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Rebecca (1940)

Another film I have seen many, many times. I wonder if it may even be the first Hitchcock film I ever saw. Therefore it is hard to see it afresh. The one main thing that struck me after watching all of Hitchcock’s British films is the sheer glossiness of it and the money pouring off the screen. Ironically though the very first shot in it is a model! The model itself is of a very Hollywood idea of a large house on a country estate. I know it is often described as a Gothic romance but I think the house was probably a bit more subdued in Daphne du Maurier’s head.

I’m not much of a fan of Laurence Oliver though I can’t put my finger on just why but he is perfect as Maxim. He was only ten years older than Fontaine but both come across as older and younger than their actual ages. He perfectly portrays Maxim’s inability to communicate and his patronising manner which leads him to make poor decisions but when he tells his new wife the truth his vulnerability shows through. I can’t actually imagine spending the rest of my life with a man with such communication issues.

It is really irritating that the lead/narrator doesn’t have a name. It makes writing about her really hard. Joan Fontaine is very good indeed as the girl. I think it is a jolly hard role for any Hollywood actress to play. They are, after all, by definition glamorous. One moment that I can really relate to is when she panics after breaking the ornament. I’ve done that.

Plain Fontaine

The word cad was invented for George Sanders’ performance.

George Sanders

The real star of the film is Judith Anderson. Despite the multiple adaptations of Rebecca, no actor has ever played Mrs Danvers with such malevolence. You can literally feel the effect she has on the second Mrs de Winter, she makes my skin crawl nearly 80 years later.

Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers

Florence Bates is fabulous as Mrs van Hopper who despite her awful personality isn’t actually wrong about the relationship between the two de Winters to be.


There is a richness to filmmaking that is absent from your average film of 1940. Was there ever somebody on screen as vulgar as she is as sits in bed plucking her eyebrows or stubbing out her cigarette in a pot of cold cream? How many scenes were as perfectly choreographed as the intimidation of the new Mrs de Winter by underwear?

As a total aside, I have always been bothered by how quickly they drive to and from Cornwall to London. It takes at least 4 and a half hours now.

It’s not easy to put Rebecca into context. It wasn’t just an ordinary film by any standards. It was a big budget prestige special film - not quite as special as Gone With the Wind but still a major film. Rebecca was (and is) an enormously successful novel and David O. Selznick wanted to make it as faithfully as possible (with that caveat) whereas Hitchcock wanted to do with it what he had done with any other adaptation of his which is to take it as a jumping off point. And to be honest I’m glad that Selznick had his way.

Transport: cars
Animals: spaniel
Source: Criterion Collection (USA)

Thanks to 1000 Frames of Hitchcock.

Let's Fold Scarves / last build: 2024-04-03 21:27