Monte Carlo, where she meets the brooding millionaire Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). When her employer unexpectedly decides to leave, Maxim proposes marriage to the young woman, and they are quickly married before setting off to his ancestral estate of Manderley. It seems like a dream come true to the new Mrs. de Winter.
But as soon as she arrives, Mrs. de Winter is haunted by the presence of Maxim's first wife, Rebecca. Rebecca was beautiful, charming, accomplished, intelligent and stylish -- and everybody, especially the creepy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) compares them. But when a sunken ship is found in the nearby bay, the truth about Rebecca's life -- and death -- is finally revealed, and it could tear the de Winters apart...
"Rebecca" was the first movie that Alfred Hitchcock made in Hollywood, and in many ways it's his most conventional film. It follows the book pretty closely (except for some meddling by the censors), shot in a warmly-lit, elegant style that highlights the beauty of Manderley. Every time things become too comfortable, the presence of Rebecca wafts back in like a ghost.
Hitchcock is at his best in the weirder, more twisted parts of the story, such as when Mrs. Danvers takes Mrs. de Winter on a tour of Rebecca's bedroom, or tries to tempt her into committing suicide. And he really hits his stride in the movie's final third, which switches gears from romantic suspense right over to a sorta-kinda-murder mystery. The simmering tension and passionate emotions are absolutely spellbinding.
The one big problem? THE MUSIC. Those soppy, swelling, sentimental strings that sometimes blot out dialogue and make the emotional scenes feel corny. If only Hitchcock's more minimalist soundtrack style had been present here!
Joan Fontaine gives a pretty good performance as a nervous, insecure young woman who fears that her husband doesn't really love her; the problem with her performance is the weird way she smiles whenever she cries. And Anderson is pitch perfect as the unblinking housekeeper who still has a passionate, almost erotic fixation on her beloved Rebecca -- she glides through Manderley, a figure of cold ghostly hate.
And Olivier is the perfect Maxim -- a brooding, tormented soul who is also incredibly passionate... and way too blunt for his own good. He's the ultimate Byronic hottie. And Olivier's performance is absolutely stunning, such as the emotionally charged scene where he describes his life with Rebecca.
"Rebecca" is a silken, elegant piece of work, and Hitchcock is at his best when he touches on the twisted, dark presence of the title character. An absolute masterpiece.