Because Laurence Olivier wanted his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play the lead role, he treated Joan Fontaine horribly. This shook Fontaine up quite a bit, so Alfred Hitchcock decided to capitalize on this by telling her EVERYONE on the set hated her, thus making her shy and uneasy - just what he wanted from her performance.
Mrs. Danvers is hardly ever seen walking; she seems to glide. Alfred Hitchcock wanted her to be seen solely from Joan Fontaine's character's anxious point of view, and this effect tied in with her fear about Mrs. Danvers appearing anytime unexpectedly.
Due to the success of this film in Spain, the specific jackets that Joan Fontaine wears during the film began to be known as "rebecas". The word "rebeca" is still used nowadays to refer to this item of clothing.
Despite scouring most of America, and New England in particular, David O. Selznick was unable to find a suitable location to represent Manderley, so he had to resort to a miniature instead, albeit a highly convincing one.
Over 20 actresses were tested for the role of Mrs. de Winter, which eventually went to newcomer Joan Fontaine. One of them was Vivien Leigh, whom Laurence Olivier was pressing for, as they were a couple at the time.
In 1944, Edwina Levin MacDonald sued David O. Selznick, Daphne Du Maurier, United Artists and Doubleday for plagiarism. She claimed that the film was based on her novel "Blind Windows", and sought an undisclosed amount of damages.
Alfred Hitchcock chose very carefully the right lettering for the right characters, if we have to watch a handwriting analysis of the several letters shown in the movie: -Mrs. Van Hooper is authoritative (large T bars), sexually stimulated (thick Y and F loops), obsessive (loopholes in E and N), unwilling to being commanded (Independence loophole in P), and rude (thick tracks in general). -Maxim is very reflexive (large inter-word spacing), reserved (large inter-line spacing) and self-underrated (T bars very low). -Favell is self-overrated, brutal and impulsive (big R, Brutality loophole, short inter-word spacing). (According to the Marchesan Handwriting Analysis Method).
The novel was bought by David O. Selznick for $50,000 as a vehicle for Carole Lombard with the idea that he would attempt to get Ronald Colman for the male lead. According to Selznick's memos, when Colman put off accepting the part because he was afraid that the picture would be a "woman starring vehicle" and because of the murder angle, Selznick turned to his second choices for the role, Laurence Olivier and William Powell. Olivier was willing to work for $100,000 less than Powell and so he was chosen. Leslie Howard was also considered for the part.
This was the first film Alfred Hitchcock made with David O. Selznick. Hitchcock worked with screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood and Hitchcock's assistant Joan Harrison in the scripting process. But he was dissatisfied almost from the beginning of the shoot with Selznick's controlling - some called it obsessive - manner of "producing".
Alfred Hitchcock frequently clashed with David O. Selznick over the director's habit of cutting in the camera. Rather than give the producer several complete shots of each set-up so the film could be assembled in a variety of ways, Hitchcock had the final cut already worked out before shooting and filmed only as much of each long shot and close-up as he planned to use in the film.
David O. Selznick was so thrown by Alfred Hitchcock's methods, that he began questioning his own judgement. He asked his wife, Irene, to come to the studio to look at some of the footage, a practice he rarely exercised. He even confided that he wanted her to tell him if he should just cancel the production. She viewed what had been shot and reassured him that the film was excellent.
A chinchilla coat valued at $25,000 was loaned by Jaeckel's of New York to appear in Rebecca's closet. Nobody actually wears it in the film; it is one of the items Mrs. Danvers shows to the second Mrs. de Winter.
Another factor slowing down production was Alfred Hitchcock's refusal to rehearse while the crew was setting up lights. He claimed he found the noise distracting, even though rehearsing during camera set-ups was standard Hollywood practice.
Many of the architectural details of Manderley, including ceilings and chandeliers, were matted in from drawings made by Al Simpson. The same was done with some of the flames during the climactic fire.
David O. Selznick insisted on personally supervising re-takes of the fire scene, which he thought had been indistinct as originally shot. The final shot of flames engulfing the title character's "R" monogram were redone because he thought the initial had not been as carefully framed as Mrs. Danvers would have placed it and the flames hadn't come up quickly enough or high enough.
David O. Selznick borrowed Franz Waxman from MGM to score Rebecca, forcing the composer to work from the script and a rough cut rather than the final edit. When this posed problems later, Selznick had some of Max Steiner's music for A Star Is Born (1937) inserted where he felt Waxman's score wasn't working. This caused animosity between Selznick and both composers.
David O. Selznick was concerned with both stars' performances. He asked Hitchcock to speed up Laurence Olivier's reactions, which he thought were being played too slowly, and slow down his line readings, even asking the director to make sure the leading man knew what the lines meant. With Joan Fontaine, he thought Alfred Hitchcock was directing her with too much restraint, and urged him to go for "a little more Yiddish Art Theatre"
Principal photography was completed 27 days behind the film's original 36-day schedule. Three of the lost days were caused by Joan Fontaine's contracting the flu and another three by a sudden strike by the stagehands' union.
Alfred Hitchcock: walking past a phone booth just after Jack Favell (George Sanders) makes a call in the final part of the movie. There are photos showing Hitchcock standing beside the phone booth looking at Mr Sanders. Actually the scene isn't played that way and you have to be quick spotting Hitchcock, quickly passing by in the background while Sanders is discussing a parking matter with a police man. Sanders having only been seen in close up while talking on the phone.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Although Producer David O. Selznick wanted this film to stay faithful to the novel, Alfred Hitchcock made several changes in this film to increase the mystery and the suspense. In the novel, Mrs. Danvers is the mother figure who raised Rebecca from youth, is the source of the evil that existed in Rebecca. In the film Mrs. Danvers is much younger and her past isn't revealed, while Rebecca is "the source of evil that exists in Mrs. Danvers." The film added the raining right before entering Maxim's home Manderley and meeting Mrs. Danvers. The raining made the Second Mrs. cold and shivering when she meets Mrs. Danvers. In the novel, the Second Mrs. travels with Maxim to London to meet Dr. Baker. In order to increase the tension and the suspense in the film, Hitchcock let Second Mrs. stay at Manderley instead of traveling with Maxim de Winter to meet Dr. Baker (Leo G. Carroll). Instead of Second Mrs., Frank Crawley travels with Maxim de Winter to London to meet Dr. Baker in the film. In the novel, Second Mrs. is the one who is having an uncomfortable feeling while traveling back to Manderley with Maxim in the end. But in the film, Maxim de Winter is the one who is having the uncomfortable feeling while driving back to Manderley where Second Mrs. is waiting. In the novel, it is uncertain what happened to Mrs. Danvers in the end. But in the film, Mrs. Danvers is destroyed along with Manderley at the end.
David O. Selznick wanted the smoke from the burning Manderley to spell out a huge R. Alfred Hitchcock thought the touch lacked any subtlety. When Selznick was preoccupied by Gone with the Wind (1939), Hitchcock was able to replace the smoky R with the burning of a monogrammed lingerie case. He also edited the picture in the camera, a method of filmmaking that didn't allow Selznick the opportunity to re-edit the picture.
In the novel, Mrs. Second de Winter was fainting during the inquest just like in the film. Frank Crawley drives Mrs. Second de Winter back to Manderley. While staying at Manderley, Jack Favell comes to see Mrs. Second de Winter and Maxim to talk about the death of Rebecca. But in the film, Alfred Hitchcock let Jack Favell meet Mrs. Second de Winter and Maxim during the break between inquest to heighten the tension.