REBECCA (1940) B/W 130m dir: Alfred Hitchcock
w/Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Denny, Leo G. Carroll, Philip Winter, Edward Fielding
An impeccably crafted Gothic love story, this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's bestseller was Hitchcock's first American film. The mystery of Rebecca's death and the heartbreaking attempts of the new bride (Fontaine) to emulate her sophisticated predecessor are interwoven by the director into an eerie triangle among the husband (Olivier), the new bride, and the first Mrs. de Winter, whose presence is made palpable in the film, especially through the figure of her devoted housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Anderson). Unsurpassed as a mystery-romance, this atmospheric classic is Hitchcock's only film to win a Best Picture Oscar.
From Variety's contemporary review of the film: "Picture is noteworthy for its literal translation of Daphne du Maurier's novel to the screen, presenting all of the sombreness and dramatic tragedy of the book.
"Alfred Hitchcock pilots his first American production with capable assurance and exceptional understanding of the motivation and story mood. Despite the psychological and moody aspects the tale throughout its major footage, he highlights the piece with several intriguing passages that display inspired direction.
"Laurence Olivier provides an impressionable portrayal as the master of Manderly, unable to throw off the memory of his tragic first marriage while trying to secure happiness in his second venture. Joan Fontaine is excellent as the second wife, carrying through the transition of a sweet and vivacious bride to that of a bewildered woman marked by the former tragedy she finds hard to understand.
"Supporting cast has been selected with careful attention to individual capabilities. Judith Anderson is the sinister housekeeper and confidante of the former wife; George Sanders is personable in portrayal of the despicable Jack Flavell; and Reginald Denny is Cawley, the estate manager and pal of Olivier; Florence Bates provides many light moments in the early portion as a romantically inclined dowager."
Francois Truffaut interviewed the director about REBECCA in his book, Hitchcock:
"F.T. This was your first American project and I imagine you must have felt a little intimidated at the idea of undertaking it.
"A.H. Well, not exactly, because in fact it's a completely British picture: the story, the actors, and the director were all English. I've sometimes wondered what that picture would have been like had it been made in England with the same cast. I'm not sure I would have handled it the same way. The American influence on it is obvious. First, because of [strong-willed producer David O.] Selznick, and then because the screenplay was written by the playwright Robert Sherwood, who gave it a broader viewpoint than it would have had if made in Britain. ...
"F.T. Making that picture, I imagine, was something of a challenge. After all, the novel itself was a rather unlikely one for you; it wasn't a thriller, there was no suspense. It was simply a psychological story, into which you deliberately introduced the element of suspense around the conflict of personalities. The experience, I think, had repercussions on the films that came later. Didn't it inspire you to enrich many of them with the psychological ingredients you initially discovered in the Daphne du Maurier novel?
"A.H. That's true.
"F.T. The relationship of the heroine, for instance ... with the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, was something new in your work. And it reappears time and again later on, not only in the scenarios, but even visually: two faces, one dead still, as if petrified by fear of the other; the victim and the tormentor framed in the same image.
"A.H. Precisely. In Rebecca I did that very deliberately. Mrs. Danvers was almost never seen walking and was rarely shown in motion. If she entered a room in which the heroine was, what happened is that the girl suddenly heard a sound and there was the ever-present Mrs. Danvers, standing perfectly still by her side. In this way the whole situation was projected from the heroine's point of view; she never knew when Mrs. Danvers might turn up, and this, in itself, was terrifying. To have shown Mrs. Danvers walking about would have been to humanize her."
In addition to its Best Picture Oscar, REBECCA also won for Best Cinematography (George Barnes). It was also nominated for Best Director, Actor (Olivier), Actress (Fontaine), Supporting Actress (Anderson), Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison), Editing (Hal C. Kern), Score (Franz Waxman), Art Direction (Lyle Wheeler), and Visual Effects (Jack Cosgrove).