Rebecca (1940) / Romance-Mystery
MPAA Rated: PG for thematic material
Running Time: 130 min.
Cast: Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock (cameo)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison (based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Review published June 23, 1998
A shy and timid girl (Fontaine, Suspicion) is whisked away by a rich man named Maxim de Winter (Olivier, Spartacus), who is still recovering from the death of his much beloved wife, Rebecca. The two get married, but the young wife has a difficult time living up to the "perfect wife" that Rebecca was, and virtually finds Rebecca's hold on everyone in her household suffocatingly impossible to live up to, despite her being dead for over a year.
Rebecca is Alfred's Hitchcock's (Jamaica Inn, The Lady Vanishes) first American film, and his only one to win Best Picture. Although handcuffed by David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind, Spellbound) into making this more of a romance picture from a woman's point of view, Hitchcock does definitely show elements of his style throughout. Rebecca definitely ranks as one of Hitch's better films, with Joan Fontaine delivering a truly sympathetic performance as the young bride that makes you genuinely care. Judith Anderson (Laura) and George Sanders (A Shot in the Dark) are also memorable in their supporting roles as the "heavies" who refuse to let anyone take the place of their beloved former mistress.
Ironically, during filming, Olivier was bitter that his then love Vivien Leigh was not cast as his wife, treating Fontaine unprofessionally bad and claiming her acting was terrible. Quite the contrary in fact, as Fontaine's performance is remarkable, and if anything Olivier's is rather lackluster given his talent.
Regarded by some as one of Hitchcock's masterpieces, I won't go that far. Still, Rebecca is clearly a superior classic film, one that is immensely engrossing, leaving you forever haunted by its memory, much the way Rebecca does to those she left behind in this terrific story from Daphne du Maurier's novel.
©1998 Vince Leo