Rebecca (review)

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Through a House Darkly

Atmospheric and moody, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca is a masterpiece of style and substance, an extended meditation on how the dead haunt the living. Photographed in somber shadows, few movies before or since have taken such glorious advantage of black-and-white film.

She (Joan Fontaine) meets the enigmatic and temperamental Maxim DeWinter (Laurence Olivier) in Monte Carlo, and on a whim marries him. We never learn her name: Maxim calls her “dear” or “darling,” and to others she is simply Mrs. DeWinter — or, to distinguish her from Rebecca, her husband’s first wife, the second Mrs. DeWinter. He takes her home to foggy, rainy Cornwall, where he owns Manderley, a rambling country manor house that’s as much as a character in the film as any of its human inhabitants.

A meek little mouse, “dull and gauche and inexperienced,” as she terms herself, she is awkward and uncomfortable in the big house with its army of servants. Worse, the ghost of Rebecca is everywhere — not an actual spirit, but reminders of the first Mrs. DeWinter. Her initials are emblazoned on napkins, handkerchiefs, stationery. Her grieving dog Jasper sits outside Rebecca’s bedroom in the mysterious and off-limits west wing. “She knew everyone that mattered, and everyone loved her,” says Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housemaid who came to Manderley when Rebecca was a new bride, who is trying desperately to make the second Mrs. DeWinter feel unwanted. Her husband, whom she barely knows, seems to be withdrawing from her, avoiding her. The new Mrs. DeWinter grows nervous and suspicious: Did he have something to do with his first wife’s untimely death?

In true Hitchcock style (the movie is based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, but Hitch knew how to pick ’em), Rebecca twists and twists again, creating a haunting and memorable film.

Oscars Outstanding Production 1940
unforgettable movie moment:
Maxim finally speaks of Rebecca’s life and death to his new wife.

previous Best Picture:
1939: Gone with the Wind
next Best Picture:
1941: How Green Was My Valley

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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