Hitchcock’s Rebecca: In The Shadow Of The Ex

On a vacation in Monte Carlo, the rich widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) meets a young lady, one who works as a companion (servant) to Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates). The young woman and Mr de Winter spend a lot of time together, which leads to her becoming the next Mrs de Winter (Joan Fontaine). She is taken aback when they return to his huge estate after their honeymoon, a place called Manderley. She must learn to deal with a huge house and many servants, but the most daunting task is being in the company of the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson). Though and behold, things start to get strange when something is found in the sea near Manderley.

Hitchcock’s directorial genius shines through here. Rebecca may be one of his lesser known films, despite winning Best Picture, but it’s still a great one nonetheless. Based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, this classic is a wonderful cocktail of great writing, directing and sensational acting. Many thanks to Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Judith Anderson gives a good show as the strikingly scary Mrs Danvers, as does Florence Bates as the quite unlikable Mrs. Van Hopper. Hitchcock’s style and eye for detail combined with this psycho fear-filled mid-twentieth century period setting filled with is interestingly suggestive and can really blow you away, even nearly eighty years after its release.

Quite frankly, I think Judith Anderson’s subtle performance as Mrs Danvers stole the whole film
(Rebecca, United Artists)

I love stories like this, ones that are slow to burn but end on a high note. It allows audiences to focus on characters and there are two fantastic plot twists. They completely blew my mind, as I had not read the novel prior to watching it. Hitchcock is the Master of Suspense, and it shines through with Rebecca. This film should satisfy every Hitchcock fan. Moreover, it should satisfy anyone who likes old movies. It doesn’t matter if your preferred genre is: romance, suspense, drama or even crime. They’re all here in some form or other, well-woven together by those who are the best at what they do.

Hitchcock is The Master of Suspense, now and forever. No other director has come close to what he achieved with the genre. This film is one of many examples where he has portrayed suspense in the way it should be: nail-bitey, on edge and fidgety. That’s how I feel when I watch a Hitchcock thriller, and even more so in this Gothic horror. All this occurs while the mystery rotates around the unseen omniscient spectre Rebecca, who engages the audience from the start to finish. It’s even more potent in the noir style of black and white. It really sent chills down my spine. Spooky indeed.

Joan Fontaine plays the second Mrs de Winter opposite Laurence Olivier’s Maxim de Winter
(Rebecca, United Artists)

Not once, is a performance off key. They’re all acting in harmony as one symphony, and Alfred Hitchcock is the conductor. Laurence Olivier is quite frankly one of the greatest actors of his generation and one of the best to have ever lived. He plays a broken man still haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. Yet, despite Olivier’s stellar performance, Judith Anderson stole the film as the cold, sadistic Mrs Danvers. She’s 1940s Hannibal Lecter, basking in the memory (and clothes) of her dead mistress, while rubbing it in the second Mrs de Winter’s face.

From the moment George Sanders was introduced as Rebecca’s cousin Jack Favell, I knew I recognised him. From the facial nuances to his voice, it was bloody Shere Khan from Jungle Book (1967). Sanders sneers, smirks and spits witty quips with an amiable ferocity. When he spoke, I wanted to listen. Even if what he was saying was hogwash, how he said it was delightful. Gladys Cooper (My Fair Lady) also gives a rounded performance: catty, delicate and classy. Rebecca’s performances are typical of this time. The acting often carried films, and if they acting failed, so did the film.

The cinematography of this film is second to none, it’s the top of its class
(Rebecca, United Artists)

Mrs de Winter (Fontaine) goes from this weak frail girl into a woman, capable of holding her own. She carries the weight of the film, the sometimeish scorn of her husband, and the bitterness of Mrs Danvers (Anderson). To take on a role that would require her to be consistently “put-down” like that takes an enormous amount of emotional strength. This is one beautiful performance in an even more beautiful film that truly is deserved more attention at the awards. Though, it shows that a film doesn’t need twelve trophies to be timeless and excellent.

Masterpiece, genius, superlative: there is not an adjective worthy of describing this underrated gem