June 2014 Blind Spot Film: REBECCA (1940)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Weekend Viewing Roundup.. Musings on Duel in the Sun

Happy Monday, folks, hope the weekend’s been treatin’ you right.

It’s a nice mellow one for me, mellow enough to give me some time to see the animated birdie movie Rio which was quite fun, Immortals (review coming later this week) and to go huntin’ for some Gregory Peck DVDs 😀 Thanks to a good sale at Barnes & Noble, I managed to score four DVDs at 40% off, not bad at all! On top of Roman Holiday, now I’ve got Duel in the Sun, Gentlemen’s Agreement, The Keys to the Kingdom and Spellbound. I’ve only managed to watch Duel in the Sun and part of the special features for Gentlemen’s Agreement. Well let’s just say, I truly got it bad for Mr. Peck. I’ve since ordered this 6-disc collection to continue my GP marathon 😀

Duel in the Sun

I plan on doing a Gregory Peck review series when I’m done with at least ten of his films in the future, but for now I can’t seem to get Duel in the Sun out of my mind. This classic western was produced by David O. Selznick who wished it’d repeat the massive success of the Civil War epic Gone with the Wind. But it pales in comparison surely in terms of script and overall production, and I totally see what the critics were saying about it being overwrought and over-acted (especially by its star Jennifer Jones, Selznick’s own wife).

The Cain and Abel allegory of the two brothers vying for the exotic woman Pearl Chavez is pretty sexually-charged for its day, aptly dubbed as Lust in the Dust by reviewers back in the day. In fact, my research about this movie told me that this film was heavily-edited in order to please the Hays Code censors and religious review boards. Rape scenes became love scenes and the sexuality of the movie was played down (per this in-depth review). Now I’m not advocating rape scenes in any way shape or form as I can’t bear watching something like that in a film, but it seems that altering the scene basically changed the story in a major way. I mean, they made Pearl a willing participant instead of a victim.

Though Jones was no Vivien Leigh, she definitely had that fire in her eyes as a ‘half-breed’ wild cat (I hate the way they call her that, it’s so darn degrading!). Gregory Peck was pretty darn convincing as the villain. His carnal, unscrupulous Lewt McCanles made even Rhett Butler look like nothing more than a mischievous altar boy! Who knew Peck could play a bad-to-the-bone scoundrel but man, did he pull it off beautifully, if only he’d done more bad-boy roles in his career. He complemented his devilish smile with that twinkle in his eye every time he’s got his less-than-honorable designs on his girl. If I had seen this film, I’d have put him on top of this Scene-stealing Bad Boys list!

The film also boasts one of the most over-the-top yet memorable death scenes, in the guiltiest pleasure kind of way. No wonder it’s included in AMC’s Filmsite’s Best Film Death Scenes. Even with the ridiculous amount of massacre and body slashin’ in Immortals, none is quite as memorable as this one. If you’ve seen this film you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Lewt: You always said you could shoot. I never believed ya.
Pearl: Lewt, I love you. I love you.
Lewt: Oh, don’t cry, honey. Don’t cry.
Pearl: I had to do it, Lewt. I had to do it.
Lewt: Of course you did. Let me, let me hold ya.
Pearl: Just hold me. Hold me once more.
Lewt: Little bob-cat. (He died mid-kiss. She died shortly thereafter.)

I normally won’t reveal such a huge spoiler when I talk about a movie, but in this case, the knowledge of the characters’ fate didn’t really derail the film for me. If anything, it made me want to watch it even more just to see just how nuts these two lovers are. It’s definitely a twisted Romeo & Juliet story that’s sure to please hopeless romantics in all of us.


So what did you see this weekend? Do share your thoughts of Duel in the Sun and your own pick of memorable death scenes.