September Issue 2014

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 10 years ago

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca is considered to be the classic psychological thriller. A potent mixture of Hitchcock’s sublime art and the haunting words of author Daphne Du Maurier, whose opening lines in the 1938 novel of the same name have attained an almost revered following in the world of iconic opening sentences.

The film begins with the voiceover of the young and nameless female lead, played by the charismatic Joan Fontaine. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” she narrates, introducing us to the sinister, Gothic background of the story. Manderley, a crumbling mansion which our heroine remembers with trepidation, is the setting of the film’s mysterious dealings with the owner, a wealthy widower named Maxim de Winter (played to perfection as a moody, tragic patriarch by Laurence Olivier), his late wife Rebecca (who never actually appears in the story, both in the novel and on screen), and his marriage to the story’s protagonist — a young woman whose own relationship with her husband is dwarfed by the shadow of his dead wife.

We meet our heroine working as a paid-companion in Monte Carlo, where she meets the domineering aristocrat, Mr Winter. After a whirlwind romance and a marriage within two weeks, Maxim de Winter takes his youthful wife to his ancestral home, Manderly, where the housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) is quick to make the bewildered and shy bride uneasy by her blind, obvious adoration of her previous mistress, the deceased-yet-ever present Rebecca.

The portrayal of the heroine’s experiences of fear and suffering in the face of Mrs Danvers tormenting reminders of Rebecca’s perfection, her perceived complications in her relationship with her husband and the story’s sudden twist and revelations that cause our heroine to mature in an unprecedented manner, have all  played a part in making Rebecca one of the most memorable classics, that has stood the test of time.

It is the film’s majestic sets, the soaring ceilings and gorgeous furniture in colossal rooms, shot in black and white but with a memorable, nostalgic quality that serve to create the ambience of a psychological mystery, that is such an integral part of the film. 

The film bagged two Academy Awards (in the Outstanding Production and Cinematography categories) out of a total 11 nominations, a boon for both Hitchcock and producer David O’Selznick, who had previously won awards for Gone With the Wind.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s July 2014 issue under the headline “Standing the Test of Time.”