If you like classic movies, you might like Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, a romantic psychological thriller. It’s based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier and stars Lawrence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and George Sanders. The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Cinematography.
The story mostly follows the classic Gothic novel about a young, unsophisticated and insecure second wife who tries to adjust to aristocratic life. Her first task is overcome the memory of her husband’s beautiful first wife, Rebecca, who died in a boating accident.
After a whirlwind romance in Monte Carlo, the couple returns to the Manderley mansion by the sea in Cornwall, England, and the darker, secretive side of Maxim de Winter emerges. The movie portrays the dark atmosphere at Manderley just as I imagined it, especially as Maxim and his wife drive up the long path for the first time and finally emerge from the trees to see the mansion, both beautiful and intimidating.
As in the book, the second Mrs. de Winter wants to find out more about Rebecca and how she died. A small cottage on the beach offers clues. She gets most of the story out of Maxim’s agent, Frank Crawley, played by Reginald Denny, who tells her that Rebecca was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known.
Mrs. Danvers, played by Judith Anderson, is the stern and severely dressed head housekeeper, and she is around the corner of every hallway, giving Joan Fontaine’s character plenty of starts. In an eerie scene, Mrs. Danvers shows Maxim’s new wife Rebecca’s rooms, which have been kept as if Rebecca were still alive. Mrs. Danvers urges the new Mrs. de Winter to touch her things, goading her to admit she will never measure up. A second scene in Rebecca’s rooms confirms the housekeeper’s sinister obsession with Rebecca.
George Sanders plays the creepy Jack Favell, Rebecca’s cousin who visits Manderley while Maxim is away on business. He’s a sleeper character and a driving part of the final plot reveal.
The plot turns after the fancy ball, a much-anticipated social event open to the town at which Maxim’s new wife hopes to show herself as a sophisticated and confident woman. When Maxim sees her in her costume, however, he orders her to change, but refuses to say why. Soon after, a shipping accident diverts attention from the ball to the new Mrs. Winter’s discovery of what happened the night Rebecca died.
This is where the plot changes from the book, but I’ll leave it out to avoid spoilers. My blogging friend Jennifer Kelland Perry recently watched the movie and told me that the ending was altered to comply with the Hollywood Production Code. You can check out the Wikipedia explanation here.
The final scene is fantastic – also slightly altered from the book – but best viewed rather than described.
I enjoyed watching Rebecca because I just read the book for the second time (read my review here). And although I’ve seen a lot of Alfred Hitchcock movies, I’d never seen this one. If you’re a Hitchcock fan, you’ll know that he often appears in cameos in his movies. I missed it when I watched Rebecca, but I looked it up and found him in the background below. I didn’t think it looked like Hitchcock at first, but this is a screen shot of the exact location of his cameo. He was a younger man when he made Rebecca, so I guess that’s why.
If you’re looking for a more modern version of Rebecca, Netflix is releasing one today, October 21, 2020. Watch the trailer here.
Have you read Rebecca or watched the movie? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.
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