Based off a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca is the story of a widower, his new wife and the memories of the old wife throughout their mansion. When we meet the girl (she never has a name until she becomes the second Mrs. de Winter), she is a traveling companion to an aging woman. In Monte Carlo, she meets Maxim de Winter. He was gazing over a steep cliff, possibly thinking about jumping. The girl cries out, making sure he doesn’t and from there on, they meet daily and enjoy each other’s company. When the girl suddenly has to leave, she goes to tell Maxim goodbye and he proposes marriage. So away they go, to his enormous mansion, Manderley. But throughout the entire mansion are reminders of his previous wife, Rebecca, who drowned just a year ago. The creepy staff members still do everything just as Rebecca wanted, even keep her room in the forbidden West Wing just the same. With the expectations of living up to become the next Rebecca, the new Mrs. de Winter starts to go mad. But what’s truly maddening is the wonderful twists and turns Hitchcock expertly adds along the way.
This is Alfred Hitchcock’s second film nominated in 1940, and his only one to ever win the category. That being said, it’s one of his most different films. The suspense that he’s so known for is not as present, but instead eerie feeling of self doubt are amplified. One funny reason this is done so well is that while filming, he told Joan Fontaine that the entire staff hated her because she got the role and Laurence Olivier’s girlfriend had not. That horrible little lie helped her become more shy and unsure of herself both on and off camera. Yes, just another wonderful example how Hitchcock treated his actors like cattle.
Though both Olivier and Fontaine were nominated in their best acting categories, the most enjoyable performances is by Judith Anderson, who earns a supporting role nomination in playing the main house servant, Mrs. Danvers. She was Rebecca’s closest friend and prides herself in keeping the mansion just as Rebecca liked it. She’s wonderfully creepy in the most quiet and subtle ways and seems to glide around the house, popping up at the most unexpected times and sabotaging the new Mrs. de Winter’s every attempt to do something right.
One thing I could not over look, is how many similarities Rebecca shares with Citizen Kane, nominated just the following year. The stories are night and day, but they both probe the lives of a wealthy man in a ridiculously huge mansion. At one point, both their wives in their respective mansions are unhappy. And, well I hate to give away endings, but those images are extremely similar as well. I’ve often wondered what asshole didn’t vote Citizen Kane for Best Picture, but I guess you can’t have two films with so many similarities winning for two straight years.
There are so many reasons to see Rebecca. If you’re like me and love Alfred Hitchcock, it is a must see. If you’ve ever read the novel by Daphne Du Mauier, see how it compares. If you were ever as outraged at the loss of Citizen Kane, see if you share my new theory. And of course, if you love creepy movies with a great unexpected twist by a master of suspense, do yourself a favor.
“Please promise me never to wear black satin or pearls… or to be 36 years old.”