My Cousin Rachel (1952) Poster

User Reviews

Add a Review
35 ReviewsOrdered By: Helpfulness
8/10
Cousin, cousin
jotix10010 February 2005
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.
52 out of 56 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
DeHavilland & DuMaurier - a perfect match
Kara Dahl Russell12 July 2006
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.
38 out of 42 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
8/10
Winner of four Oscar nominations including Richard Burton, Best Supporting Actor...
Neil Doyle9 July 2001
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
48 out of 58 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Fatal combination of impetuous youth and mature womanhood
lora6417 August 2001
Warning: 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 not true.

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.
41 out of 49 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
8/10
Effective adaptation of DuMaurier novel
blanche-229 April 2006
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.
22 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
An excellent, atmospheric adaptation of the novel
Oriel10 March 1999
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.
28 out of 35 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
6/10
Ambiguous Gothic Romance
James Hitchcock12 September 2012
"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
13 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
An obscure yet excellent Gothic romantic mystery…
Peter Andres10 May 2008
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.
15 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
Part of its charm is you never really know for sure who Rachel is
calvinnme24 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Richard Burton plays Phillip Ashley, an orphan in 19th century Cornwall who grows up in the care of his wealthy cousin Ambrose who is part a father and part an older brother to him. As Phillip grows to manhood, Ambrose says he must go abroad for his health's sake, and although Phillip asks to go with him, Ambrose asks him to stay in Cornwall and take care of the estate.

While abroad, Ambrose marries somebody named Rachel. Shortly thereafter, in Florence, he takes ill and writes letters saying that he believes Rachel is trying to kill him and asks for help. His last letter is practically incoherent. Phillip sails for Florence, but it is too late. Ambrose has died and the widow has moved out the day before Phillip's arrival.

Phillip goes home with hatred in his heart for the person he presumes killed his beloved cousin who has been so good to him. But he doesn't have to worry about finding Rachel to accuse her, because she shows up at the estate in Cornwall, almost unannounced. She immediately goes about charming Phillip by being quite different from what he imagined. She seems genuinely mournful over Ambrose and completely alright with the fact that the entire estate went to Phillip rather than to her, the widow. She does not intend to challenge the will, which in those times she easily could have done. This completely disarms the loyal yet naïve Phillip.

What is so great about this is that even though this is Burton's film, De Havilland's Rachel steals the show just from the Hitchcockian mystery with which she fills the part. You spend your entire time wondering what is going on with this woman. I felt that despite the warmth blended with disciplined composure she seems to radiate that there was something evil and calculating just under the surface, but I just can't tell you why.

Then there are all of the facts that blur matters more. Ambrose's father died of a brain tumor. The way Ambrose was behaving at the end seemed to indicate the same thing, although in the 19th century there would be no way to know for sure except maybe an autopsy. If Rachel just wanted the estate, why didn't she make sure Ambrose wrote a new will with her inheriting BEFORE she started poisoning him, IF she was poisoning him in the first place? There are other pieces of "evidence" that seem to indicate Rachel has a homicidal streak and a greedy streak as well, but I'll let you watch and find out.

There are plenty of touches with noirish connections, like voice-over narration and moody black and white cinematography. I'd give this an eight if it just didn't seem like, that for all that is great about it, there is just "a certain something" missing. I can't tell you what that is, but on Turner Classic Movies the other night, when they screened this, it was said during the introduction to the film by the host that George Cukor was originally set to direct, but then Henry Koster ended up getting the job. Koster was a more than adequate director over at Fox, but just did not have the same level of craft of Cukor.

One rather minor detail that I found fascinating is how Rachel seems to go in and out of mourning at her convenience. When she first appears in Cornwall she is always wearing black, but as time passes and she gets chummy with Phillip the mourning clothes go away. When Phillip tries to press her for a marriage she says she never wanted and he feels led on, the mourning clothes come back out, as if to emphasize the impropriety of the relationship that she is at least saying she feels. I don't know if it was a mistake or a nice touch, but either way, I liked it.
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Another great duMaurier novel transported to the screen
Thad Taylor1 October 2000
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!
14 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Interesting mystery but with a cop-out ending.
Fedor Petrovic (fedor8)21 January 2007
Warning: 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.
20 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
Well Appointed Drama
harry-768 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It was probably wise that Garbo elected not come out retirement at age 47 to play Rachel opposite 27-year old Burton. While it would have been an interesting film, the 20-year age difference might have stretched credibility a bit.

As it happened, 36-year old De Havilland worked much better. After a three year hiatus following her triumphant Oscar winning turn in "The Heiress," Olivia looked fresh, radiant, and completely on top of her character. In fact, her peerless performance here signaled the end of her "great period," thereafter her interest in films seemed to have gradually declined.

In only his sixth film, Burton burst onto the American screen with pent up fire and emotion. This supremely gifted Welsch actor seemed almost too gifted in too many areas, resulting in a personality which demanded constant challenge and involvement. Without such consistencies a self destructiveness could and apparently did occur. It was no surprise that strong spirits entered the scenario as lifelong companion.

The film itself is beautifully photographed by Joseph LaShelle, richly scored by Franz Waxman, and romantically directed by Henry Koster from a Nunnally Johnson script-- which was in turn true to Daphne Du Maurier's Gothic novel.

The "formless fears" mentioned at the outset paved the way for an intriguing ambiguity running throughout a strange tale of mystery and suspicion. The cast is uniformly fine, and the production is a jewel in Twentieth Century Fox's cinematic crown.
14 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
My Cousin Rachel
JoeytheBrit21 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Headstrong Philip Ashley, an orphan raised by his uncle following the death of his parents, suspects foul play when his guardian dies abroad after smuggling out letters accusing his new wife (Olivia De Havilland) of trying to kill him. However, when she visits England he finds himself drawn to her despite himself and convinces himself that his uncle died as the result of a brain tumour that made him irrationally suspicious of those he loved. Despite this, evidence to suggest she might indeed be guilty leaves him with fresh doubts.

Nunnally Johnson's adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's murder mystery does a fine job of continuously wrong-footing the viewer so that we, like Philip, can never quite decide whether the outwardly elegant and refined widow Ashley is actually a cold-blooded killer. This uncertainty compels us to keep watching as the plot's twists manipulates us into believing first one thing then the other, making for a compelling and enjoyable mystery. Unfortunately, the deliberately ambiguous ending means we are still none the wiser as to whether 'shedunnit' or not when the final credits roll.

27-year-old Richard Burton cuts an imposing, Heathcliff-like figure as Philip, the brash, impulsive heir to his uncle's fortune. He was always more effective as stern, authoritarian figures, and although he gives an impressive performance that largely carries the film, at times he struggles to inject the required touch of sensitivity in its more tender moments. It has to be said that events on screen are depicted with as much ambiguity as the mystery itself, with the viewer left to surmise that Philip and the widow have indeed engaged in a sexual liaison when the film coyly moves on to the next scene. Such subtlety, to varying degrees, is also evident in the clues regarding Rachel's possible guilt (or innocence) that are provided.

It's a shame that Du Maurier failed to come up with a definitive conclusion to what, until its finale, is a truly absorbing drama, but in retrospect it's apparent that to have done so would have probably required too many additional twists and revelations to make anything she came up with plausible.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
Wow is Philip fickle!
MartinHafer13 March 2017
Philip Ashley (Richard Burton) is a brash young man in this Gothic tale. When Cousin Ambrose writes to him that his wife is slowly killing him, he accepts it without question...even though it's very possible Ambrose was not in his right mind. After all, his father died of a brain tumor...perhaps this is causing Ambrose to compose these weird letters. Regardless, Philip is pre-disposed to hate Ambrose's wife, Rachel (Olivia de Havilland). Philip rushes to Italy to see his cousin but the man was dead and buried by the time he arrived. His widow was not there and Philip immediately leaves to return to his estate.

Out of the blue, Rachel arrives at Philip's estate soon after this. Inexplicably, he almost immediately likes her and just assumes the letters were the ramblings of a madman. While this could be true, Philip's change of heart betray him as a very immature sort of young man. And, when he falls for Rachel and wishes to marry her, you wonder....is this a marriage made in Heaven or a prelude to his soon descent into Hell? Regardless, it soon becomes apparent that Philip has some serious issues!

When Ben Mankiewiecz introduced this film, he indicated that many thought Richard Burton was miscast as Philip because he was too old...though he was only 26. He just happened to look older and the part called for a young many about to turn 25. Burton's performance earned him an Oscar nomination--oddly, for Best Supporting Actor even though he was in every scene and clearly was the star. His performance is full of power and intensity...perhaps too much at times for my taste.

This movie is in many ways very reminiscent of the earlier film "Suspicion" which, interestingly, starred de Havilland's sister (Joan Fontaine). It keeps you guessing as to Rachel and her innocence...as well as Philip's sanity. Well made and interesting.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
A Classic Gothic Mystery
dglink27 September 2015
Philip Ashley is orphaned at a young age, and his cousin Ambrose raises him at his English seaside estate. When Philip is in his early 20's, Ambrose goes to Italy, where he meets and marries a woman named Rachel. Shortly thereafter, Ambrose becomes seriously ill, and Philip receives letters from Italy in which Ambrose says he is in danger and his wife is his tormentor. The mysterious Rachel does not arrive on the scene until well into the film, when she comes to England to visit Philip; director Henry Koster shrouds her arrival in mystery and keeps her back to the audience for several minutes longer, until she is revealed to both Philip and the audience. "My Cousin Rachel," adapted by Nunnally Johnson from the Daphne de Maurier novel, is an excellent, engrossing Gothic mystery that will keep viewers guessing, perhaps even after the film is over.

Olivia de Havilland is the perfect choice to play Rachel; de Havilland has excelled in roles such as Melanie in "Gone with the Wind" and as Bette Davis's cousin in "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte," where her seemingly sweet and vulnerable demeanor masks inner strength and resources that can be utilized for either good or evil. In this film, her facial expressions are often ambiguous and deepen viewers' conflict as to her motives. Although Richard Burton is billed below the title and received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for this role, his is actually the lead. As the initially suspicious and bereaved cousin and subsequently the smitten suitor, Burton is outstanding in a breakout role. His mellifluous voice and delivery elevate the role of the tormented Philip above that of a callow youth in love with an older woman. Burton won a Golden Globe as the most promising newcomer of the year, a richly deserved award that his subsequent films more than validated. Both de Havilland and Burton display layer upon layer of character that enhance the mystery and shifting motivations of Philip and Rachel.

Joseph LaShelle's masterful black-and-white cinematography was among the film's four Academy Award nominations and wraps the moody estate and the turbulent sea crashing against rocky cliffs in deep shadows and striking images that deepen the proceedings. Franz Waxman's score further enhances the engrossing story. Boasting two stars who imbue their roles with depth that few others could provide, outstanding photography and music, a capable supporting cast, and fine direction from an excellent screenplay, "My Cousin Rachel" is a classic that is immensely entertaining and as fresh and riveting as it likely was 60 years ago.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
Spoiler Review of the Ending
brentchastain13 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The ending. That's what is commented on most and with good reason. Because the resolution is purposely ambiguous, it disappoints or frustrates many.

I think the ending, which does not stamp the seal of innocence or guilt upon Rachel, is appropriate to the story. The plot carefully builds two sides to Rachel's character. She is either the sweetest warmest person ever, or a fortune seeker where marriage and murderer are not out of the question. The story builds a strong case for both perspectives. This is the larger point of the story - it's about perceptions, communication and judgments humans make, that we sometimes have to make without the ability to determine the truth and the inherent danger in doing so. This is how life sometimes is - nowadays we call them gray areas. My Cousin Rachel it's not necessarily a mystery story that needs to be resolved, but more truly a comment on the folly of human interactions, especially where money and greed are involved.

Yet even if you demand a solid resolution, the ending should not be seen as a let-down. If you believe the story shows her guilt more prominently, then in the end you can argue that fate stepped in, (seconds too late) and justice was done - she paid with her life for murder, as the opening death scene foretold. On the other hand If you believe her innocent, then her murder can be explained in her extremely poor manner of showing and communicating her intentions, leaving highly bad impressions to those it mattered most.

I think my reading of the outcome is backed up by the fact then when the author of the novel was asked about the innocence of Rachael, she herself did not know. Solving the mystery was not the author's intention. Brent Chastain top3films.com
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
Guilty or Innocent?
Claudio Carvalho7 September 2016
On the Cornish coast, the wealthy Ambrose Ashley (John Sutton) raises his cousin Philip like a son since he was a baby. They frequently have lunch or go to the church with Philip's godfather Nicholas Kendall (Ronald Squire) and his daughter Louise Kendall (Audrey Dalton). When Philip (Richard Burton) is twenty-four years old, Ambrose is advised by his doctor to spend winter in warmer places and he decides to go to Florence, Italy. Ambrose does not return in spring and tells that he met the widow Rachel Ashley (Olivia deHavilland) and they will get married. The next letter he receives from Ambrose accuses Rachel of mistreating him and the next one asks to Philip to go to Florence. When Philip arrives in Florence, he learns that Rachel has traveled and he visits Rachel's friend and lawyer Guido Rainaldi (George Dolenz). He tells to Philip that Ambrose died delusional because of a brain tumor, but Philip believes Rachel murdered his cousin. He returns to Cornwall and soon Rachel comes to the town and Philip invites her to stay in his property. When he meets her, Philip realizes that she is a beautiful woman and he falls in love with her. Then he believes that his suspicious are unfounded. He also decides to give all the wealth to her expecting to get married with Rachel. But she does not accept to get married and Philip soon gets sick. Is Rachel poisoning Philip or not? Is she guilty or not?

"My Cousin Rachel" is an intriguing film where unfortunately there is no answer to the main question: is Rachel guilty or innocent? The direction, screenplay, cinematography and performances are top-notch. Inclusive Burt Lancaster was nominated to the Oscar in the category Best Actor in a Supporting Role and won the Golden Globes Most Promising Newcomer – Male. Olivia deHavilland is also amazing performing an ambiguous character. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Eu Te Matarei, Querida!" ("I Will Kill You, Darling!)
5 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Kissing Cousin ...
misctidsandbits24 September 2011
This movie reminds me of "Rebecca" as well. Both are dark sided, with women that are formidable to the men in question. Interesting that in both cases, these are thoroughly English men. While both women are compelling personalities and complicated to the men involved, I think they are very different, both in type and motivation.

I think Rebecca simply had a very skewed moral compass with underlying perversity. I think she knew when she did wrong and reveled in it – rather depraved actually.

However, Rachel is another story. I don't think she is actually sinister, but of a culture with ethics quite foreign -and skewed- to the rather straight laced English mindset. Remember, she is a certain European with very different ways of looking at things. What seems not quite cricket to Philip and the older Ambrose, needs no justification in Rachel's mind.

And I think she had the type of "tribal" loyalty that bound her to her own kinsmen in preference to these newly acquired English connections (husband, in Ambrose's case). That's why she could be so genuinely outraged by Philip's confrontations and so strong in her own representations of matters. She truly saw no reason not to take the mile when she was offered an inch. Any implication of an implied betrothal or personal commitment in the gift of very valuable family jewelry was dismissible with her. This ambivalence also included being somewhat free with her kisses.

As for it seeming implausible that Philip could be so rearranged by her, well, that is an old story. Strong women have been turning men inside out for centuries. Recall that Philip is a relatively unsophisticated young man. Ambrose, while advanced from him, was about as inexperienced with persons so unlike his countrymen. What seems clear and forthright to a rather sheltered young man, can melt away when confronted with the formidable presence and charm of a more sophisticated and attractive woman.

Again, I do not think Rachel set about with cunning and craftiness. I think she was of a mindset that saw no problem with acquiring as she did and with sharing with her fellow countryman with whom she had a much longer and deeper tie than this simple, probably seemingly rather cold Englishman – either in the case of Ambrose originally and later with Philip. Whether or not she actually did away with Ambrose is up for conjecture. But her total confounded disbelief when she fell into Philip's literal trap at the end was genuine. I think her sense of ethics and moral justification were so diverse from Philip's that he could not but think of her as deliberate in cunning. The combination of expressed affection and seeming duplicity were maddeningly incomprehensible to him.

Rachel violated Philip's expectations and moral code on several counts. His obsession with her and perception of that drove him to violate it himself. (not revealing the end)
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
May all be an illusion
jarrodmcdonald-11 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This film is based on one of Daphne DuMaurier's mysterious romances and features one of her most intriguing female characters. Olivia de Havilland as Rachel comes across as an anti- heroine. But even after that determination has been made, that she is no good, one cannot help but think she's been mistook as a villain. That is the ironic beauty of this story--the multiple shades of ambiguity, with no easy answers.

Both the novel and 20th Century Fox's faithful version (adapted by Nunnally Johnson) do not provide a traditional resolution. This works because Rachel, like the unseen Rebecca of DuMaurier's earlier novel, hovers beyond the framework of the story. There's no way we can know every innocent or evil detail of her life. We also cannot know every detail of her beloved Phillip's life.

Phillip, played by Richard Burton in his first major Hollywood film assignment, is strangely just as mysterious and ambiguous as Rachel. In a great scene, Phillip deliriously hangs between life and death and has a fantastic vision of marrying Rachel. He recovers, only to learn that it was all an illusion. His entire relationship with Rachel may all be an illusion.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Devil in Disguise
Errington_9228 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"This is what one moment of passion can bring on a man". It is the foreboding we are given from the hindsight of Philip, forever ridden with the memory of his self proclaimed blessed torment Rachel. A woman who is focused upon with great suspicion and secrecy as she places Philip in a heap of trouble.

The narrative builds up to its mysterious and suspicious nature after Rachel marries Philip's Uncle before he becomes ill. This sets the mystic nature of My Cousin Rachel as the letters he sends to Philip become more erratic leading Philip to believe he is the victim of murder. As the situation with his Uncle progresses we question ourselves as to who is Rachel. This situation creates a predicament which we as the audience are attracted to.

Rachel is purposely introduced in an inexplicable fashion to make us further question her character. Shot from behind our first glimpse of Rachel gives nothing away. All in black wearing a veil she makes her way into Philip's home with her back to us creating a feeling of uncertainty. When Rachel is finally revealed to us it takes ourselves and Philip off guard. Rachel greets Philip in a warm and friendly manner telling him stories of his family history as a way of making him feel comfortable around her while she secretly begins her plot.

Rachel continues to perform time and time again to entice Philip into her wicked charm and it is only after Philip gives her everything he owns her delightful masquerade ends and she reveals her frank demeanour. "That was last night Philip and you had given me the jewels", Rachel states in a calm manner unashamed of her deceit. She comes across as a woman confident of her abilities indicating a deadly dilemma will follow.

Although My Cousin Rachel is well known for its ambiguity it is hard not to be weary of Rachel. The way she conducts herself to others, eagerly wanting to acquaint with her former husband's friends, acting upon Philip's emotions and secret meetings with a questionable friend. All this and more makes it seem that Rachel is guilty. Yet it is this sense of doubt which drives My Cousin Rachel. It keeps us as the audience guessing just as much as the rest of the characters to the psyche of Rachel. We share a similarity with Philip as our mind is transfixed on solving the mystery.

Besides from the enigma that is Rachel acting as the catalyst of the drama in My Cousin Rachel to engage the audience, Joseph LaShelle's black and white cinematography along with Franz Waxman's score brings the audience into a bleak environment full of torment and tragedy. A captivating story which is well acted by the likes of Burton, De Hillvilland and Dalton drawing the attention of the audience in with their performances but it is De Hillvilland's woman in black who leaves us with the lasting memory of My Cousin Rachel's Gothic nature.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
My First View of Richard Burton Rare Treasure, perhaps, even a Masterpiece as a film.
victorsargeant27 April 2006
I was ten when I saw this film for the first time, Prairie town Mid West Kansas. Richard Burton appears on the screen at the Colonial Theater, Junction City, Kansas. Later Burton shows up in The Robe.

Already he had such intensity, almost anger, with his Dance of Life,trained in the world of literature and theater. You "noticed" him.

Olivia de Havilyn... held her ground on the screen with Burton. She was not "intimidated by Burton", and the two of them made this story memorable.

Well paced staging, great camera work, sound, and they held their "power", sustaining their even performances, which comes only from polished craft over time. After "Gone with the Wind", Clark Gable and Erryol Flynn, who was this Burton person? ha

"Rebecca" belonged to Laurence Olivie and "My Cousin Rachel" belongs to Richard Burton. I don't think these two actors would have "switched" roles. Burton is rough and full of fury, and Olivie is smoother and wistfully melancholic, its just their "natures".

They taught Brando sustain that personal psychological power during a scene, I am sure. And he them? These three, will most likely, we will not see their likes again.

I was more impressed with the photography, lighting, sets, the coastal setting, gardens, and movement. The jewels were awesome and appropriate for the times. It was most believable to me and provided a great space for the actors to glide through the story. Well thought out, with just the right touches, attention to detail. The atmosphere of the sets?

Of course Waxman's music is magical, like "Rebecca" brooding mystery in the mists of the coastal waters. Just right.

Would like to see this film reserved for DVD to protect it from being lost.

Some comments belittled this film's effectiveness, but one must erase the influence of films that "followed" this film, as never seen, and judge this film from what went before it, not after it. This would have been an "independent film", if made today. Art piece, bitter-sweet, as a study of wild youth and seasoned maturity as Blind Love? Old films are not pale before todays films. Are the emotions believable, are the performances valid, even today, is a better question of its power to be a historic legends.

This is a study of its times and values of its times. "My Cousin Rachel" belongs with "Rebecca", "Kings Row", "Citizen Kane""The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", "Wuthering Heights", "Now Voyager" and can not be appropriately understood outside its times. Like a bottle of old wine.

"Star Trek" full of fire and music, "stimulation and lasers"....kills a black and white Gothic drama. We are talking "vintage" not breathtaking mind blowing visual rape of the senses, kids. Burton unknown, here before us, as a nobody, long before "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf" or "Night of the Iguana" ...like seeing James Dean on the screen for the first time in my youth.. who is this guy. Well they became Mythic Stars for all time. Elizabeth Taylor liked this film...so there...

No, its not James Bond, and big color epics,like "Ben Hur", that would drown a little Gothic "dessert" pastry, like "Rachel" Delicate cake does not work with mustard and Ketsup, as it were, kids? I was delighted to see AMC present "Rachel" and taped it for my library, for one of those cold Colorado winter nights, when a good brandy and a fire, is just right for my psyche. Enjoy. Worth another close look.
6 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Sweet cousin Olivia.
dbdumonteil17 August 2001
Du Maurier has always been transferred to the screen:three times by Hitchcock (Rebecca,The birds and the flawed "Jamaïca Inn"),once by Roeg ("don't look back",saved by its actors Christie and Sutherland), and probably more which escape my mind.

This is an academic Hitchcock-influenced adaptation,but an efficient one,thanks to Richard Burton (it was his sixth film) and mainly to the imperial Olivia De Havilland,who succeeds brilliantly in leaving ambiguousness in her portrayal of a beautiful mysterious woman who might be a femme fatale, her former husband's slayer.The director's work takes a back seat when you deal with such talented actors.But Koster does a good work and the suspense is sustained till the end. Old-fashioned but still entertaining.
5 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
The musical score almost ruins it
teatag7 December 2017
I read the novel many years ago, as had my wife, but hadn't seen the movie. The acting was good, but for a few episodes of Hollywood-style over-emoting. The story line seems to be faithful to the novel, inasmuch as we can remember it. The settings are lavish, but consistent with the story line. The only real fault, and it's a major one, is the intrusive and overly loud and pseudo-dramatic musical score. Be prepared to turn down the volume from time to time. Given a choice between no background music and Franz Waxman's score, I would gladly have opted for no music.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
8/10
Fantastic romantic thriller!
HotToastyRag21 July 2017
I'm not really an Olivia deHavilland fan, but there are a couple of movies of hers that I really like her performance. My Cousin Rachel is one of them, and The Heiress is the other.

If you like mysterious classics, like Jane Eyre, Laura, and Rebecca, this one will be right up your alley. It's dark and spooky, well-acted, tension-filled, and it has Richard Burton in it! Richard's cousin has married Olivia (Rachel) and in the 1800s, cousins through marriage become cousins as well, hence the title. He receives letters from his cousin and starts to suspect that Olivia is poisoning him, but before he can travel to their home to rescue him (remember, this is the 1800s; he couldn't just take a plane) his cousin has died. Oh no! Richard is determined to prove Olivia's guilt, so he stays on at the house to try and uncover clues. But the longer he stays there, the more he finds himself drawn to his mysterious widowed cousin. . . I don't want to say any more about the plot, but if your interest has been piqued, rent My Cousin Rachel during the next dark and stormy weekend. It's thrilling!
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
6/10
A much contrived drama about the mystic side of woman's psyche.
lasttimeisaw3 October 2015
A vintage film adaption of Daphne du Maurier's novel by director Henry Koster, as a much anticipated follow up for it star Olivia de Havilland after her second Oscar win in THE HEIRESS (1949). However, MY COUSIN RACHEL now is mostly remembered as a stepping stone introducing British thespian Richard Burton to the Hollywood. At the age of 27, he upstages an almost one- decade senior Olivia de Havilland in this mysterious romance.

Philip Ashley (Burton), is an orphan raised by his elder cousin Ambrose (Sutton) living in Cornwall, he is devastated by the sudden death of Ambrose from brain tumour in Florence, who has just married to a widow Rachel (de Havilland) whom Ambrose meets there during the winter season. Which makes thing worse is Philip receives two letters from an ailing Ambrose before his ultimate death, implicates Rachel for his illness. So apparently it could be Rachel's sinisterly hatched plan to inherit Ambrose' well-heeled property. However, in his will, Ambrose leaves the estate to Philip, thus, one hanging question remains, will Philip becomes Rachel's next prey?

Both the source novel and the film play well the trumping card, aka, the true colour of Rachel, is she a cold-hearted schemer or just an unfortunate woman shrouded by tragedies, or perhaps she lurks in between. Casting Ms. de Havilland, who is so distinguished in her meek, genial persona, as Rachel, is to maximally establish the contrasting nature of the character, her demure, understanding front is poles apart from what Philip conceives, he hopelessly falls for her almost instantly, his indignation melt away completely to a degree he even grants her the entire estate and family jewellery. She takes them all but inexplicably refuses his marriage proposal. Then Philip falls sick, all the ominous trappings - poisonous seeds, a second will, Rachel's secret connection with her Italian lawyer Guido Rainaldi (Dolenz) - start to push the story into a conventional climax, a young man's doomed infatuation with an elder femme fatale, only this time, a blunt twist quickly alters the finale, leaves a pungent gusto of ambivalence in the mouth.

Burton harvests his very first Oscar nomination here, but nonsensically as a supporting actor, sometimes these flagrant category frauds keep reminding us we shouldn't take Oscar too seriously (mostly for the nomination process), it is a game of campaign and inside-dealing, whoever has watched this film, knows that Burton has the most screen-time and the story entirely revolves around his character, such an ignoble stigma is just too glaring to ignore, sadly, the fashion of delegating leading performance to the supporting group is still rampant now, just name a few, Jamie Foxx in COLLATERAL (2004, 7/10), Hailee Steingeld in TRUE GRIT (2010) and Helen Hunt in THE SESSIONS (2012). Nevertheless, Burton is radiant with passion and eloquent line-delivery, despite the romantic chemistry hasn't been convincingly justified, it is hard for audience to concur with Philip's obsession with Rachel, while there is an attractive and sensible ingénue Louise Kendall (Dalton) around, whom he can merely treat as a young sister. After all, there is little to be found naturalistic in this much contrived drama about the mystic side of human psyche.
2 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
loading
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews