Rebecca (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
January 27, 2012 by Dennis Amith
While many feel that this Alfred Hitchcock film is more of a David O. Selznick film (since Hitchcock had to play by his producer’s strict rules), there is no denying that the psychological drama, “Rebecca”, is a fantastic film. And because of it’s wonderful transfer on Blu-ray and that there are a number of solid special features included, there is no doubt that this Blu-ray release is the definitive version of “Rebecca” to own at this time and is highly recommended!
FILM RELEASE: 1940
DURATION: 131 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 black and white, English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY:MGM/20th Century fox
RATED: Not Rated
RELEASE DATE: January 24, 2012
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison
Adaptation by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan
Produced by David O. Selznick
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography by George Barnes
Edited by W. Donn Hayes
Art Direction by Lyle R. Wheeler
Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter
Joan Fontaine as Mrs. de Winter
George Sanders as Jack Favell
Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers
Nigel Bruce as Major Giles Lacy
Reginald Denny as Frank Crawley
C. Aburey Smith as Colonel Julyan
Gladys Cooper as Beatrice Lacy
Florence Bates as Mrs. Van Hopper
For his first American film, Alfred Hitchcock teamed up with producer David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind) to create a “spine-tingling” (LA Weekly) romantic thriller that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Based on Daphne Du Maurier’s timeless novel, this dark, atmospheric tale of fatal obsession features Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson, as well as a “haunting score by Franz Waxman” (Leonard Maltin).
After a whirlwind romance, mysterious widower Maxim de Winter (Olivier) brings his shy, young bride (Fontaine) home to his imposing estate, Manderley. But the new Mrs. de Winter finds her married life dominated by the sinister, almost spectral influence of Maxim’s late wife: the brilliant, ravishingly beautiful Rebecca, who, she suspects, still rules both Manderley and Maxim from beyond the grave!
British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was in major demand after creating a string of film hits in the 1920’s and 1930’s such as “”The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934), “The 39 Steps” (1935) and “The Lady Vanishes” (1938), there was no doubt that America would come knocking on his doors.
And the person from America to do that was producer David O. Selznick, known for producing “Anna Karenina” (1935), “A Tale of Two Cities” 1935), “A Star is Born” (1937), “Nothing Sacred” (1937) and “Intermezzo” (1939). But Selznick was best known for producing the film “Gone with the Wind” in 1939 which earned him an Academy Award for “Best Picture”.
And Selznick was a person who knew that Hitchcock would probably be the man to direct for him another box office hit. And thus signed Hitchcock to a seven-year contract and gave him the opportunity to move to the United States and make films in America.
The first film the two would collaborate on is a film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” (who also wrote “Jamaica Inn” and “The Birds” which would go on to have film adaptations that Hitchcock would direct). A novel that Hitchcock had tried to obtain the rights to but would no way be able to compete with Selznick, who would actually win the rights to the film.
But it’s a film that Alfred Hitchcock would be very much interested in directing but there was one catch, Hitchcock must stay faithful to the original novel.
Bare in mind, Alfred Hitchcock was a man who pioneered techniques for suspense and psychological thrillers but most importantly, a director who did things his own creative way. While Selznick was a person who made sure that for his films, he had control and in this case, made sure that Hitchcock would make the film adaptation faithful to the original.
And the film adaptation would go on to win two Academy Awards out of 11 nominations including an award for “Best Picture” and would give Selznick his second Oscar. But the film would also add strain to the relationships of both Hitchock and Selznick.
“Rebecca” would star Laurence Olivier (“Pride and Prejudice”, “49th Parallel”, “Henry V”, “Spartacus”), Joan Fontaine (“Suspicion”, “Ivanhoe”, “Letter from an Unknown Woman”) and Judith Anderson (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “Laura”) and the film would be introduced at the 1st Berlin International Film Festival in 1951.
The film begins with the following narration, “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again”, to the images of a ruined country manor. She continues that she can never return to Manderley — as it no longer exists, except as a ruin.”
We are then taking to a scene in Monte Carlo as wealthy widower Maximilian de Winters (played by Laurence Olivier) is overlooking the sea on top of a cliff. We then hear a scream from a young woman (note: no name is given for the young woman, played by Joan Fontaine) who tells him not to jump, but it appears that the young woman had misinterpreted what she saw.
We are then taken to an event for high society and the wealthy Edyth Van Hopper (played by Florence Bates) is accompanied by her assistant (who happens to be the young woman) as they meet the wealthy aristocrat Maximilian de Winter.
The following morning as the young woman is having breakfast, Maximilian de Winter joins her and from that moment on, the two begin to spend more and more time with each other. Her boss, Ms. Hopper is becoming more upset because she is not at her home to attend to her, but the assistant tells her that she has been learning how to play tennis (but not telling her that she is learning from Mr. de Winter).
One day, the young woman overhears that Maximilian de Winter has been distraught since the death of his wife Rebecca, who had drowned in the ocean.
Meanwhile, when Edyth’s daughter is planning to get married, Edyth wants the young woman to join her and stay in New York, thus will sure to end her meetups with Mr. de Winter, and when she goes to tell him that she is leaving to New York, Maximilian can’t bare the thought of leaving her and thus, requests for the young woman to marry her in order for the two to be together and thus quitting her job with Ms. Van Hopper.
And thus, both Maximilian and the young woman are married and the two move back to Manderley, a country estate in South England. And Mrs. De Winter is shocked about how large the estate is. Immediately, she is introduced to de Winter’s very large domestic staff including the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (played by Judith Anderson).
And while living at the mansion, Mrs. de Winter quickly learns that everyone at the estate loves Rebecca and many things throughout the house remind them of her. While Mrs. De Winter would love to talk to Maximilian about his late wife, she feels that anything that reminds him of her, makes him distraught and thus, never brings her up.
As Maximilian goes off on a business trip, she is left behind at the mansion and while she makes friends with the staff, Mrs. Danvers starts to show her obsession with Rebecca, how Rebecca’s bedroom is kept like a shrine and while Mrs. de Winter tries to become friendly with the staff, Mrs. Danvers is cold to her and uses psychological tactics to make her think that everyone including Maximilian feels that Mrs. de Winter is trying to be Rebecca’s replacement and that she is trying be like her and it starts to play with Mrs. de Winters mind to the point that she feels the house may be haunted by Rebecca.
And immediately, even Mrs. de Winter starts to believe that Maxim may still be in love with Rebecca and that Rebecca is haunting the house.
But with Maximilian’s return from his business trip, Mrs. de Winter wants to make sure that she starts things off fresh by being a perfect wife and that means eliminating anything that reminds Maxim about his late wife out of the house and also to request for her husband to host a costume party. And while she tries to decide what outfit to wear, Mrs. Danvers recommends Mrs. de Winter to wear a dress that Caroline de Winter, an ancestor who is featured in a painting inside the mansion, is wearing.
And when Mrs. de Winter reveals the costume to her husband, Maxim is livid and begins to scream at her to change her clothing. Immediately, Mrs. de Winter feels as if Mrs. Danvers has lied and made her wear the outfit, knowing that Rebecca had once worn it before. And when she confronts him, Mrs. Danvers tells her that Mrs. de Winter will never take Rebecca’s place and that Maxim will never love her like he did with Rebecca. She then tries to convince Mrs. de Winter to take her life, but will she?
As Mrs. de Winter starts to mad with her feeling that she will never be loved by Maxim or accepted by anyone else because of the memory of Rebecca, will Mrs. de Winter end her life?
“Rebecca” is presented in 1080p High Definition (full screen 1:33:1, black and white). For this 72-year-old film, the clarity and contrast is fantastic.
Black levels are deep, whites and grays are sharp and there is a fine layer of grain throughout the film. While there are some frames that have scratches, compared to the original DVD release including the older Criterion Collection release, the clarity of this Blu-ray release is easily the best version of “Rebecca” I have seen thus far.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Rebecca” is presented in English monaural DTS-HD Master Audio (via a 2.0 mix). The dialogue and music is crystal clear with no sign of hiss, click or crackle.
Subtitles are presented in English SDH.
“Rebecca” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by Richard Schickel – A really in-depth audio commentary by Richard Schickel.
- Isolated Music and Effects Track – Watch “Rebecca” with only the music courtesy of composer Franz Waxman and the sound effects (no dialogue).
- The Making of Rebecca – (28:08) Presented in standard definition, this featurette goes into details about the challenges of making of the film and creative differences between Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick who wanted the film to be faithful to the original novel.
- The Gothic World of Daphne DuMaurier – (19:02) Interviews with those who very familiar with Daphne DuMaurier’s work and her background.
- Screen Tests – (9:07) Featuring screen tests with Margaret Sullavan and Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.
- Radio Plays – Featuring three audio plays: 1938 Campbell Playhouse (December 9, 1938) starring Orson Welles (1:59:35), 1941 Lux Radio play presented by Cecil B. Demille (February 3, 1941, 58:31) and a 1950 Lux Radio Theater audio play with Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier (1:00:22).
- Hitchcock Audio Interviews – Featuring audio interviews with Alfred Hitchcock by Peter Bogdanovich (4:20) and Francois Truffaut (9:15).
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:22) The original theatrical trailer for “Rebecca”.
“Rebecca” is a Hitchcock film that many people look at as a masterpiece.
A beloved film that has even stymied the director who is not sure why people loved the film, but possibly a film that Hitchcock will not look at in a positive light because he had to go by producer David O. Selznick’s rules of keeping faithful to the original novel and because of that, it’s one of the few films that is not a psychological thriller.
“Rebecca” has long been considered as a Gothic tale and a psychological/dramatic noir. But as Alfred Hitchcock has told Francois Truffaut about the film in the book “Hitchcock”, “Well, it’s not a Hitchcock picture, it’s a novelette, really. The story is old-fashioned there was a whole school of feminine literature at that period, and though I’m not against it, the fact that the story is lacking in humor.”
One can only fathom how different the film would be if Selznick had given Hitchcock the opportunity to make it is way. But needless to say, the film would become a classic hit, a film that would earn Selznick a second Oscar and for Hitchcock, despite losing the “Best Director” category to John Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, but the film would pave the way for success for Hitchcock as he now had his residence in America and would go on to make more films in Hollywood and cement his status as being one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
Sure, “Rebecca” is different from the Hitchcock film that many are used to watching. It is a love story, about a woman who loves a man unconditionally but at the same time, without knowing his past and the circumstance that surrounded the death of “Rebecca”, she slowly goes insane as others Mrs. de Winter thinks everyone thinks that she is trying to be a replacement to Maximilian’s deceased wife.
What makes this film so artistic is how they manage to capture emotion, but also the wickedness of the character Mrs. Danvers. She is sort of motionless and with the deviant look that she gives throughout the film, you can’t help but think that her character is quite creepy.
And while Laurence Olivier did a splendid job on his role, its the performance by Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson that actually captures your attention. Joan Fontaine’s role of Mrs. De Winter is pure, naive but a loving woman who just wants to be close to her husband. Not much is know about Maximilian’s relationship to Rebecca, but how the storyline is structured in making the viewer feel that he is in love and has a hard time forgetting about her, was rather intriguing, especially once you are hit with the twist that you simply never saw it coming.
But there is a brilliance in the way the film is shot as well, especially with the final shots of Mrs. Danvers and the fiery climax but while Hitchcock was restrained by producer David O. Selznick, the film is still beloved. But once again, one can only wonder how much different Hitchcock would have made this film if given the opportunity. In the end, on paper, it may have benefited David O. Selznick but in the long run, “Rebecca” help pave the way for Hitchcock in creating his future masterpiece films in his oeuvre.
As for the Blu-ray release, I absolutely loved the transfer as the picture quality showed amazing detail and clarity not seen in the previous DVD’s and you get a good amount of special features, especially the addition of the radio plays which were fantastic!
Overall, while many people will have their own subjective opinion of what is the best Hitchcock film and whether or not “Rebecca” can be claimed as one of his best, especially when the producer was the person who called the shots, still one can’t deny that we are able to spot some of that Hitchcock brilliance in this film.
“Rebecca” is a fantastic film that any cineaste and Hitchcock fan will want to purchase for their cinema collection. Highly recommended!
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