Rebecca is a 1940 mystery thriller film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, and is directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was Hitchcock's first American movie. Since 1936, it is the only Best Picture winner to not win an Academy Award in acting, directing, or writing.
In Rebecca, Joan Fantine plays a woman whose name is never given. Instead, she is referred to as the second Mrs. de Winter, when she marries Maxim de Winter (Olivier), a wealthy, but emotionally fragile man, who takes her to live in his large country house, Manderley. The new Mrs. de Winter meets Mrs. Danvers, the cold-hearted housekeeper who continuously mentions and praises Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter. Mrs. de Winter #2 soon begins to doubt her relationship with Maxim, fearing he is still deeply in love with Rebecca. She also feels the pressure of following in Rebecca's footsteps, as she learns more of the high reputation that Rebecca held during her lifetime.
What more can be said about the masterful legacy of Alfred Hitchcock? The Master of Suspense supplanted his name in the movie history books with all-time classics such as Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and The Birds. But hold on a minute! Why don't we seem to include his Best Picture winner Rebecca alongside his most memorable films? Is it because Rebecca was made much earlier than any of these other films? Perhaps. Or maybe is it because the film does not quite reach the level of these other films? Perhaps that too.
There is absolutely nothing that is horribly wrong about Rebecca. It is suspenseful and dramatically-engaging. However, it does not have the ability to grab and keep hold of your attention as well as the other films mentioned above can. Rebecca is more focused on the mystery, rather than the exciting thrills.
- The smart story line. As the mystery behind Rebecca unravels itself, you begin to realize the sensible motivations of the characters interlink with one another quite well. Rebecca is the center whose thoughts and desires act as branches to stimulate and provoke Maxim, Mrs. de Winter #2, and Mrs. Danvers. Because of Rebecca, Maxim is distant and unpredictable, which takes a toll on Mrs. de Winter #2. Mrs. Danvers shows an almost psychotic obsession with Rebecca's supposed beauty and charm, which also has effects on Mrs. de Winter #2, particularly in the famous scene where Mrs. Danvers tries to influence Mrs. de Winter #2 to jump out of a window and fall to her death. Every character acts a link in a chain that is rooted in Rebecca's intangible presence. When all is said and done, everything makes sense.
- Rebecca likes to take its sweet old time in really getting itself going. Several of Hitchcock's other films seem to do this as well. In Psycho, Norman Bates doesn't first appear until about 30 minutes in. Jeff Jefferies in Rear Window takes some time before really engaging in his voyeuristic neighbor watching. The first half hour of Rebecca focuses on Olivier and Fontaine's characters falling in love, with mentions of Rebecca few and far in between. When the two reach Manderley is when the story really begins to pick up, though you may find yourself growing a little impatient beforehand.
Rebecca deserves praise for its intelligent story-telling, but the mystery component can sometimes overshadow the suspense and thrills. The film more-so asks the question, "What did happen?", as opposed to, "What will happen?" While still a quality and suspenseful Hitchcock film in its own right, Rebecca does not quite match up to the masterful work of Hitchcock's later films.
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