"You wouldn't think she'd been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn't mistake it anywhere. It's not only in this room, it's in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now. Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?" Mrs. Danvers to The Second Mrs. de Winter (Rebecca)There are few directors that can be defined so completely by their work. When one watches a Hitchcock film, it is immediately apparent that it is his film done in his distinctive style. Instead of saying North by Northwest or Psycho, we say we're watching a "Hitchcock film." Hitchcock's flair for creating suspense and for effortlessly terrifying the audience is legendary. That's why what is most disturbing about this horror film is not the plot, but the struggle between Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick, his producer. The film loses that Hitchock intensity and suffers as a result.
The film starts with the voiceover of a woman speaking as the camera pans over the ruins of an estate. She says "Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again..." but goes on the say that it is impossible as it is now in ruins. She then flashes back to where it all began.
|Maxim de Winter proposes over breakfast|
|Mrs. Danvers shows the new Mrs. de Winter Rebecca's suite.|
|Mrs. Danvers tempts Mrs. de Winter to commit suicide.|
|Mrs. de Winter with her husband Maxim|
|Jack attempts to blackmail the de Winters.|
|Hitchcock's signature cameo, when Jack finds out Rebecca had cancer.|
|David O. Selznick|
Hitchcock was unprepared for the kind of "producing" that Selznick was now famous for. "When I came to America to direct Rebecca," said Hitchcock more than two decades later, "David Selznick sent me a memo...I've just finished reading it...I think I may turn it into a motion picture...I plan to call it The Longest Story Ever Told." Selznick wanted to be just as involved in this picture as he had been with Gone with the Wind. He sent memos, gave suggestions, and re-wrote Hitchcock's script. Used to directing on his own, Hitchcock chafed at being forced to follow orders. Hitchcock therefore did the best he could under the circumstances. He edited the film "in camera," nullifying Selznick's habit of making last minute edits. When Lawrence Oliver was cold to Joan Fontaine (he had wanted his girlfriend Viven Leigh for the role) Hitchcock told her that everyone else on the set hated her as well, making her give the perfect performance as a young, insecure, frightened girl. He cast Judith Anderson, a famous Broadway tragedian, as Mrs. Danvers, and made her character both younger and more mysterious than she had been in the novel. Hitchcock purposely made Mrs. Danvers appear as a projection of Mrs. de Winter's fears, having her pop up mysteriously and float rather than walk. He even changed Selznick's ending, allowing the final shot to be of Rebecca's burning monogrammed pillowcase, rather than a smokey "R" floating into the sky. Despite his efforts, Hitchcock never felt that this film was truly his own. And though Selznick insisted on adherance to the novel's plot, there was one change he couldn't appose. The Hollywood Production Code said that the murder of a spouse had to be punished. In the novel, Maxim shoots Rebecca, while in the film, Maxim only thinks of killing her.
|Publicity for Rebecca|
|Keira Knightly and Jennifer Jason Leigh pose as Mrs. de Winter and Mrs. Danvers for Vanity Fair|
|Mrs. de Winter and Maxim de Winter|
My friends were not a fan of this movie. Which was dismaying for me, as I had such high expectations of any film bearing Hitchcock's name. For a time I wondered if this film was like my experience with Vertigo, great when I watched it alone, but horrible when I watched it with others. Maybe. But this film was long, drawn out, and slow. I could feel the palpable boredom of everyone else in the room. It is also a film that doesn't always hold up well for a modern audience; Laurence Oliver's Maxim de Winter is Byronic to the point of being a parody of himself. His line (about the kind of proposal that Mrs. de Winter should receive) that made us all nearly die with laughter was: "It should be in a conservatory, you in a white frock with a red rose in your hand and a violin playing in the distance, and I should be making violent love to you behind a palm tree." The phrase "making violent love to you behind a palm tree" should never be uttered to a modern audience. The film plods through unnecessary scenes, dragging out the plot twists with a heavy-handedness that often feels forced. It is as though the film is saying, "Look! Something is wrong over here!" This has never been Hitchcock's style, but it is certainly the influence of Selznick. Just witness his desire to have a giant "R" floating up to the sky in smoke. What works in a novel doesn't necessarily translate to film, something Hitchcock realized and tried to correct. When the climactic final secret of Rebecca's death is revealed I found myself less than surprised. Even worse, indifferent.
|Mrs. Danvers shows the new Mrs. de Winter Rebecca's fur coat.|
|Mrs. Danvers thinks Rebecca watches the new Mrs. de Winter.|