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This film, based on the Daphne du Maurier's novel is practically
unknown, as it appears to have been forgotten; it never turns on
reruns, but it's worth a look nevertheless.
"My Cousin Rachel" was directed by Henry Koster, based on the adaptation by Nunnally Johnson, who did a good job in creating the right atmosphere for the film. The great cinematography of Joseph LaShelle enhances what the director set out to do in more ways than he probably imagined. Mr. LaShelle was one of the most elegant cinematographers of that era. Just look at his seascapes to appreciate his art.
This film marks the beginning of Richard Burton's career in the American Cinema. While it was not his first film, the actor brought such an intensity to his role that earned an acting nomination for best supporting actor. He should have been nominated as the best actor, since his role is the whole movie!
Olivia DeHavilland makes an excellent Rachel, at times loving, at others sly and calculating. She had a special beauty. Her eyes express a lot in her close ups. Ms. DeHavilland was totally convincing in her take of this woman who comes back to claim her inheritance when everything is taken away from her.
The rest of the cast is good as they play in ensemble fashion. Audrey Dalton makes a lovely Louise, the loyal friend. Also John Sutton, who unfortunately doesn't stay around too long to make justice of his role of Ambrose.
As a Gothic mystery, this film will not disappoint.
If Gothic romance is your thing, you won't find a more absorbing and
intriguing tale than this adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier's best-selling
novel, MY COUSIN RACHEL. Not only is the atmosphere completely
realized, but the elegant performances make the story even more
compelling to watch as it unfolds a tale of possible murder and cunning
deceit. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards for best
costumes, B&W cinematography, art decoration and Burton's supporting
role performance (which is actually a leading role).
RICHARD BURTON cuts a fine figure as the romantic hero of the piece--brooding, intense and passionate, reminding one of Heathcliff in the Bronte novel, "Wuthering Heights." He's an angry and impressionable youth who intends to accuse his cousin of murder based on his suspicious nature, but instead falls wildly in love with her the instant they meet.
OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND matches Burton scene by scene, her charming manners and poise as a woman of the world understandably provoking his interest. At first, he assumes she wants to claim her inheritance when she visits Cornwall. But soon he is able to see her in a different light and when he falls in love with her, he decides to leave his entire inheritance to her on his 25th birthday. It is then that the story becomes even more compelling when the ambiguous nature of Rachel comes at long last to the surface.
Franz Waxman has written a very dramatic and powerful background score that adds dimension to the Gothic tale that begins when a boy and his guardian walk across the moors and come to a gibbet where a man is hanging. "Always remember, Philip, death is the price for murder." And that's how the film's brief prologue begins.
It's richly scored, well directed by Henry Koster and features two outstanding performances from Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. Equally fine are John Sutton as Rachel's ill-fated husband, Audrey Dalton, Ronald Squire and George Dolenz.
Despite the ambiguous ending, it's an absorbing tale that is satisfying in its execution
This masterful, complex mystery story between a younger man and older
woman deals with the very modern issues of trust in relationships, and
how well you can know someone. This film was made long before I was
born, but for any DuMaurier fan, it is a gift. It is no wonder that
Daphne DuMaurier's books were so often made as films, with her
combination of romance, mystery and mistrust that marked all of her
work... it remains potent.
It is a shame that this Oscar nominated film has become all but lost. While this is a dark story, shot appropriately in noir/Gothic shadows, most video versions available (and bootleg DVDS) seem to be from time-darkened versions. How I long for this to be digitally remastered and made available in a really good DVD.
Obviously this film was recognized at the time it was made. Time has unfortunately underrated it, as I believe DeHavilland has also become underrated. The qualities that are valued in today's leading GIRL roles, flashy, young, trash talking, have no value for the pleasant, understated nuanced womanliness DeHavilland brought to this role. Her performance here is an acting lesson for film, especially as this role required the difficult job of balancing the audiences doubts about whether she is good or bad.
Burton's acting is a lesson too, in film intensity. He is much better here than in many of his later performances where he seems to have studied his pout a bit too much. This, and his role as George in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" are among his best work.
This is a must-see for anyone interested in acting, and complex, nuanced film story telling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although I greatly admire Olivia de Havilland in this role, I must
confess that as Rachel, it's my opinion she's guilty. It is hardly
honorable for any woman to play twosome, leading on a young man by
responding to his advances, accepting the offer of his jewelry and
later his estate, THEN conveniently discarding him or any serious
thought of a bond between them -- well, that's a calculated play if
ever there was one! She does it with such finesse however that one can
only guess what is really in her heart. Anyways, it backs up the theory
that if anyone is too nice or too good to be true, they probably are
Richard Burton in this highly dramatic role of the young, impetuous heir, Philip, can only stand to gain our sympathy as he impulsively casts his worldly goods upon the altar of Love where Rachel resides. Such a one-sided gesture can only prove fatal in the long run, but burning Youth will have its way and learn a most difficult lesson by it.
I find it a riveting, wonderful drama well acted, well casted too. I regret John Sutton, as Ambrose, has such a brief part to play and wished he'd been included throughout, but that's not the course of the storyline unfortunately. This is a movie I appreciate seeing whenever I can. Wish there were more like it today.
Thanks to an excellent cast, lavish production and a screenplay that remains remarkably faithful to the novel, Daphne du Maurier's romantic suspense novel _My Cousin Rachel_ becomes a very effective film. Ever-elegant Olivia de Havilland displays just enough cool reserve and mystery as the ambiguous title character, while the young Richard Burton is appropriately brooding as he falls under her spell even though he half believes her to be a murderess. Fans of gothic romance will enjoy the period setting and the Cornwall location as well as the suspenseful, surprising plot, which resolves in an ending you will want to talk about with everyone you know.
Richard Burton falls for his uncle's widow in "My Cousin Rachel," a
beautifully produced 1952 movie starring Olivia de Havilland in the
title role. Burton is Philip Ashley, whose beloved uncle Ambrose moves
to Italy for his health, marries a widow, and dies of a brain
tumor...or did he? Philip is very suspicious of his uncle's wife and
the doctor she brought in to care for her husband, Rainaldi. de
Havilland plays the widow Ashley who comes to visit Philip and quickly
makes him regret his doubts, as he falls madly in love with her.
This is a highly atmospheric, well acted film with a very intriguing story that keeps the viewer guessing as to the true character of Mrs. Ashley. Is she a greedy, conniving seductress/killer, or a warm, loving woman? Several movie stars have demonstrated the ability of doing period pieces realistically, and Richard Burton was definitely one of them. Handsome, romantic, and boyish in appearance, with a wonderful voice and fine acting ability, he brings Philip to life with a passionate performance. Olivia de Havilland is magnificent as Rachel - hers is a subdued, gentle performance that gives nothing away as to Rachel's true character or motivations. The attraction between the two is entirely believable.
The final moments of the film are its best. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had to laugh at the conclusion of this mystery drama! I couldn't keep
a straight face at the kind of cop-out conclusion du Maurier slapped on
this novel's end. Throughout the ENTIRE story she throws bundles of
evidence at us, both that de Havilland (Rachel) IS guilty and that she
ISN'T guilty. The reader/viewer is manipulated and lead on like an
obedient little dog to sniff out every little clue which du "Agatha
Christie" Maurier points to, and like a good little doggy we, the
viewers, follow the clues, thinking - as it turns out - very naively
that the clues will lead us to a bone, i.e. to a reasonable, logical
conclusion to the complex mystery of Rachel's past, her intentions, and
whether she killed Burton's relative or not.
But what happens at the end? Burton, being convinced of her guilt, arranges an "accident" which kills her, but moments before she dies he suddenly gets (yet another) clue - one that seems to suggest her innocence. The last scene is Burton looking at the sea-shore, telling himself how he will never find out whether she was guilty or not. What a cop-out. Sure, one can argue that it's the kind of mysterious ending that is suitable to a story full of mystery and heavy contradictions, and I have nothing against endings that are ambiguous. However, the major problem with this is that du Maurier gives us very strong arguments to support Rachel's innocence, as well as bombarding us with enough evidence and clues that point to her guilt to make a black L.A. jury convict ten O.J. Simpsons. In other words, Rachel can be neither innocent nor guilty - as absurd as that sounds; whichever conclusion one prefers - there is too much info pointing in the other direction. And that is exactly why the ending is without an answer; my belief is that the writer herself didn't so much strive for a mysterious, romantic, ambiguous ending so much as strive for a way to conclude the book which enables her to escape the trappings of her own illogicalities and inconsistencies. She had realized what a mess she had written - as far as common sense and logic were concerned - and knew that a clear-cut ending wouldn't make any sense. She cons the viewer into attentively following the story, as the latter waits for a reasonable explanation. In that way she succeeds; after all, the story keeps your attention, and the interest actually grows.
The evidence pointing to de Havilland's innocence is not as abundant as that pointing towards her guilt, but it can be considered sufficient: 1) she does not sue for her late husband's assets (though this can be explained away as a refined tactic of hers - but I think it's too far-fetched to explain it away like that), 2) de Havilland shows genuine care for Burton's mental instability - during his illness - when she makes a rather worried and sad facial expression at a time when no one was watching her (so there was no point in faking it), 3) the letter which Burton finds at the end.
The case for her guilt is more voluminous, though: 1) she looks extremely worried about Burton having received her late husband's secret letters: worried in a rather guilty-looking way, 2) the highly suspicious poisonous(?) seed which grew both in the garden at Burton's villa, and Rachel's home in Italy, and which Burton even finds in a hidden(?) envelope (this last scene makes her look extremely suspicious - it isn't common to send seeds through mail), 3) the way she suddenly changes her tone toward Burton once she inherits everything - and this sudden change CANNOT be explained away by the fact that she was perhaps annoyed by his sudden and public marriage proposal (which may or may not have taken place the night before - even this du Maurier can't or won't tell us), 4) the way she offers Burton a cup of her own tea, but won't drink it herself - and throws it in the grass - after he asks her to drink it herself, 5) she then comes to him with another highly suspicious liquid concoction, and even tells him that he must drink it when she leaves (though this can perhaps be explained away by her worry about his condition - but that's a rather shaky argument), 6) her suspicious past - rumours or not, she seems to have at least some skeletons - which includes: a) the one about her having lost her first husband in a duel between him and her lover, b) having large debts, and living beyond her means, c) any two-time widow in her mid-30s is suspicious unless your name is Anna Nicole Smith, d) her immediate over-drawing of money from her bank-account, the moment she received Burton's first generous payment, e) her sending of big amounts of money to Italy.
A lot of the clues which point in one way or another depended less on the story than on de Havilland's acting; the facial expressions she makes in some key situations alternately show both guilt and innocence. The fact that she reacts in ways that both make her look extremely suspicious and innocent, alternately, is not her fault: de Havilland, like the author herself, didn't herself know whether she was playing a killer or not, so she had little choice in trying to act logically. Burton plays a rather naive guy in his 20s, who actually signs off all his possessions to Rachel - against the advice of his lawyer - and even tears apart Rachel's late husband's letters which are rather incriminating. He plays a guy so dumb that I figured that if she is ripping him off then he probably deserves it.
The film ends with a giant scam - the cop-out - but it is nevertheless very involving, increasingly interesting, and fairly atmospheric.
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.
"My Cousin Rachel", like Hitchcock's "Rebecca" from twelve years
earlier, is based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier. Both films are
Gothic melodramas set in Cornwall, and both have a wealthy landowner as
the main male character. Another link is that the female lead is played
in "Rebecca" by Joan Fontaine and here by her sister Olivia de
Havilland. One difference between the two, however, is that "Rebecca"
has a contemporary setting, whereas "My Cousin Rachel" is a period
piece set in the early nineteenth century.
This is not, however, the sort of "heritage cinema" costume drama with which we are familiar today. Ever since the sixties, it has been customary for films set in the 1800s to be made in colour, often sumptuous colour, with an emphasis on a detailed recreation of the costumes and furnishings of the era. In the fifties, however, it was quite common for such films to be treated as a sort of period version of film noir, in black and white with dramatic, expressionist photography. "Blanche Fury" is a British example of this phenomenon, and "Carrie" another American one.
The film has a particularly dramatic opening scene. Ambrose Ashley, a Cornish gentleman, is out walking along the coast with his young cousin Philip, an orphan whom Ambrose has adopted as his son. As they walk they see a body swinging on a gibbet and Ambrose turns to Philip and says: "Always remember, Philip, death is the price for murder."
Fast forward about twenty years. Ambrose, who has been advised to move to warmer climes for the sake of his health, goes to live in Florence where he marries the Countess Rachel Sangalletti, the English-born widow of an Italian aristocrat. Shortly afterwards, Ambrose dies in mysterious circumstances, leaving his estate to Philip rather than his new wife. Philip is convinced, on the basis of a few mysterious letters from his cousin, that Ambrose was in fact murdered by Rachel, but when she travels to England and he meets her, he falls desperately in love with the beautiful older woman. (Philip is 25, Rachel probably in her mid- thirties). As their relationship progresses, however, Philip's suspicions about Rachel return, and he begins to suspect that she might be planning to murder him to secure ownership of the estate.
The film's main problem is that it is never made clear whether or not Rachel murdered Ambrose or whether she is plotting to kill Philip. We spend about half the film thinking that she is the victim of unjustified suspicion and the other half believing that she may well be guilty of the crimes of which she is suspected. I don't intend to examine all the conflicting evidence with which we are presented, as fedor8 has already done this in his helpful review which sets out both the case for Rachel's innocence and the case for her guilt. The truth is never really established, and the film's ambiguous ending does not assist in this regard. In some artistic contexts ambiguity can be beneficial, but I feel that a Gothic suspense drama like this one needs to draw a clearer line between virtue and villainy.
The film does, however, also have its strong points. As mentioned above, its stark photography is very effective, and it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. There are also two excellent acting performances from De Havilland as Rachel and a young Richard Burton as Philip. I would not agree with those who see Philip as a Heathcliff figure- Emily Bronte's hero was always something of a threatening outsider, whereas Philip the wealthy country gentleman is really an insider, part of the system. Perhaps a more accurate comparison would be with a younger version of Mr Rochester from "Jane Eyre"- proud, impulsive, wilful, capable of both great generosity and great folly. Burton, one of several possible contenders for "greatest actor never to win an Oscar", deservedly received the first of his seven nominations for this film. (His second nomination came the following year for "The Robe", a film directed by the same director, Henry Koster). Oddly, his nomination here was in the "Best Supporting Actor" category, even though his is very much a leading role.
One might have thought that the ambiguity surrounding Rachel would have given De Havilland a problem as to how the character should be played. She is able, however, to give a very nuanced performance, suggesting both Rachel's lovability and her possibly sinister side. Another good contribution comes from the lovely young Audrey Dalton, in her debut film, as Louise, the young girl who loves Philip but fears losing him to Rachel. Audrey was a highly promising young actress who never really went on to become a major star, although she was to give another memorable performance in "Titanic" the following year.
Some have speculated that the film might have been improved had it been directed by Hitchcock rather than Koster, but the Master was never really comfortable with period drama. His attempt to film Du Maurier's "Jamaica Inn" resulted in one of his least memorable movies. He might have brought a greater sense of suspense to certain scenes, but I suspect that even he would have had difficulty in overcoming the problem of the ambivalence surrounding Rachel's guilt or innocence. 6/10
Like its predecessor, "Rebecca", this Daphne duMaurier story made it to the screen relatively untinkered with. The screenplay is quite faithful to the novel, and although Richard Burton seems to be chewing the scenery rather fiercely at times, it was after all an early performance of his. deHavilland displays a serene face that may (or may not!) have something dreadful to hide, much as her character in "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte". Try it, you'll like it!
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