Book Club Mom’s What’s That Movie? Rebecca (1940)

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.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

50 thoughts on “Book Club Mom’s What’s That Movie? Rebecca (1940)

    1. Hi LA – I’m not sure the Netflix movie got good reviews, but I’ll probably watch it eventually. I hear the PBS miniseries is excellent so I’m going to watch that first. Thanks for stopping by!

  1. LOVE this movie! And one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen on TV (and I wish I could remember when/where/how I saw it or what program it was), was a broadcast of the screen tests for both Vivien Leigh and Joan Fontaine, both of whom were up for the coveted lead role as Maxim’s relatively mousy wife. It’s a solo scene where she’s touching some of Rebecca’s things and asking questions about her: “Was she very beautiful?”, etc. Leigh plays the obvious choice: sounding anxious and intimidated, and it’s perfectly fine. But Fontaine does something much more interesting: she’s wistful, almost worshipful. A great acting lesson!

    1. OMG, Jan – I would love to see that! I can only picture Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and a little bit in A Streetcar Named Desire. I though Joan Fontaine was excellent in her portrayal. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great review, Barbara. (I smiled at your mention of me. 🙂 ) I loved the young Lawrence Olivier in this and thought it interesting that this was the only Hitchcock movie that won him Best Picture. I could easily see it again.

    1. Hi Jennifer – I’m glad you mentioned the different ending to me. I wouldn’t have expected it. I think the original story ending is better. I enjoyed seeing these famous actors and of course, seeing Manderley! Thanks for the visit 🙂

      1. Yes, I found the unexpected ending quite jarring, to be honest. And I agree with you, in that I preferred the book ending. Interestingly, Paul liked the movie ending just fine, and when I told him about the discrepancy, he thought the movie ending seemed better and more sympathetic to Olivier’s character. Ah well, we will have to agree to disagree!

      2. Hi Jennifer – well it definitely makes Maxim’s character more sympathetic, but I was reading Rebecca knowing he was a bit less than that. As to who is the monster in the story, it is hands-down Rebecca, however, I liked how the author showed Rebecca push Maxim to commit murder. I did enjoy the movie, though! Especially the fire scene – very dramatic! Hope you’re having a good Sunday – it’s cold and rainy here but I’m warm and cozy!

  3. I haven’t seen this movie, but I plan on watching the Netflix version soon (I’m trying to keep expectations low since I heard it doesn’t light a candle to this version). I have the book from the library again, but I’m in such a mood that I doubt that I’ll read it. I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. Great review!

    1. Hi Stephanie – I’m interested in hearing how you liked the Netflix movie – I don’t have Netflix so I’ll have to wait until we get it at the library to watch. Thanks for the visit!

  4. Good review. This version is why I’m not sure I will even try to watch the new one with Armie Hammer. I didn’t make it through a previous “new” version. Judith Anderson simply IS Mrs. Danvers in my mind!

  5. I think I watched this years ago, or I’ve just seen clips as it’s such an iconic film. I listened to the audiobook read by Anna Massey just recently, and loved it. I tried the book years ago and found it very dry ending up DNF’ing it. I can’t wait for the Netflix version.

  6. I saw Jennifer’s review of the movie too, and then saw a second review elsewhere that clinched it. I’m looking forward to the watching it… hopefully tonight. Have a great week and Happy Reading.

    1. I have heard that the new movie isn’t very good. I haven’t seen it and will probably wait. I liked the Hitchcock movie, but I loved the book even more! Thanks for the visit 🙂

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