"Last night I dreamed I was in Manderly again."
After years of making hugely successful films in England, such as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, Alfred Hitchcock moved to Hollywood, teamed up with Gone with the Wind producer David Selznick, and made Rebecca, based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier. Though the partnership between Hitchcock and Selznick was rocky (Hitchcock wanted a creepy thriller while Selznick wanted a thrilling melodrama in style of Gone with the Wind), but in the end, Rebecca was released to high acclaim, and the film ended up being the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture. An accomplishment like that is probably the reason why it is my mom's favorite Hitchcock film. But as for me... I still have a high preference for the Master of Suspense's later films, especially Vertigo, but Hitch's first Hollywood production is a classic.
A young woman (Joan Fontaine) is the servant of Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates). This woman meets the wealthy Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), who just lost his wife Rebecca in a tragic accident. The two end up falling in love and marry, and the couple ends up at Maxim's ginormous mansion Manderly. The new Mrs. De Winter enjoys her time, but the servants have a high preference on Rebecca, especially Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), Manderly's creepy maid. Eventually, Rebecca's presence starts to haunt everyone in the house.
Rebecca also stars George Sanders as Jack Favell, Rebecca's "favorite cousin" and Hitchcock makes a cameo towards the end of the film passing Sanders near a phone booth.
Due to the rocky partnership between Hitchcock and Selznick, Hitchcock would later reveal that Rebecca was one of his weakest films in his career. But I feel that Hitchcock was missing the point. In my opinion, Rebecca is one of Hitchcock's best films.
Early on, Hitchcock was known for wowing audiences for his suspenseful scenes and chilling performances, and Rebecca was no exception. What really brings Rebecca to the chilling classic it is the Oscar-winning cinematography. The scenes in Manderly are dark, eerie, and in some cases, downright creepy. There's also a chilling score by the legendary Franz Waxman, known for scoring suspenseful films, especially the even more suspenseful Sunset Boulevard.
The cast is strong in Hitchcock's Hollywood debut. Joan Fontaine, who I just recently discovered to be the real-life sister of Olivia de Havilland, is outstanding as the second Mrs. De Winter, and is the only actress I pictured for the part (people cried foul that Vivien Leigh didn't get the part, but I feel that Scarlett O'Hara in the role would have been a miscast). Some might be disturbed by Laurence's Olivier's performance, especially the character's treatment on women, but Olivier delivers in the role as well as Fontaine. Their chemistry is strong and make the perfect couple. I'm pretty sure I saw a kiss that was longer than 3 seconds (a Hays Code violator). George Sanders delights as Rebecca's mysterious cousin, and has some crazy plot twists in him, and Florence Bates delights as the wealthy Mrs. Van Hopper in the opening scenes. But who gave the chilling performance of all? For me, that would be Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, the creepy maid with an obsession for Rebecca. We find out that her character had stored all of Rebecca's belongings and placed them in her old bedroom, even placing them in the exact spots that Rebecca put them. The Mrs. Danvers is one creepy woman, but in the hands on Judith Anderson, the role is even creepier and placed in strong hands. Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson all gained Oscar nominations for their roles, but of all the three, the one who should have won the award would be Judith Anderson as the creepy, obsessive maid. She steals the picture, and without the character, the film wouldn't have worked.
Though Hitchcock disowned the film after release, and working with David Selznick was a bit of a pain, Rebecca paid off (one thing, with it's Best Picture win), with haunting cinematography, a chilling score, and wonderful (and creepy) performances. With Rebecca's success, Hitchcock would eventually go down as one of Hollywood's greatest directors, with classics as Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Strangers on a Train.