Zach Davis

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Florence Bates

Rebecca is not your typical suspense film, but that doesn't mean director Alfred Hitchcock fails to deliver a dark, mysterious ride.  What sets this apart is that Hitchcock is charged with the daunting task of building the film’s plot and thrills around a woman who is long dead before the movie even takes place.  With moving track shots of Manderley, a large manor on the English coast and the central setting of the film, Hitch creates this vast and haunted world that brilliantly sets the scene for this twisted tale based on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel.

The movie begins with our unnamed heroine (Joan Fontaine) working as a personal assistant and paid companion for the wealthy Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper (Florence Bates).  They are vacationing in Monte Carlo when the young heroine meets the very wealthy and mysterious widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier).  After only a very brief courtship, the heroine and Maxim get married and move back to Maxim’s manor, Manderley.  Maxim briefly mentions to his new wife that he has had a troubled history, but it is not until the newlywed couple arrives at Manderley that the new Mrs. de Winter begins to actually grasp this.  While it appears to be a beautiful and well-kept English manor, Manderley is in reality a mausoleum for Maxim’s late wife Rebecca.

The memory of Rebecca is not only alive in the halls of the manor but even in the man she left behind and the staff who now attend to the new Mrs. de Winter.  Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), the head of the staff at Manderley, adored Rebecca and makes this abundantly clear.  From the moment Mrs. de Winter first arrives, Mrs. Danvers lurks in the shadows of the manor and seems to have nasty intentions for this new woman in Maxim's life.  A short time later, Maxim is called away on business.  In his absence, Rebecca’s cousin Jack Favell (George Sanders) arrives and casts an even larger shadow over our young heroine and her new life.  As the plot continues, a mystery unfolds concerning the death of Rebecca, and the new Mrs. de Winter finds herself right in the middle of it.  With the psychotic Mrs. Danvers, the suave yet devious Mr. Favell, and her mysteriously melancholic husband Maxim, Mrs. de Winter doesn't know whom she can trust.  She ultimately finds herself entrapped in Manderley, fearful of the same deadly fate that befell Rebecca.

The cast of Rebecca was outstanding in every way, particularly our leading lady.  Joan Fontaine transformed herself from a naïve young woman in love to a woman trapped in a Kafkaesque maze of doubt and confusion.  This Hitchcock film is very much ahead of its time in terms of character acting and prominently features a very well-executed female role in such a male-dominated era.  She should have won an Oscar for her performance, in my opinion.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Laurence Oliver, a man easily regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time.  In this rather straightforward role, he did a fantastic job playing the tragic and mysterious Maxim who seems lost and bewildered, but for glimpses of happiness with his new bride.  The supporting cast was at the top of their game as well.  Judith Anderson helped build the suspense with her performance as the dubious Mrs. Danvers, and George Sanders helped keep the plot alive with his sleek cunning portrayal of Jack Favell.

The cinematography of George Barnes has to be mentioned here as well.  Each one of his frames keeps the audience engrained in each and every scene throughout the movie.

Rebecca is a great film and a must-see.  It does show its age and drag on at some points, but it’s worth every minute on the whole.  Grab some wine coolers and enjoy.  Rebecca gets a 0.03% rating.