Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most respected and influential directors of all time. He has four films that continue to make AFI’S Top 100 Films list with NORTH BY NORTHWEST, VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW and PSYCHO. For the record the latter three along with ROPE are my personal favorites with PSYCHO as one of my all time faves. With all that said, it’s quite shocking that Hitchcock’s one film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture is the notably mediocre REBECCA.
While a young naïve woman played to innocent perfection by Joan Fontaine is away on business as a personal assistant with her employer, she meets the mysterious and wealthy Maxim de Winter played by Laurence Olivier. She believes she catches him about to jump off a cliff when she yells to stop him. After finding out that Maxim recently lost his wife, her sympathy turns to love. To prevent our unnamed heroin from leaving, Max gives a very unorthodox marriage proposal. Eager and wide-eyed the new Mrs. de Winter finds herself unprepared for her new home – the epically grand and intimidating Manderley mansion.
But it’s not so much the home as it is the mysterious presence of Rebecca, Max’s late wife that has the new Mrs. De Winter worried. With her name or initial embroidered upon nearly every piece of item they own including the title of the film, REBECCA is quite literally everywhere without ever being seen. The staff, friends and family all seemingly adored Rebecca and the head housekeeper’s (Judith Anderson) affection borders on obsessive insanity. The unnaturally creepy devotion she still harbors for her boss is redirected as hatred towards the woman who has taken Rebecca’s place. Things are not helped by the fact that Max distances himself becoming uncommunicative whenever he is reminded of his previous late wife.
Standing alone, REBECCA is an interesting and moderately believable psychological drama with a fairly unexpected twist. Could it be better? Of course. The film is a little slow without much of a payoff but I give it a pass because the story is intriguing and the performances are appropriately weird. Compared to Hitchock’s other greats it is a notably inferior film and as far as Best Picture’s go, the film wrongfully beat out THE GRAPES OF WRATH and another one of my favorite films THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. I could blame some of the problems on the fact that it’s from 1940 but REBECCA is definitely not worthy of Best Picture standards.
Video: (Full Frame 1.33:1 B&W) In a day and age where everything is shot for widescreen, it’s a little off putting when watching full screen as if I’m not seeing the entire picture
Audio: (English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio) The audio is clear but like many of the older films, it feels distant.
Commentary with Film Critic Richard Schickel: I have found myself enjoying renowned film critics or historians commentaries better because they give all the history and notable styles that an outsider would find interesting and this is no different.
Isolated Music and Effects Track: If you really like the music you can have all the audio removed and play it like a CD while the picture runs.
Making of Rebecca (28:08): This is a historic look about some of the conflicts between director and producer when making the film.
The Gothic World of Daphne Du Maurier (19:02): A more in depth look at the author of the famous book from which the film was based.
Screen Tests (9:07): Margaret Sullavan then Vivien Leigh with Sir Laurence Olivier perform one scene from the film before the part went to Joan Fontaine.
Radio Plays: Original 1938 Radio Play Starring Orson Wells (59:35), 1941 Radio Play Presented by Cecil B. Demille (58:31), 1950 Radio Play with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier (1:00:22). All about an hour long plays of REBECCA from when families gathered around radios like televisions to listen to a show.
Hitchcock Audio Interviews: Peter Bogdanovich (4:20) Prancois Truffaut (9:15) The second is a French translation which is why it takes twice as long. But both interviews are kind of bland with a couple of gem moments like Olivier saying Fontaine was awful.