For reasons involving a 3000 word essay, family commitments and candy crush saga, Moviebelle Reviews has been a ghost town this last month. In fitting with this, my triumphant comeback to the blogging world will be Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”. The chilling adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel about a woman whose husband’s manor is haunted with the memory of his deceased wife.
Unbelievable as it seems, Hitchcock never won an Oscar for direction, although nominated five times. And though several of his films were nominated for best picture, ‘Rebecca’ is the only one that ever received it. Strangely, and to this day, it is also the only film to win best picture without any directing, acting or writing accolades. If you ask me, his magnum opus was ‘Rear Window’ but that’s sadly not going to be featured in this blog having been beaten in 1955 by ‘On the Waterfront’. As a self-declared advocate for gender equality, it may come as something as a surprise to find out I’m such a fan of the master of the male gaze. He might not be my first choice of guest at my imaginary dinner party, but I have great admiration for Hitch’s skill as a film-maker of remarkable influence who never fails to thrill.
‘Rebecca’ begins in the South of France, where a young woman (Joan Fontaine) is employed as a paid companion to a wealthy dowager. There she meets a rich, brusque and mysterious bachelor George Maximilian “Maxim” de Winter (Laurence Olivier). His manner and desire for solitude is supposedly caused by his agonised mourning for his late wife Rebecca. When her employer falls sick and is confined to her bed, she soon becomes his unpaid companion. An intriguing romance blossoms and when she is accompany her employer to New York, thus separating them, he offers perhaps the most offhand marriage proposal in the history of film.
The doting couple return to his enormous estate Manderley, only to discover an even more immense presence is awaiting them. The ‘ghost’ of Rebecca’s memory fills every inch of the house and the new Mrs De Winter grows more and more distraught and lonely. The housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) is a major source of her dread, who takes it upon herself to psychologically torture the new Mrs de Winter for the sole reason that she is not her old mistress Rebecca, whom she had an unorthodox adoration for it would seem.
It’s incredible how intense Hitchcock makes something as simple as the new Mrs De Winter spying a handkerchief embroidered with Rebecca’s initials. As the film progresses, the presence of a woman who died before the film even began becomes increasingly suffocating. Mrs De Winter is an emotional wreck, and while I find the fragile, fainting woman as eye-roll inducing as the next person, I can’t say I blame her. Considering all it takes is seeing a girl I don’t know talking/laughing with my boyfriend from a distance to make my skin burn, being trapped in a mansion where everywhere I look is a reminder of his previous love would probably mess with my sanity as well.
If you’re wondering why I’m not referring to Joan Fontaine’s character by her first name, it’s because we never learn it in the film (or book). This is one of the ingenious touches that adds to the overwhelming grip of ‘Rebecca’. This next part (which I have italicised) may count as a spoiler so proceed with caution…but we never even see so much as a picture of Rebecca. All we know is that she was apparently very beautiful. The viewer then creates a goddess image in their head of the woman that could not be lived up to by any actress. This gives the film an almost supernatural element: Rebecca transcends a mortal human by being so alive after death.
As the film progresses, we unravel the mystery of ‘Rebecca’ death and the power she held over her husband, and delve into who she really was. It sounds a cliché but you really are kept guessing until the bitter end. There’s nothing much else to add: the acting is fantastic, the direction unsurprisingly sublime and the plot wonderfully gripping with Hitch’s trademark edge-of-your-seat stamp. Although I very hastily add that equal credit should go to Du Maurier. The original writer behind this masterful thriller.
This is a film I’d show to people to who say they don’t like black and white films because they’re boring, which as any true film lover knows is a nonsensical view. The ‘Paranormal Activity’ series has nothing on the suspense of classic Hitchcock (or from what I hear, anything on what’s considered to be remotely scary). ‘Rebecca’ is an exquisitely executed story that proves there is little more terrifying than one’s ex.