Critic Consensus: Hitchcock's first American film (and his only Best Picture winner), Rebecca is a masterpiece of haunting atmosphere, Gothic thrills, and gripping suspense.
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as Maxim de Winter
as Mrs. de Winter
as Mrs. Danvers
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Critic Reviews for Rebecca
It is the finest job of direction accomplished by a master director and may justly be called Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece.
This time Hitchcock does it all his way, does a splendid job and has a splendid cast to do it with.
Through its first two-thirds it is as perfect a myth of adolescence as any of the Disney films, documenting the childlike, nameless heroine's initiation into the adult mysteries of sex, death, and identity.
Hitchcock shows superb technical control and attends to his trademark motifs, from monstrous mother figures to the fetishisation of clothing.
Audience Reviews for Rebecca
This was the first film Hitchcock made after moving to the U.S. to further his film career. The subject matter for this assignment is an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's eerie, gothic psychological chiller (with some romance moments) about an unnamed young woman who, after a short, whirlwind romance, marries a wealthy widower. They take up residence in his country estate Manderlay, and from there, the young woman starts to go mad, mostly because it seems that Manderlay is haunted by the spectre of her husband's first wife Rebecca. She died under mysterious circumstances, and most of the staff seem to obsessively prefer her over her replacement, especially the particularly rough and cruel Mrs. Danvers.
The film is brimming with lots of great stuff, especially a wonderful score by Franz Waxman, some great art direction, set design, gorgeous cinematography, and some excellent atmosphere, mood, and tone. This is a fine gothic psychological mystery chiller.
This was Hitchcock's only Oscar winning film (it took Best Picture in 1940), and it seems odd to me that not only did this get best picture, but that none of Hitchcock's work got any love from the Academy. To be fair, Foreign Correspondant was in competetion for the top prize with Rebecca the same year, but still, none of his great stuff from the late 50s-early 60s?
I enjoyed this film, but honestly, as much as I dig Hitch's work, I don't thnk this is Best Picture material, and it's rather overrated in general. Oh sure, I enjoyed it, but it really doesn't come off as all that special. It also doesn't help that it only somewhat seems like a proper Hitch film, something reinforced by the fact that the man himself called it a "Selznick film" instead of one of his own.
Where the acting is concerned, Joan Fontaine is decent as our protagonist, and Olivier is passable as our newlywedded widower, but I can't help but feel that he was holding back a bit. It's not a bad performance, but it should be a great one. The film does have one performance that really is quite brilliant, and that is the one given by Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers. She's the real scene stealer here. Everything about her performance and just her in general is awesome, from her voice and delivery to her mannerisms and facial expressions, especially her fiendishly eerie glare, this is one of the greatest creepy characters out there.
All in all, a decent enough film, but far from great. Maybe had Hitch had more control this could have really been a mesmerizing spectacle instead of a compromised offering from the Master of Suspense. Straight (but solid) B.
This gothic tale has so many twists and turns, that more than 70 years later, it still has the capability to keep audiences on the edge of their seat.
Rebecca is a bizarre movie. I can think of few films from the early 1940s that are as tonally diffuse, playful with genre, and creepingly sinister as Hitchcock's first American film; it feels less like an adaptation and more like the ramblings of a mad genius regurgitating everything he knew about film on the screen. Within two hours, the film moves from romantic comedy, to gothic horror, to chamber drama, and adds a dash of courtroom procedural at the end of it all. Though many of Hitchcock's films flirt with comedic elements, the first half hour of the film is light as a feather, and its gradual settling into neo-Victorian "threatening house" mode is almost totally vanquished in the final act by a sudden move to an inquest at the police station. Impressive though it is that Hitchcock could so seamlessly stitch all these discordant parts together, I occasionally found it exhausting, as whenever I started getting used to the film it would abruptly change its means of presentation.
I found Rebecca to be at its most effective as it prowled through the halls of Manderley, perhaps one of the most atmospheric sets Hitchcock has ever made use of. Gargantuan and suffused with shadow, the new Ms. de Winter seems almost devoured by it. It acts as a sort of menacing forebearer for all the troubles that await her - within this mansion lurk secrets, threatening figures, and de Winter's own crushing feelings that she simply can't compete with the woman her husband once had. The sensibilities of its source material, Daphne du Maurier's popular revision of Jane Eyre, are clear, but Hitchcock's own flourishes liven this house-bound chapter in the book considerably. His preoccupation with women in oppressive situations is put to great use, as Ms. de Winter has scarcely an ally amongst the denizens of Manderley. Her new husband is often absent, both physically and emotionally, and she is at odds with the inexplicably frigid Ms. Danvers. Danvers makes no secret of her fondness for Rebecca de Winter, but both Hitchcock and Judith Anderson code her as more than an obsessive maidservant. Beyond merely being frightening, there's a crypto-lesbian element to her reminiscence about Rebecca, right down to her tactile exploration of her old nightwear ("you can see my hand through it!") Rebecca herself, though never seen, feels like the most powerful presence in the house; she looms over the entire movie like a phantom, her influence poisoning every interaction made beneath Manderley's roof. Combined with the dark, oppressive aesthetic Hitchcock creates in the house, it is not a huge stretch to imagine that she is possessing Ms. Danvers and bidding her to do her will, or throwing blinds shut in the east wing while the new Ms. de Winter is watching.
Compared to the richly explored, daunting Manderley passages, the rest of Rebecca simply doesn't seem as powerful. The opening act, though frothy and fast-paced, lacks the gravity that is eventually heaped upon the viewer. Hitchcock's fondness for keeping his viewers on-guard or disoriented is evident in this drastic shift in tones, but the dry and lengthy third act feels less like a deliberate change in aesthetic and more like a misjudged narrative switch-up. As soon as Maxim and his wife leave the shack by the seaside and end up in the police station, the movie begins to plod, with a surprisingly tension-free "did he or didn't he?" conundrum for everyone (including Maxim himself) to puzzle through. Manderley's burning, though a highly resonant image to close Rebecca out on, might have had still more power if we were allowed more time there.
|Maxim de Winter:||And I should be making violent love to you behind a palm tree.|
|Maxim de Winter:||It's gone forever, that funny young, lost look I loved won't ever come back. I killed that when I told you about Rebecca. It's gone. In a few hours, you've grown so much older.|
|Mrs. de Winter:||How do you do?|
|Mrs. Danvers:||How do you do.... I have everything in readiness for you.|
|Mrs. de Winter:||Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.|
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