Starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
While on holiday in Monte Carle, a young twenty-something girl (Joan Fontaine) meets the dashing (and rich) Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). They fall in love almost instantly and get married within weeks. The new Mrs. de Winter (the character remains intriguingly nameless throughout the entire movie) and Maxim return to his waterfront estate known as Manderley. While there, the new wife begins to uncover a few secrets about Maxim's former wife, Rebecca, who drowned in a horrible boating accident a few years prior. The constant reminders of Rebecca begin to wear on Mrs. de Winter's nerves and things certainly aren't helped by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), who seems to have an odd obsession with the deceased Rebecca and instantly turns a cold and nasty shoulder towards Maxim's new wife.
The suspense in the film is sharply rooted in the new Mrs. de Winter's hysteria. As the stories about Rebecca come out into the open, the new wife is afraid that she will never be able to live up to this idolized figure that Rebecca was. Her fear of disappointing her husband and his staff slowly creeps into her psyche and she soon is tormented. Rebecca is, essentially, a ghost story without a ghost. There are no supernatural forces at work in the slightest, but the presence of Maxim's former wife is always around and constantly making its way into daily life at Manderley.
The acting is of that 1940s overly dramatic type, but that's not a detriment to this film in the slightest. This is a film that calls for the over-the-top tone and the acting is a perfect fit. As a matter of fact, Joan Fontaine's portrayal of Mrs. de Winter is one of my favorites I've seen in a long time. Wide-eyed and naïve, nervous and always on-edge, Fontaine is kind of a revelation to me. The "plain-ness" of her character of was certainly played up, but I actually found her stunningly beautiful. And Laurence Olivier makes it easy to see why this young lady he meets in Monte Carlo would immediately fall in love with him. He's utterly charming and kind, and when secrets are revealed as the film progresses, he's completely believable as a man who could possibly be a tad devious. It would also be remiss of me not to mention Judith Anderson's creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, a woman who the audience knows is psychologically "not all there" from the get-go.
Hitchcock brings the whole thing together quite beautifully. The film looks expensive and exquisite and he keeps the pace moving perfectly...until the final thirty minutes. It's there that a secret is revealed and the film surprisingly comes to a halt. Apparently, the producer of Rebecca, the well-known David O. Selznick, wanted every scene that was in the original novel to be in the film. I can't help but think that if Hitch were given a little more free rein, he could have done a little bit better with the film's final act.
Still, despite that qualm, I really loved this film and recommend it highly.
The RyMickey Rating: A-