Friday, July 9, 2010


This was an extremely important film in Hitchcock’s career. It was his first American production, his first nomination for Best Director (out of five, all of which he lost), it was the first and only film of his to be nominated for Best Picture (which won), and Stephen King felt the need to include the novel‘s opening line roughly five hundred times in his novel “Bag of Bones“ (No, King, that didn‘t get old fast at all). Needless to say, it was rather a big deal for him. But how well does it hold up today, you wonder? Well…
First, let’s get with the general story. Joan Fontaine stars as Mrs. de Winter (helpfully listed on IMDB as “The Second Mrs. de Winter” to further twist the knife), the new bride of Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), whose previous wife had died a year before. After moving into his lavish estate Manderley, she finds herself isolated and alone, in a home far too big for her, a husband that’s very emotionally distant, and a staff that’s filled with fond memories of his first wife, Rebecca, that she seems to be trying to replace. The head of the staff in particular, one Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), seems to alternately resent that she would ever want to replace her and want to actively transform Fontaine into the old wife.

I actually almost included ‘ghost’ as one of the tags, as despite there not being an actual literal ghost, the entire location still feels haunted by Rebecca. Not only is the film titled after her (and poor Fontaine, never getting a first name at any point), the whole creepy mansion and the staff seem to bathe in her memory throughout the film. Aside from some of the more light-hearted scenes Hitchcock always puts into his films (that seem a bit out of place here), it captures the gloom of an old gothic tragedy (which is the reason Hitch demanded it be filmed in black and white despite his studio pushing for color), leading inexorably to its tragic ending.

I won’t lie, I was not a big fan of this film when I first saw it back in college. I viewed it in a film class where we were given nothing but melodramas to watch, and it started aggravating me whenever I watched any of them. With a few years’ hindsight, however, and with me no longer needing to watch a new melodrama every damn week, it does work a good deal better, though it does still take quite a while to get going. It’s still far too infused with melodrama to be a truly great film, and I’d disagree strongly with it winning Best Picture (hell, just that very year Hitchcock also made Foreign Correspondent, which I thought was a more consistently good film). Of course, Rebecca is currently ranked as the 97th best film ever made on IMDB, so what do I know?

Rating: ***

P.S. Once again, in lieu of the trailer, someone has helpfully put the entire film up on Youtube. I must admit I’m a bit curious as to how recent I have to get with these films before that trend ceases.

No comments: