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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alfred Hitchcock was and is still the undisputed Master of Suspense,
and there is a lot of that here in his foray into Gothic horror, as the
mystery surrounding the unseen yet omnipresent Rebecca will engage the
viewer from its dreamy start to its bleak conclusion. This is exactly
what atmospheric is supposed to be about, and in black and white, it
shines. This is also what Gothic horror is in essence, and many have
imitated yet come up short, most notably M. Night Shyamalan who, in
trying to go for a shock twist and purported "atmosphere" only creates
a bad aftertaste and a hangover the size of Mount Everest. This is,
essentially, Hitchcock's first true masterpiece.
Not one performance rings false, not to the novel or to their respective interpretations. Lawrence Olivier, quite possibly one of the greatest actors that ever lived, portrays a broken man who still lives haunted by the past as he himself were still living in that unending hell. Judith Anderson embodies one of the most coldly sadistic figures in cinema history, her smooth and elegant truculence only exceeded by Anthony Hopkins' rendition of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. One can't seem to understand the way she wallows in her dead mistresses' clearly perverse nature, but that exactly she does, right down to her own end. George Sanders does what he does best: sneer, smirk, and spit line after line of practiced venom, and would be honored 10 years later in ALL ABOUT EVE. Gladys Cooper, still striking in her 50s, plays into her casual cattiness which means no harm, although her rendition of Beatrice Lacy is a little subdued from the novel's version.
And then there is Joan Fontaine. Not one of the best actresses on film, yet here, playing a role that evolves beautifully from a frightened, weak girl who is put into a situation she does not understand and who turns right at the point of losing it into a much more mature, strong woman capable of holding her own, she carries the weight of the entire drama and comes forth with flying colors. While I would have preferred Anne Baxter who would have been the exact right age for this role, Fontaine exudes so much restraint and nervousness about her character (partially to blame Olivier's treatment of her and Hitchcock's telling her the entire cast hated her), it's almost a relief when she finally decides to confront Olivier about what it the secret of Manderley. Not many roles require such a change and not many actresses would sink her teeth into a part that requires being put-upon until she can't stand no more, and this is one beautiful performance.
A movie that should have won more Oscars that year, REBECCA has since grown in stature and proved that a film need not trophies to be Timeless and Great.
Hitchcock felt 'Rebecca', his first Hollywood film, was a compromise, but as a viewer I just can't fault it. It's a masterpiece in my opinion, full of suspense, mystery and brooding atmosphere. It's also one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen. I've watched it several times over the years, and even now that I know all the plot twists and turns (quite shocking on your first viewing), it never fails to hook me in. One of the reasons it really works is the flawless casting. I'm not much of an Olivier fan but he's superb as de Winter, with just the right mixture of charm and coldness. And Joan Fontaine is just perfect as de Winter's new bride. I can't spot an unconvincing moment in her performance and can't imagine any other actress in the role. Hitchcock subsequently used her in 'Suspicion' with Cary Grant. She was also excellent in that but 'Rebecca' is a much stronger movie. The supporting cast also includes some brilliant performances, especially Judith Anderson ('Laura') as the extremely creepy Mrs. Danvers, George Sanders who plays Rebecca's slimy cousin, and Nigel Bruce in a typical role as de Winter's bumbling brother-in-law Major Lacy. Sanders subsequently worked again with Hitchcock in 'Foreign Correspondent', and Bruce played Cary Grant's lovable pal "Beaky" in 'Suspicion'. I sometimes think that Hitchcock's 1940s movies are overlooked by many because they are regarded as being too "old fashioned", but for me movies like 'Suspicion', 'Saboteur', 'Lifeboat' and 'Spellbound' are some of the most entertaining movies Hitchcock ever made, and 'Rebecca' is the best of the lot. If you want to be totally enthralled for two hours just watch 'Rebecca'!
I spent the majority of this film thinking about how lucky M. Olivier
really was. To be able to wrap his arms around Joan Fontaine and kiss
her. Oh my. She's one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen
(almost, but not quite as beautiful as Veronica Lake). She's also
absolutely perfect in the role of the second Mrs. DeWinter, taking a
character that could have become a cloying bore in less capable hands
and transforming her into a sympathetic and interesting figure.
The movie, on the whole, is similarly amazing, capturing the spirit and the tone of those great Gothic romances. Watching Rebecca, I was reminded (pleasantly) of Wuthering Heights; I do not mean to suggest that in some way this film re-tells the tale of Cathy and Heathcliff, but rather that Rebecca has the feel of Bronte's novel (I am most certainly not talking about the William Wyler adaptation a few years before the release of Rebecca. That's a terrible film that somehow manages to mis-interpret the novel).
I must assume that the guiding hand of Hitchcock played no small role in recreating the feel of a Gothic romance. There are very few that would be able to take a love story, infuse it with such gloom, with such a sense of foreboding, and still manage to create something that ends happily without it feeling like a cop-out. I'd also like to draw everyone's attention to the incredibly moving section of the film that occurs between the arrival of the second Mrs. DeWinter at Mandalay and the masqued ball. The emotional strain on the Joan Fontaine character is so palpable, so absolutely taxing, that it actually pains me to watch. I hurt along with her. Few other movies affect me so emotionally - one of them is Vertigo.
All in all, this is a fantastic piece of film-making from Hollywood's golden age. Laurence Olivier is in top-form, as he plays the quiet, sad Maxim and George Sanders is positively hateful.
10/10 - a visceral masterpiece
This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Definitely my favorite
classic. There are some that come close, such as Citizen Kane, Spellbound,
and Psycho, but none quite compare to this amazing movie.
The first thing that you notice is the outstanding cinematography. You have to remember that this movie was made in 1940, when they didn't have the technology we have now. But that first shot of the water beating up against the rocks grabs you and for one split second you wonder if maybe this isn't part of the movie but rather something filmed just recently. But then you see the familiar face of Laurence Olivier, reminding you that this was made 60 years ago, a fact that forever amazes me. The only oscar it won besides Best Picture was well deserved.
Another thing that makes it such a wonderful film is the acting. I have debated on whether Laurence Olivier's character, the tortured Maxim de Winter, is the pitiable character or if his second wife played by Joan Fontaine is really the one to feel sorry for. Every time I watch it I see it from a different point of view. Joan Fontaine is excellent. Laurence Olivier is wonderful, but that's no surprise. The only thing that bugs me is that it seems in every movie he's in (well, at least, everything I've seen him in), he always plays the same type of character. But he's extremely good at it, so I suppose it doesn't matter.
But although Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier are wonderful, Judith Anderson steals the show! The first time I watched the movie, I was immediately grabbed by her stunning performance as the sinister Mrs. Danvers. You hardly notice the other characters when she's in the scene. She acted the part so well that it's strange to imagine that she was any different in real life.
With a wonderful storyline, and a very surprising ending, Rebecca well deserves the title as the only of Hitchcock's films to win the oscar for Best Picture. Although it may not be the most famous of all his films, it is without a doubt the greatest
"Rebecca" was the first Hitchcock film I ever saw, and I was mesmerized by
it from the start, convinced that I had to see more of the director's work.
It richly deserved the Oscar it received, but it's a real puzzle that the
Academy saw fit to withhold a best director award for Hitch. Would one
possibly give an award to a work by Picasso and not to Picasso
"Rebecca" was the first of the director's American-made films, and it shows. It's quite different from his earlier British-made films, such as "Young and Innocent" and even "The Lady Vanishes," which somehow seem more amateurish by comparison. (I know little of the British cinema of that era, but it's difficult not to conclude that Hollywood was better at producing more sophisticated efforts.) I would even judge "Rebecca" the best of his films of the early 1940s, with the possible exception of "Shadow of a Doubt." It is true, of course, that much of this film has become cliché (remember the spoofs on the old "Carol Burnette Show"!), but it still weathers the decades very well. The acting is uniformly excellent. Olivier is the hardened Maxim de Winter, untitled lord of Manderly, trying to forget the past and given to unexpected bouts of anger and coldheartedness. Fontaine is perfect as the unnamed mousy heroine, innocent yet deeply in love, still carrying with her the aura of an awkward schoolgirl. Even character actor Nigel Bruce, best known for his role in the Sherlock Holmes films, makes an appearance and plays, in effect, Nigel Bruce!
But it is Judith Anderson's role as Mrs. Danvers that viewers are likely to remember best. Her presence is as dark and foreboding as that of the deceased Rebecca herself, and Fontaine is evidently cowed by her icy stare and unnervingly formal manner. The dynamics between the two actresses are wonderful. Who could fail to empathize with Fontaine's unenviable position as, in effect, the new employer of such an intimidating personage? On the other hand, Olivier seems quite unfearful of Anderson, despite her representing so much of the past he is trying to block out. This part of the plot (even in the book) never made much sense to me and is unconvincing.
As far as I know, this film marked Hitch's first collaboration with composer Franz Waxman, whose haunting score makes it all the more memorable. Waxman's scores are perhaps less obviously cinematic than those of the incomparable Bernard Herrmann, who would score Hitch's films from 1955 to 1966. Contrast the score for "Rebecca" to Herrmann's music for "Citizen Kane" the following year, and you'll immediately hear the difference. Waxman's is more symphonic in the central European style reflective of his own birth and upbringing. Yet it is worth recalling that scoring films was still a new art at this time, and both Waxman and Herrmann were pioneers.
Finally, one has to mention the cinematography, which is magnificent. Technically "Rebecca" might have been filmed in colour, which was newly available in 1940. ("Gone with the Wind" was filmed entirely in colour the previous year, while "The Wizzard of Oz" and "The Women" had colour scenes.) But colour would have diminished its impact. The suspense and the ominous sense of impending doom could only have been communicated through the medium of black-and-white and the deft use of light and shade which it affords.
In one respect, of course, "Rebecca" is not a typical Hitchcock film. There is no fleeing innocent trying to clear his name of a crime he did not commit. Surprisingly, there isn't even a murder, although its absence was apparently imposed by the Hayes Code and is certainly foreign to Daphne du Maurier's original novel. Some have said that there is more Selznick than Hitchcock in this film, and perhaps there's something to that. Still, if the collaborative effort between the two was not exactly amiable, it was nevertheless successful.
In short, this is the first in a string of Hitchcock masterpieces.
In a line-up of great motion pictures, "Rebecca" stands as one of the giants. It is arguably Hitchcock's greatest film effort, replete with jolting, slap-in-the-face plot twists and gothic sets. Dark and moody, the film boasts Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in slam-dunk, dead on performances, George Sanders as the deliciously despicable Jack Favell, and Judith Anderson nearly stealing the show as the eerie, obsessed housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. A perfect "10".
his movie is a 10 from the very beginning. The casting is brilliant,
the story is hauntingly beautiful, the performances are the best of
what Hollywood once was, and the sets are of quality design and
architecture. The direction is awesome, but it's Hitchcock, and I
expect nothing less from his productions.
Rebecca is a glamorous, beautiful socialite who has won the hearts of all who knew her. Well, almost all. But a year after her untimely death, her grieving husband near his wit's end, has grown seemingly suicidal and aloof.
He engages his grief while on a trip to Monte Carlo, and meets the beautiful personal secretary and maid of a long-time friend, Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper. She is young, naive, and completely unprepared for the life which is awaiting her; all qualities which George Fortescu Maximillian 'Maxim' de Winter finds endearing.
I won't detail the events in this movie, as the story itself is quite haunting, with surprises around every turn.
This is a definite "must have" in any suspense / horror / Hitchcock / classics movie collection, and a mandatory must see for all fans of all movies.
It rates a 10/10 for its absolute perfection, from...
the Fiend :.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It seems almost superfluous to add to the many laudatory comments this
movie has received on this site, but I feel a need to lay some tribute
at the altar of this wonderful piece of classic cinema.
If you haven't seen the movie, there may be a couple of SPOILERS in this review, but hopefully also some new insights in compensation.
As many have noted, the cast is uniformly excellent: the annoying social snob Edith Van Hopper(Florence Bates), Gladys Cooper's kind, sisterly Beatrice, the eerie Mrs. Danvers of Judith Anderson, Olivier's distracted yet explosive Maxim, George Sanders' snide, oily Favell and especially the oft-times underrated second (but unnamed) Mrs. DeWinter of Joan Fontaine.
Although not entirely faithful to the Daphne Du Maurier novel, the screen adaptation preserves the haunting ambiance of Du Maurier's work. Rebecca, though never seen, is clearly the central character, but we learn about her all through indirection in the dialogue of the other characters. We are allowed to create her piece by piece in our own minds, which just adds to the engrossing, I-can't-stop-watching, thrust of the movie.
The character who actually tells us the most about the real Rebecca is Mrs. Danvers. The erotic attachment of this character to Rebecca is subtle, yet unmistakable. The wonderful scene in which Judith Anderson shows Rebecca's bedroom to Joan Fontaine is breathtaking in its suggestiveness. The West Wing, 'the only room that looks down across the lawn to the sea' has become Mrs. Danvers' private temple to Rebecca. Her loving preservation of Rebecca's possessions, her sensual handling of Rebecca's underclothes, of her diaphanous negligee, of her glamorous furs and then Anderson's almost hypnotic miming of brushing Rebecca's hair as Fontaine sits at Rebecca's dressing table all make this scene an unforgettable sequence. Anderson's acting is absolutely miraculous. She achieves her character with hardly ever a change in her affect, except where a very slight contrasting up tick in energy transforms her in the West Wing scene and in the scene where she coolly suggests that Fontaine leave-by means of a precipitous drop out of the window onto the rocks. It is a performance which I doubt could ever be duplicated.
As we later learn of Rebecca's moral character, it also seems that Mrs. Danvers was as much in love with Rebecca's corruption as she was with the woman herself. 'Danny' in a way becomes the embodiment of Rebecca's cold malevolence which still lingers in the mansion.
Joan Fontaine could hardly have been better. She, of all the characters, evolves through the movie. She moves in a seamless line from the pitiful, beleaguered companion of Mrs. Van Hopper to her drowned rat arrival at Manderley to the self-assured and supportive wife Maxim wanted and needed. What I found fascinating about this transformation is the imaginative skill of the costume designer. At the beginning, Fontaine's shy little character is dressed like she made terrible selections at a Macy's basement sale. Later as she tries to fill the role of the 'great lady' she believed Rebecca to have been, her clothes always appear too big and totally out of character. Note the black evening dress with the absurdly large flowers across the front and especially the overwhelmingly outsized Garden Party gown she tries to wear to the costume ball. After she learns the truth about Rebecca from Maxim, discovering that he actually loves her as much as he hated Rebecca, Fontaine's costumes become trim, conservative and tasteful, befitting the genuine, grown-up woman she has become.
Fittingly, the final scene belongs to Anderson-the frustrated woman robbed of her goddess--who brings the movie to a thundering operatic finish.
Although Selznick and Hitchcock repeatedly clashed over this move, it remains a deathless tribute to both men. This movie never loses its fascination and bears repeated watching, each time weaving its wonderful spell anew. It is a must-see, again and again, classic.
The only Alfred Hitchcock (Oscar-nominated for directing) film to win the Best Picture Oscar, "Rebecca" is one of those typical films from the amazing director that chills, entertains and puts you on the edge of your seat each time you watch it. Joan Fontaine (Oscar-nominated) has just married the very wealthy Laurence Olivier (also Oscar-nominated), but she is haunted by his mysterious housekeeper (a show-stopping Oscar-nominated performance by Judith Anderson) and the memory of the film's titled character (Olivier's late wife). Hitchcock, noted for his subtle sexual under-tones in films spares none of that here as Anderson's character and the late titled character's relationship seemed to go much further than employee-employer. Anderson slowly tries to drive Fontaine to insanity and the end she may accomplish her devious goal. Hitchcock's first real major U.S. debut stunned the Academy and audiences alike and would lead to the coveted Best Picture Oscar. It is not the best film the legendary director ever worked on, but it is still an amazingly good production that works on many cinematic levels. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
A stylishly directed and photographed film that examines a number of themes, such a deception, death and depression, and explores well the emotions of its characters. It is rare to find a film like this, as it tackles various genres, ranging from being a romance to a mystery to a drama to even a comedy at times, and all without seeming pretentious. The cast is truly magnificent. Judith Anderson is a stunner is a quiet but sinister role, and George Sanders is even more impressive in lively but also sinister performance. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine are perfect for their roles too. The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Cinematography quite deservingly this is one of the best films Hollywood has ever produced.
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