Rebecca

You can’t blame Hitchcock for the kinky sexual subtext in “Rebecca” because it was in the novel. Stuff like the sinister Mrs. Danvers showing the new Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine) the old Mrs. de Winter’s underwear:  “They were made specially for her in a convent in St. Clair.”

In case you had any doubts, your suspicion that Mrs. Danvers is unhinged is confirmed when she pulls out Rebecca’s nightgown, marveling over how sheer it is (“Look, you can see my hand through it!”) And then, just for good measure, she goes the extra mile, suggesting that Rebecca comes back to watch her former husband and his new wife together. You know what “together” means.

Fontaine’s performance makes the picture memorable. You watch her harden as the story develops, taking on the responsibilities of her role as mistress of Manderley, rallying behind her unstable husband (Laurence Olivier). She comes across as natural, spontaneous, whereas Olivier strikes me as more studied, as if he’s watching himself playing the character of de Winter.

Hitchcock’s sure touch with the pacing and camera work perfectly conveys the gothic feel of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel. The menace you feel from the moment you enter Manderley, the tension in every scene, which grows more unbearable as the film goes on — so much so that you’d like to stop watching because you fear the story cannot end well, but of course you can’t stop. You’re in too deep.

You won’t breathe until it’s over.

3 thoughts on “Rebecca

  1. That’s one that I’ve neither read nor seen. Except I think I managed to see the first few minutes of the movie without seeing the rest somehow; I know the situation, anyway. Have you read the novel?

    A rather disconnected thought: Maybe Rebecca dramatizes the fear of being a replacement, an insufficient one, as Invasion of the Body Snatchers dramatizes the fear of others being replaced, by insufficient copies. There may be something of the modern preoccupation with authenticity in both stories.

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      1. I like the idea! (Seems to me any self-respecting English major would.) Instead of giving you a specific suggestion, I’ll propose this instead: More good movies are made from bad or only half-good books than from really good or great books–argue for or against that.

        I’m inclined to agree with it, but constructing an argument either way might take a lot of work. My feeling is that you can get the germ of good work from almost anywhere (a book as much as a dinner anecdote), but if you’ve created something really admirable, its virtues probably depend in part on exploiting the medium. Thus Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby is great in part because it does well some of the things that prose fiction can do. It has something to do with the presentation of interiority, for one thing (I say without having read it in ages). Movies don’t do all the same things that prose fiction does, and Great Gatsby films have the challenge of making up for the lack of interiority with something else.

        Since I hit on that particular story in passing, maybe I should end by suggesting that you consider Fitzgerald’s novel in comparison with either the existing film, the upcoming one, or both.

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