Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

A timid young woman develops a schoolgirl crush on rich widower Maxim de Winter. Against all expectations he marries her and takes her off to Manderley, his vast country estate, where she struggles to fit in and find her place as the new Mrs de Winter. It turns out the place and everyone in it is haunted by the memory of the first wife, Rebecca (our young protagonist has no name). Haunted husband, haunted house. Haunted housekeeper! I won't reveal the amazing plot twist at the three-quarter mark.

Hitchcock's first American movie is much richer and more lavish than anything he'd done before. Although made in America it's still an "English" film. It's another women's thriller, this time a gothic romance, but not really a "Hitchcock" picture, rather more of a Selznick project. You can see Hitch's spin in the romantic comedy of the first act in Monte Carlo, and in the packed last part when the young wife, discovering her husband's guilty secrets, becomes even more passionately devoted to him, sharing in his crimes. The director pulled his usual trick of "editing in the camera", delivering just enough film to make exactly one motion picture.

(He says most of the above in the Truffaut interviews, which is probably where I stole it).

This was Joan Fontaine's (age 23) first starring role. She has a pretty and marvelously expressive face and demeanor; you can see how women would identify with her romantic travails and struggles to make a place for herself in new surroundings. Other actresses were considered for the role, including her big sister, Olivia de Havilland.

Laurence Olivier is fine at the haunted and tormented parts but seems less satisfying as a lover. Too cold. Well, he's still distracted by Rebecca. We like him because he's bored with society and trivial people, but begin to reconsider when we see that he has chosen his new wife because she is the opposite of the first one in every way.

Judith Anderson seems possessed by the scary housekeeper Mrs Danvers. We dislike her from the first moment but not until the story is well advanced do we realize how bat-house crazy she is.

George Sanders was born to play a cad and gets to do it again here, deliciously.

Franz Waxman score. Nominated for a boatload of Oscars and won for Best Picture and B&W Cinematography.

Available on Blu-ray with a lovely image, better than Notorious (1946). Although the grain is easily seen, the fine blacks and grayscale give a velvety texture and pleasant dimensionality. The blacks fail in a couple of scenes and there is a bit of print damage in the last section. Casual commentary track by Richard Schickel.

Classicflix has the Blu-ray, Netflix doesn't.