June 2014 Blind Spot Film: REBECCA (1940)

Rebecca_1940Poster

As with a lot of the BlindSpot viewings this year, there are a lot of firsts in regards to REBECCA. No, it’s not the first Hitchcock film I saw, but it’s the first Laurence Olivier AND Joan Fontaine film I ever saw. I didn’t know David O. Selznick produced this, which was interesting given that I first saw Fontaine’s sister Olivia deHavilland in Selznick’s epic drama Gone With The Wind just the year before.

This was billed as a dramatic thriller, as well as a gothic romance, which immediately made me think of Jane Eyre. Interestingly enough, I noticed a few similarities with Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale (and not only because Fontaine did play Jane Eyre in 1943 with Orson Welles). Both of the protagonists in Jane Eyre and Rebecca are still haunted by his first wife. A wealthy man named Maxim de Winter (Olivier) meets a young, naive girl who accompanies her employer on a trip to Monte Carlo. Their first meeting wasn’t exactly a ‘meet cute,’ in fact he was rather rude towards her [yet another similarity to Jane Eyre‘s Rochester] but after a whirlwind romance, the two got married and he took her to his estate, Manderley.

Rebecca1940Stills1

Now by the time the film starts, Rebecca is no longer in the picture, but no doubt her presence is felt throughout the film. Rebecca is definitely an overwhelming force despite the character never being shown on screen, not even in flashback. And that’s definitely what the filmmaker wanted Fontaine’s character to feel throughout the movie, that she’s overwhelmed by this unseen force who clearly still has a strange hold on everyone in Manderley.

The real suspense starts to build as soon as the couple get to Manderley. The big, expansive mansion looks and feel eerie, not unlike the ominous Thornfield Hall with a strange woman locked in the attic. The house is almost a character in itself, and it definitely plays a big role in the story. Manderley’s domineering, creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) definitely gives me the hibijibis. I really feel for Fontaine’s character and what she had to go through, not only did she have to endure her husband’s coldness, she also has to deal with a deranged, obsessive housekeeper who wanted to be rid of her. I kept wondering though why they couldn’t just fire Mrs. Danvers, I mean she is after all an employee at the estate. Right from the very moment she’s introduced in the movie, Mrs. Danvers is one of the most spine-chilling characters that really gets under my skin. I think the most terrifying scenes in the movie is when she gives Fontaine’s character a tour to Rebecca’s room, reminiscing on her former master and her obsession with her.

Rebecca1940Still2

Mrs. Danvers: [just as the second Mrs. de Winter reaches for the door] You wouldn’t think she’d been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn’t mistake it anywhere. It’s not only in this room, it’s in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now.

Mrs. Danvers: Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?

The Second Mrs. de Winter: [sobbing] N-no, I don’t believe it.

Mrs. Danvers: Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn’t come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don’t you stay here a while and rest, and listen to the sea? It’s so soothing. Listen to it.

[turning away towards the window as the second Mrs. de Winter slips out the door]
Mrs. Danvers: Listen. Listen to the sea.

Rebecca1940Still3

You could say Judith was quite the scene-stealer in this film as you simply can’t shake her for some time after you’ve seen this film. She’s THAT creepy. The rest of the cast is equally excellent in their Oscar-nominated performances. I’m quite impressed by the luminous Joan Fontaine who’s the heart of the film whomI sympathize with right away. She went from being this frail, nervous and self-conscious young bride in the beginning, to a woman who’s able to hold her own by the end. Her character definitely *grew up* as the film progressed and her transformation is very believable. Sir Olivier is perfectly suited as the wealthy tortured soul type, hardened and enigmatic. The British thespian has played another Bronte’s dark hero, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights just the year before, sounds like the type of roles he could play in his sleep. There’s not much chemistry between him and Fontaine but given the plot of the story it sort of make sense. Based on the documentary included in the disc, apparently Olivier was keen on having his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play Fontaine’s role, but I personally don’t think Leigh would suit the role as well.  George Sanders plays this weasel character who’s trying to frame Maxim, I’ve seen him play a similar character in All About Eve not too long ago. His character seems too lively to be really sinister or threatening however, I think out of all the characters, I feel that his performance is the least convincing to me.

Rebecca1940_Olivier_Fontaine

As to be expected from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock truly delivered the goods with this one. This is his second feature adaptation from Daphne Du Maurier novel and clearly the material suits his style. The gothic story lends itself to the eerie, bone-chilling atmosphere, and Hitchcock is the master at building up the suspense and that dreaded sense of impending doom. Every frame, sound, ambiance is carefully crafted, coupled with Franz Waxman‘s ominous score for a total immersive experience. I didn’t see the twist coming which is always nice when that happens. Yet Rebecca isn’t reliant on that twist for you to truly appreciate the film because it’s more than just a gimmick. The story is rich, with a deep, layered symbolism that stays with you long after the credits. It’s also a beautifully-shot film with the lush setting, gorgeous costumes, and evocative lighting that brings out its supernatural quality.

This is definitely one of those films that lives up to the hype. The heightened suspense and tension is what I expect from Hitchcock — he brought Du Marier’s story alive and kept me engrossed from start to finish. Just like the literary work it’s based on, this film has that timeless quality that would stand the test of time. I am surprised that this is the only Hitchcock film that ever won Best Picture Oscar. I definitely think it’s Oscar-worthy but I haven’t seen his later works such as Vertigo and Rear Window that’s far more popular than this one. I definitely have a lot of Hitchcock to catch up on and I’m looking forward to it!

4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .


What do you think of  REBECCA? I’d love to hear what you think!

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58 thoughts on “June 2014 Blind Spot Film: REBECCA (1940)

  1. One of my favorite Hitchcock films! This film is very hard to take if you get second-hand embarrassment like me, but that’s what makes it so great! You can help but identify with Fontaine’s character. She’s trapped in the expectations of others, especially Mrs. Danvers, who is one of the creepiest villains you’ll ever see. Nice review of a great film!
    Incidentally, have you seen the version of Jane Eyre with Welles and Fontaine, I’ve always wondered if it was good….

    1. Hi Melissa! I really feel for Fontaine’s character, I mean she’s even nameless in the movie! Mrs Danvers is sooooo creepy, she just gets under your skin.

      No I haven’t seen the Jane Eyre version w/ Welles & Fontaine but right now I’m obsessing over the 2006 version w/ Toby Stephens as Rochester. I’m crushing [hard] on him that I doubt any other actor would cut it in that role, and this coming from someone who used to think Timothy Dalton is the best Rochester. It’s a great adaptation if you’re ever in the mood to see JE 😉

  2. While Rebecca is a fine picture and worthy of its Best Picture acclaim, Hitchcock had many better films. Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho are easily films that are the best in their class. I implore you to watch Vertigo and North by Northwest. You’ll probably find that you enjoy them more than Rebecca.

    1. Hi Max! I figure that there are even better Hitchcock films than this, that’s why I’m surprised he hasn’t won again since. Well that goes to show how talented he was if his *lesser* work was THIS good. I did see North By Northwest and enjoyed that one a lot, I’m not that interested in Psycho as I’ve seen so many clips of that movie. I will see Rear Window & Vertigo at some point though.

  3. I think Rebecca has a fine Gothic atmosphere and solid acting, but it left me colder than most of the other Hitchcock films that I’ve seen. I can’t argue with the acclaim and thing it’s a solid film, but it hasn’t stuck with me that much. Still, I’m glad you got around to seeing it.

    1. Hi Dan! I hear ya, I think people who have seen a whole bunch of Hitchcock’s films might have a different opinion about this one. For me it was quite engrossing and beautiful to look at, so yeah I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it!

  4. I really enjoy reading about your first-time with this Blind-Spot Film series, Ruth. This is a great one, indeed. I’ve picked up the Blu-ray most recently, too. Great job 😀

    1. Thanks Michael! It’s been great that most of the Blind Spot movies I saw lived up to the hype. Oooh I’m sure this one would look amazing on BD!

  5. Ask and you shall receive! Great review. I love this movie, well I love Hitchcock, anything and everything. Seriously Mrs. Danvers is one creepy lady. I never thought of the Jane Eyre connection, but you are spot on. They both have that romance tale mixed with a very dark past. Oh my you need to go out and see Vertigo and Rear Window, like right now stop what you are doing! I would say Psycho, Vertigo and Strangers on a Train are my faves. 🙂

    1. I really need to watch more Hitchcock! I’m ashamed that I’ve only seen so few. Funny that as I was reviewing it and mentioned Jane Eyre, then I watched the Special Features where they talked about the Bronte influence here, about this being a gothic romance.

      Ahah well I think my friend lent me Vertigo so yes I should see that soon. I LOVE James Stewart too, so that helps! Strangers on a Train & Rear Window are already on my to-watch list as well.

      1. That is really cool because I have seen this so many times and seriously just thought why did that never cross my mind. James Stewart is awesome and Hitchcock, as he did with Cary Grant, had a way of bringing out the best in these actors. Giving them complex characters and material to work with and making the viewer sort of forget that these guys were heartthrobs back in the day. Can you tell I am obsessed with this topic as well! HAHA

        1. Oh you should see me when I was in love w/ Gregory Peck!! It was just 2 years ago and I was crushing on him almost as madly as I am now w/ Toby. And the guy’s been dead for so long, ahah! My hubby was so amused that I had a crush on Mr Peck, he even asked if I wanted to visit his grave! I did go visit his hometown La Jolla (near where you live right?) and went to the Playhouse that he founded. Oh I also met his daughter Cecilia earlier this year, so that’s as close as I ever could get w/ Gregory Peck, ahah. You’re right, Grant, Stewart, etc were heartthrobs of the day, I mean they’re all such beautiful men!

          1. Oh yes I can imagine your husband knows you by now so Toby is no biggie to him. I had no idea he was from La Jolla, that is right here in SD. Yes they were such mature, real actors and just naturally nice looking. 🙂

            1. Ahah well he still complains sometimes, poor guy!

              Man next time I’m visiting my best friend in SD we HAVE to meet up girl!! In fact, we may be going in late Fall. I’d LOVE to meet you and your hubby!!

  6. PrairieGirl

    Hey Flixy, glad you finally got to see Rebecca. Great review. Strangers on a Train, Northwest by Northwest, The Lady Vanishes and Rebecca are my Hitchcock favs. One viewing of Psycho was plenty for me. Vertigo, well, by the end of it I was totally “dizzy” (pun intended) trying to figure out the plot and who was who (even Vince had a hard time explaining it, go figure ;-). One viewing of Rear Window does it for me too. Still want to see The Wrong Man and The 39 Steps.

    1. Hi Becky! THANK YOU for lending me the dvd. I’m so glad I finally saw this, it’s one I don’t mind seeing again but there are sooo many Hitchcock I need to catch up on. I just called Vince and talked about Hitchcock. He’s gonna try to find Torn Curtain for me, it’s amazing how knowledgeable he is about classic movies!

  7. Hey Ruth, great review. I also just saw this recently for the first time when I watched all Best Picture winners. I think you enjoyed it a bit more than I did.

    BTW, I don’t know if you noticed, but Zoe (from Sporadic Chronicles) and I are hosting a Hitchcock themed Blogathon in August, would love for you to be able to participate.

    Here’s the link if you’re interested

    http://movierob.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/new-alfred-hitchcock-blogathon-by-rob-and-zoe/

    -Rob

    1. Hey Rob, so you’re not fond of this one eh? Btw, thanks for letting me know about your blogathon w/ Zoe. Well for sure I’m taking part, as you already know. I like cold war stuff and that’s the theme in Torn Curtain that I’ll be doing.

  8. Happy your blindspot was a success! I liked the film, didn’t love it. A film of its time in regards to the acting style and music score.
    I haven’t read the book, the blossoming romance didn’t feel particularly romantic to me, maybe she is “in love with being in love”.
    George Sanders always plays the same way in the 5-6 movies I’ve seen him in, not a great actor if you ask me.

    1. Hi Chris! Ahah I see what you mean about it being a ‘film of its time’ but I still appreciate it for what it is. It’s not as *slow* as I thought it would be which is nice, and it really was suspenseful. I also don’t think it’s particularly romantic, it’s more of a psycho thriller I think. Yeah I’m not that fond of Sanders, he’s just not believable in here at all.

  9. I LOVED this book and this is a personal fave. That said, I do not consider it a quintessential Hitch flick. But there is no doubting this is a well constructed, superior film. Joan Fontaine nailed it and should have gotten the Oscar for this instead of Suspicion, sadly. But I guess you take what you get, eh?

    1. Hi Iba! That’s cool that as a reader of the book you love the film too. I really like Fontaine here, I want to see more of her movies. I should definitely check out Suspicion!

  10. Yay! I really like this film, and it probably wouldn’t even make my top 10 Hitchcock list! (Though, I haven’t seen it in a while, and I need to rewatch it.) Glad you loved it! Hope you get to check out more Hitchcock soon. 🙂

    1. Hi Josh, do you mean it would or would NOT make your Top 10 Hitchcock list? Have you ever made such a list btw? I definitely need to see more of his films.

  11. Ted S.

    I’ve heard of this film many times but I’ve never seen it. To be honest with you, I’m not the biggest fan of Hitchcock, I liked Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest and Rear Window but I never fell in love with his films like most people did. I’ll probably won’t see this one anytime soon.

    1. I hear ya Ted. There are some classic auteurs that I don’t really *get* either, your fave Peckinpah is one of them. So I guess to each their own.

  12. Terrific review, glad to hear you’re striking gold with your blind spot picks. 🙂 From the dialogue snippet, Mrs. Danvers sounds like one creepy lady haha. I’ve seen a number of Hitchcock films but this isn’t one of them.

    1. Yeah I’ve lucked out with my picks, but well we still have a half a year worth of stuff to see, hope those will hold up as well 🙂

      If you’re in the mood for a suspenseful Gothic romance, this is the one for you!

  13. Nice review. I do think this is very good movie, but I wouldn’t call it one of Hitchcock’s best works (his later films are more memorable). Still, Rebecca’s a really tense and suspenseful picture.

    1. Yeah it seems that a lot of people are saying this is not Hitchcock’s best, which makes me even more excited to check out more of his work!

  14. Ruth, my dear…you can’t be a cinephile and NOT see Psycho! Like, get on that girl!

    Great review though. Excellent! I agree 100%. This is not my favorite Hitchcock, but it works extremely well and is dripping with atmosphere. He was a very deliberate director, and it shows in how well his work is crafted.

    1. Ahah, well I have seen a bunch of scenes from it, does that count? 😉

      I love how Hitchcock has such a meticulous perfectionist, which shows in his work. Even the Behind the Scenes video and the antics of Selznick is as fascinating as the movie.

  15. I love the book and think the film is wonderful. The cinematography is awesome in the manorial estate and Fontaine was great but not as great as great as Judith Anderson. Awesome review. I loved it.

    1. Hi Cindy! Judith is certainly the scene stealer here w/ her creepy-ness, but I really sympathize w/ Fontaine’s character. Glad that you think the film lived up to the book, that’s quite rare w/ book adaptations.

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  17. Great pick, Ruth! Glad to hear you enjoyed this one so much. It’s kind of ironic that this is Hitch’s only Best Picture winner, yet it seems to get overlooked when people discuss his best work. Definitely a great film though.

    1. Hi Eric, yeah that seems to be the popular sentiment that his other works perhaps are more deserving for Best Picture, but again it all depends on which other films are nominated on a given year. I do think this one is Oscar-worthy.

  18. Jane Eyre is my favourite novel so it’s natural that I also rank Rebecca as one of my favourite novels too – it reflects the themes of women and insanity that appear in Jane Eyre so well. It’s always difficult for a film version to live up to a favourite novel, but for me Hitchcock’s version of Rebecca does this entirely. The visuals, the atmosphere and the performances all evoke the magic that happens between the pages.

    I especially like the detached chemistry between Olivier and Fontaine – it really captures the barrier that exists between them throughout most of the novel / film. Really glad you liked this one Ruth!

    Have you read any other Du Maurier books? I love Jamaica Inn (although Du Maurier famously hated the Hitchcock adaptation which does fall drastically short) and My Cousin Rachel. I also love The Scapegoat, but that’s quite different, being about doppelgangers who meet and exchange lives.

    1. Hi Natalie! I recognized the similarities as soon as they got to Manderley, which looks just like Thornfield, complete with a mad woman, ahah. That’s amazing that Hitchcock was able to replicate the look and atmosphere from Du Maurier’s novel, he must be quite immersed in the material. Yeah I think the detached chemistry works even though it came from Olivier’s resentment about Fontaine’s casting. I think that’s somewhat unprofessional on his part though.

      I haven’t read any of Du Maurier’s books I’m afraid. Have they all been adapted to films?

      1. I think you would like the books as they mostly have gothic, romantic threads. Only a few of them have been made into films – Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and her short story The Birds were all done by Hitchcock but only Rebecca really lives up to the material. There have been some tv versions of Frenchmen’s Creek, Rebecca and The Scapegoat but again I prefer the books to the adaptations. I think you would like My Cousin Rachel – not sure if anyone has made a screen version of that. Jamaica Inn was the first Du Maurier I read and I was completely hooked from the first page, it’s so atmospheric!

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  20. Wow – looks like you got quite the response with this one!

    As always – glad to see you enjoyed your selection, especially with this one leaning more on the melodrama side of things. That’s not always everyone’s cup of tea, but it would seem as though your love for JANE EYRE had you well-prepared (which reminds me: I still need to watch the new JANE EYRE from a few years back).

    My first experience with this film was in a theatre two summers ago, and perhaps it came hand-in-hand with my choice to sit down close, but Manderlay just seemed SO huge and daunting on a big screen! I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever make it out once it started towering over us at the beginning of the second act. I’m sure it didn’t help that I watched it the same week as NOTORIOUS.

    Great piece Ruth!

    1. Hi Ryan, glad to see you stop by man. Ha..ha.. yeah I guess I don’t mind gothic romance as I love Jane Eyre so much. The 2011 version is good but if you want a more in-depth & passionate version, check out the 2006 BBC version as well.

      Wow how awesome that you saw Rebecca on the big screen. Manderlay is indeed massive! Especially when the couple first arrive and suddenly there it was! The house is really a character in itself. I still need to see Notorious, lots of Hitchcock films that I’ve missed out on.

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