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Sunday, February 13, 2011


- Hitchcock, Fontaine, and Olivier

This week's movie is one from the library - Rebecca. This 1940 film, adapted from the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter (one of the interesting things about the book/movie is that the main character's name is never mentioned - "Rebecca" is the name of Maxim's first and deceased wife).

I've read the novel many times. I wasn't sure I'd like the movie but I found it very good, not surprising, I guess, as it had won the 1940 Academy Awards for best picture and best black and white cinematography.

Here's the trailer ...

And here's a bit from The New York Times 1940 review of the film .....

[...] So "Rebecca"—to come to it finally—is an altogether brilliant film, haunting, suspenseful, handsome and handsomely played. Miss du Maurier's tale of the second mistress of Manderley, a simple and modest and self-effacing girl who seemed to have no chance against every one's—even her husband's—memories of the first, tragically deceased Mrs. de Winter, was one that demanded a film treatment evocative of a menacing mood, fraught with all manner of hidden meaning, gaited to the pace of an executioner approaching the fatal block. That, as you need not be told, is Hitchcock's meat and brandy. In "Rebecca" his cameras murmur "Beware!" when a black spaniel raises his head and lowers it between his paws again; a smashed china cupid takes on all the dark significance of a bloodstained dagger; a closed door taunts, mocks and terrifies; a monogrammed address book becomes as accusative as a district attorney.

Miss du Maurier's novel was an "I" book, its story told by the second, hapless Mrs. de Winter. Through Mr. Hitchcock's method, the film is first-personal too, so that its frail young heroine's diffident blunders, her fears, her tears are silly only at first, and then are silly no longer, but torture us too. Rebecca's ghost and the Bluebeard room in Manderley become very real horrors as Mr. Hitchcock and his players unfold their macabre tale, and the English countryside is demon-ridden for all the brightness of the sun through its trees and the Gothic serenity of its manor house.

But here we have been giving Mr. Hitchcock and Miss du Maurier all the credit when so much of it belongs to Robert Sherwood, Philip MacDonald, Michael Hogan and Joan Harrison who adapted the novel so skillfully, and to the players who have re-created it so beautifully. Laurence Olivier's brooding Maxim de Winter is a performance that almost needs not to be commented upon, for Mr. Olivier last year played Heathcliffe, who also was a study in dark melancholy, broken fitfully by gleams of sunny laughter. Maxim is the Heathcliffe kind of man and Mr. Olivier seems that too. The real surprise, and the greatest delight of them all, is Joan Fontaine's second Mrs. de Winter, who deserves her own paragraph, so here it is:

"Rebecca" stands or falls on the ability of the book's "I" to escape caricature. She was humiliatingly, embarrassingly, mortifyingly shy, a bit on the dowdy side, socially unaccomplished, a little dull; sweet, of course, and very much in love with—and in awe of—the lord of the manor who took her for his second lady. Miss du Maurier never really convinced me any one could behave quite as the second Mrs. de Winter behaved and still be sweet, modest, attractive and alive. But Miss Fontaine does it—and does it not simply with her eyes, her mouth, her hands and her words, but with her spine. Possibly it's unethical to criticize performance anatomically. Still we insist Miss Fontaine has the most expressive spine—and shoulders!—we've bothered to notice this season .........


Blogger Jana said...

Hi Crystal,

What a great post. The trailer's cinematography is amazing, and it's quite interesting to see how trailers have changed since that time.


9:36 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I'll have to watch it again, just to check out her spine (and shoulders). :-)

I've been swamped with coincidences lately, and here's another, albeit minor. I mentioned "Rebecca" to my DIL last week because she just got a Kindle. I was hoping the book was available for free, but I don't think it's old enough. I read it multiple times, too.

8:31 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Susan,

I just finished watching the movie last night. It was pretty good, though somewhat different from the book. I guess they couldn't have the hero be a murderer :)

I really like the book too. First read it when I was a teenager and now own it in audio form. Kindle .... expensive?

1:40 PM  

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