Rebecca (1940)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison (screenplay), Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan (adaptation), Daphne Du Maurier (novel)

“It wouldn’t make for sanity, would it? Living with the devil…”

A rich woman’s traveling companion and servant (Joan Fontaine) meets and falls in love with the fabulously wealthy, recent widower Maxim de Winter (Lawrence Olivier). She returns with him to his estate and finds herself constantly compared to his previous wife Rebecca, who lost her life in a seafaring accident a year before.

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Her new life is complicated by Mrs. Danvers, the head of the staff , who adored Rebecca and is constantly deploying small tortures against the new Mrs. de Winter out of spite. When a ship wrecks off the coast of the de Winter estate, the hull of Rebecca’s boat is examined and new evidence is revealed, causing the investigation into her death to reopen.

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This is a fantastic romantic story and has little to do with traditional black cinema, aside from the visual style, for the first hour and a half. But the story darkens and pressure increases on the young bride as she struggles to live up to Rebecca’s impeccable image. Suspicions deepen as it’s slowly revealed the previous Mrs. de Winter may not have been the angel everyone remembers.

Here in Hitchcock’s first American film, Lawrence Olivier delivers a stellar performance, but Joan Fontaine’s modest and sweetly stunning Mrs. de Winter is impossible to look away from, hitting you with a hammer of moonlight right between the eyes (and I think I’ve fallen madly in love with her).

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It is a bit of stretch including this as film noir, being romantically oriented and a little slower paced that most, but it’s darker elements are eventually revealed as well as an unlikely femme fatale, so it arguably does qualify.

The bottom line is this: Rebecca is a wonderful film, absolutely deserving of its 11 Oscar nominations and 2 wins, including a win for Best Picture, and I do believe I’ve now got to include it on my list of favorite movies of all time.

5 stars

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