Based on a 1938 novel of the same name and Alfred Hitchcock’s first American production, Rebecca also won the famed Director his only Best Picture Oscar. A young woman (Joan Fontaine) meets an aristocratic widower (Laurence Olivier) in Monte Carlo and following a brief romance the two are wed. The woman returns to England and to her husband’s Cornish Estate where she discovers that the spectre of her husband’s late wife still looms large.
It took me a long time to get into Rebecca (that came out wrong). It took me a long time to get into the film (that’s better) and it wasn’t until the last half hour or so that it was able to hold my attention. I found that I had little interest in the plot which unravelled at a fairly measured pace. The final few scenes though were quite spectacular and helped me to forget the unfortunate boredom which I encountered during the first ninety minutes.
I enjoyed wandering the halls of the great house in which the young wife (who is never named) finds herself in and much like her felt lost in its cavernous rooms and never ending corridors. The film conveys very successfully her sense of apprehension and discomfort at being the new prized wife in a house in which the previous wife is still so revered. Joan Fontaine’s acting is often excellent and her scenes with both Laurence Olivier and creepy housekeeper Judith Anderson are generally very fine. All three actors would receive Oscar nominations for their roles but only Fontaine would be victorious. Judith Anderson’s hatred and disdain for her new mistress is wonderfully expressed in the actress’s cold and uneasy performance and it often appears as though it is she who misses the former Mrs de Winter the most. Her role sometimes feels as though it is written as more of a former lover or at least romantic admirer than servant. She was quite chilling to witness. Laurence Olivier is an actor with whom I am barely acquainted but he always has a huge presence and often rules a scene with what appears to be little effort. I also enjoyed seeing Gladys Cooper on screen, an actress who began her screen career in 1913 and was nominated for three Oscars including her turn in My Fair Lady in 1964.
Hitchcock’s direction feels as though it lacks the spark of some of his later work but the skill is certainly evident. I wasn’t so keen on the opening shots which felt a little jumpy but some of the tracking and quick cutting was wonderful. I also enjoyed the rear projection, used not only while characters were driving but also in beach and cliff top scenes too. There is some good model work which helps to form the basis of the mansion central to the story which was sometimes difficult to spot. The lighting was something which stood out for me and helped to capture not only the cavernous house but the character’s moods and emotions. At times the setting and story give the feeling of a Gothic Fairytale and the suspense is really racked up in the final half and hour but unfortunately I felt a little bored by the opening hour and as a result wasn’t able to enjoy the film as much as I’d liked to. Even so Rebecca is a good film which becomes great in places.