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When Philip Ashley's much-loved (and rich) cousin Ambrose dies, he is convinced that Ambrose was murdered by his new wife Rachel to inherit his wealth. But when he meets Rachel and falls in love with her, he knows that his suspicions must have been unfounded. But were they, or is Rachel just trying to use Philip to get at the estate Ambrose left to him instead of to her? And will she murder him next? Written by
Ken Yousten <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Based on a Daphne du Maurier novel, MY COUSIN RACHEL concerns a young 1800s Englishman, Philip Ashley (Richard Burton), who falls in love with his cousin's widow, Rachel Ashley (Olivia de Havilland), and vows to marry and live with her in his old ancestral English manor overlooking the Cornish coast. What prevents him from doing so is that Rachel, while seemingly sweet and gentle upon his first meeting with her, contains a dark side that makes Philip increasingly suspicious of how his beloved and wealthy cousin died.
Although MY COUSIN RACHEL is not available on video or DVD at present, I managed to record and see this haunting period mystery on a friend's high-definition TV, which contains satellite cable and hundreds of channels. First of all, I'll comment on the cast, which is perfect. Olivia de Havilland delivers a complex role with finesse and grace, making her performance as Rachel an entirely believable one despite her loss of an Oscar nomination for this film. And although I was never a fan of Richard Burton, he delivers a melancholy Oscar-nominated performance with passion and intensity. Special mention should go to Audrey Dalton as Philip's loyal friend, who reminds me so much of Jean Simmons in her close-ups, and George Dolenz as Rachel's enigmatic Italian friend. John Sutton, one of my favorite character actors, delivers a brief yet urbane performance as Ambrose Ashley, Philip's cousin, in the beginning of the film. Sutton, born in India of British parentage, received a few leading roles at 20th Century-Fox in the 1940s. Although his leading man films are only average, I recommend THUNDER BIRDS (1942) and TONIGHT WE RAID CALAIS (1943) if you want to see more of him.
The film's Oscar-nominated production values and black-and-white cinematography are superb. The sets look quite realistic, elegant, and authentic to the period and evoke an appropriate sense of bleakness. Joseph LaShelle, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of LAURA (1944) and my favorite black-and-white cinematographer, makes striking use of his trademark tracking shots, unusual camera angles, and light-and-shadow shots. The highly atmospheric cinematography is so well-done that some interior shots are reminiscent of Edward Gory illustrations. LaShelle's cinematography is also very impressive during a dream/hallucination scene while Philip lies ill in bed. Franz Waxman contributes a powerful music score that is occasionally overwhelming yet appropriate for a film of this genre. Henry Koster directs the film with a brisk pace and Nunnally Johnson's screenplay, although containing a few lags, is intelligently written.
Although not as effective or as gripping as the other Daphne du Maurier film adaptation, Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940), MY COUSIN RACHEL is much more satisfying than other "protagonist thinks lover/spouse is going to murder him/her" films like SUSPICION (1941) and UNDERCURRENT (1946). The thought-provoking denouncement leaves the viewer in Philip's perspective and brings the melancholy film to an appropriate conclusion.
Well worth watching.
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