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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rebecca (1940) - A masterful tale

The producer David O. Selznick had just had a great movie the previous year (Gone with the Wind - 1939), and signed on Alfred Hitchcock for the first Hollywood movie by Hitchcock (his earlier movies were all British). What is less known is that in the entire fabulous career of Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca was the only movie that won him a Best Picture award. And that too in the year 1940, when competition was fierce with the movie, 'Grapes of Wrath', 'The Great Dictator', and 'The Philadelphia Story'.
Rebecca was conceived on a grand scale, and was fairly expensive to make. Based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier (published in 1938), it cost a bit more than a million dollars to make. Rebecca also starred the leading star, Laurence Olivier in the lead role of Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter (her first name is never revealed in the movie), George Sanders as Jack Favell, and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers.

Rebecca (1940) - A masterful tale

The movie follows the book accurately, except where the Hollywood Production Code of that time intervened (the murderer of a spouse had to be shown as being punished), and hence in the book, while the husband murders the first wife; in the movie, the death is an accident.
The movie is renowed for its Gothic look, and for the sheer suspense ! There are very few actual characters in the movie, and all of them had to play pretty good roles if the movie had to have an impact. The overall movie is very impressive. The movie dwelt on the phrase used in the book 'Last night I dreamed that I went to Menderley again' by advertising its posters with the following line: 'What was the secret of Manderley?'
The movie was a great success, both critically and financially. It got a total of 11 nominations and won 2 awards:

# Best Actor in a Leading Role - Laurence Olivier.
# Best Actress in a Leading Role - Joan Fontaine.
# Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Judith Anderson.
# Best Director - Alfred Hitchcock.
# Art Direction, Black and White - Lyle R. Wheeler.
# Special Effects - Jack Cosgrove, Arthur Johns.
# Best Film Editing - Hal C. Kern.
# Best Music, Original Score - Franz Waxman.
# Best Writing, Screenplay - Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison

The movie won these 2 awards
# Best Picture - Selznick International Pictures - David O. Selznick.
# Best Cinematography, Black and White - George Barnes

The movie depicts the emotions of the novel pretty well, taking us through the tale of a young girl who suffers through emotional turmoil as she feels inadequate when constantly compared to the first Mrs. de Winter (Rebecca), who was very sophisticated, and apparently very suitable to the role of being an aristocratic lady; and Maxim was apparently very much in love with her; if all this emotional burden was not enough, there is the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers who was very much fond of Rebecca and spares no opportunity to remind the second wife of the supremacy of the first wife, going as far as to tempt her to end her life. This was a superb role of the housekeeper, and was a critical element of the movie.
The second Mrs. de Winter was an assistant to an elder haughty American lady vacationing in Monte Carlo, when she mets Maxim, elder to her. Soon enough they hit it off and Maxim proposes to her. She comes with Maxim to the estate and to Manderley, the mansion. The young bride is somewhat overcome with being the mistress of this large aristocratic and having a team of servants to run the mansion. And then she meets Mrs. Danver who continually reminds her of the greatness of Rebecca, to the point where the second wife starts feeling that she does not know why Maxim married her. At one point, she is almost about to give it all up when there is a massive surprise; the boat in which Rebecca died has been found.
And this is the element of total surprise; the oh-so-perfect Rebecca was in fact a promiscuous lady whom Maxim hated within a few days of marrying her. She had affairs a plenty, and taunted Maxim that he could not divorce her because of the status and name of his family. But she had pushed Maxim to a stage when he was on the verge of killing her, and he almost did (she had an accident during the confrontation and dies; as opposed to the book where Maxim killed her). He then puts her body in a boat and scuttles the boat; but now her boat and the body has been found and Maxim is now in threat of being held responsible.
He finally gets free from suspicion, but the more important emotional upheaval for the second Mrs. de Winters is that she knows now that Maxim hated Rebecca; such an immense boost it gives to the emotions of the almost scarred new wife; she is now ready to assume her responsibilities as the true mistress of the mansion and the strength of the marriage. Everything happy ? Not quite. The by now deranged Mrs. Danvers cannot accept that the second wife will be the happy and successful wife, and sets fire to the mansion causing it to get destroyed. And that is how it ends, they move away from there, and Manderley is now in ruins.

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