I dive into another classic Hitchcock film that I am sad to day I had never seen until now as the recommendations from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book continue. This one walked away with two Oscars, Best Picture and Best Cinematography, and stands up beautifully.
The story sees Joan Fontaine starring as a nameless bride to Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), who is obsessed with his late first wife, who drowned, so much so that it overshadows their relationship, haunting Mrs. de Winter, while Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers serves as the family’s housekeeper.
Fontaine’s character is meek, apologetic, and dominated by all of those around her. She is swept off her impressionable feet when she meets Max in Monte Carlo, where she is working as a paid companion with the abominable Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates).
Following a whirlwind romance and marriage she finds herself in the gorgeous, luxurious and expansive mansion, Manderley. Here she is, uncomfortable, naive, inexperienced and is confronted, with remnants and memories of Maxim’s previous wife, over and over again. Overpoweringly so. In fact, it is so overpowering that it even overshadows the audience’s perceptions of the characters. Everyone has a name, an individual identifier, but the new Mrs de Winter could be anyone, we never learn her first name, and we can only assume Maxim knows it.
I mean even the dog has a name. Jasper.
Beautifully crafted and scripted, the film is gorgeous while being very unnerving. There is something more going on, and something about the west wing of the estate. Things turn even darker when it seems that Danvers has her own agenda regarding the new Mrs. de Winter.
As the story begins to unfurl, Maxim and his new wife are joined together in a truth that could tear them apart, and when the death is revealed to be murder, it throws the entire household into an uproar. Secrets are revealed, liaisons discovered, and the de Winters’ happiness is under threat in this excellent, romantic mystery.
Hitchcock, once again, has crafted a winner, this one based on the classic novel by Daphne Du Maurier, it is engrossing, entertaining, and completely unnerving as the film unfolds, drawing us deeper and deeper into the mystery of Rebecca, her life, and her death.
While it may not have the punch of Hitchcock’s later films, lacking the pacing and excitement that he crafted in his practically perfect thrillers, the film is engaging, the revelations, stunning, and of course those, chilling final shots.
I love how this one plays out, making you think one thing for the first half of the film and then twisting it around to reveal something completely different for the latter half.
Well executed, engaging, and in the ends, stunning.