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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Rebecca (1940)



Reviews and Comments

Even amongst the vast array of classics in Alfred Hitchcock's filmography, few match the power and resonance of Rebecca, the director's adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel. Essentially a Hitchcockian "noir-ish" mystery, this atmospheric film explores the kind of characters Hitch found most fascinating: ordinary characters disturbed by dark, hidden passions -- with a sweet and relatively innocent protagonist thrown in the midst and left to sort it all out. Joan Fontaine plays said protagonist, cheery and a little unsure, who falls in love with the character played by Laurence Olivier. They get married. She becomes the second Lady de Winter. He takes her to Manderlay, his cliffside Cornwall estate.

We know how she feels even before it becomes evident -- Hitchcock's staging is so artful and succinct in setting the mood. Manderlay is big, sprawling, elegant...and distant. It means so much to the people living there who, all save de Winter himself give his new bride the cold shoulder. Evidently Manderlay was giving her (and the audience) the same.

Then the intrigue begins, and horrifying secrets are uncovered. Again, Hitchcock's direction is simply brilliant in depicting the dramatic escalation of the plot and, more importantly, its psychological effects on Fontaine's character (whose first name, incidently, is never mentioned). An awe-inspiring sequence at the end involves one of the characters recollecting a horrific event of the past. A lesser director would have used a flashback, perhaps with a fancy dramatic cut. Hitchcock knew better and, rather than using a flashback at all, used the set, the cinematography, and the tremendously evocative dialogue to create the imagery he needed -- imagery so fearsome and compelling I'll never forget it, and yet it never physically appeared on the screen.

I won't go into the details of the plot or its distraught characters, but suffice it to say the human drama here is rich beyond words. Volumes could be written analyzing the layers of meaning here, yet still not capture the artistry and eloquence with which the film expresses it. In addition, it's a greatly entertaining film, alluring, gripping, chilling, satisfying to the very end.