Because Sir 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 Sir 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.
The first movie that Sir Alfred Hitchcock made in Hollywood, and the only one that won a Best Picture Oscar. Although it won Best Picture, the Best Director Award that year went to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath (1940).
Due to the success of this movie in Spain, the specific jackets that Joan Fontaine wore during the movie 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, New England in particular, producer 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 twenty actresses were screentested for the role of Mrs. de Winter, which eventually went to newcomer Joan Fontaine. One of them was Vivien Leigh, for whom Sir Laurence Olivier was pressing, as they were a couple at the time.
Mrs. Danvers is hardly ever seen walking, she seems to glide. Sir 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.
In 1944, Edwina Levin MacDonald sued producer David O. Selznick, author Daphne Du Maurier, United Artists, and Doubleday for plagiarism. She claimed that this movie was based on her novel "Blind Windows", and sought an undisclosed amount of damages. The lawsuit did not succeed.
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, Sir 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 movie that Sir Alfred Hitchcock made with producer 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".
Having started in movies as an art director, Sir Alfred Hitchcock was well-versed in using miniatures to save money, but had to convince producer David O. Selznick that the process wouldn't look cheap.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock frequently clashed with producer David O. Selznick over Hitchcock's habit of cutting in-camera. Rather than give Selznick several complete shots of each set-up so the movie 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 movie.
Another factor slowing down production was Sir 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.
Producer 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.
Whenever Rebecca is mentioned, particularly noticeable at around thirty-three minutes, thirty-nine minutes, forty-four minutes, forty-eight minutes, and two hours and three minutes, a brief, otherworldly appearance of the Hammond Novachord appears in the soundtrack. This first commercial polyphonic synthesiser is considered the grandfather of all modern synthesisers, and eventually managed to find its home in later science fiction and suspense movies, due to its unique sound.
Sir 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).
Producer David O. Selznick was so thrown by Sir 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 movie was excellent.
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 was concerned with both stars' performances. He asked Hitchcock to speed up Sir Laurence Olivier's reactions, which he thought were being played too slowly, and slow down his line readings, even asking Hitchcock to make sure Olivier knew what the lines meant. With Joan Fontaine, he thought Sir Alfred Hitchcock was directing her with too much restraint, and urged him to go for "a little more Yiddish Art Theatre".
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 movie. It is one of the items Mrs. Danvers shows to the second Mrs. de Winter.
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.
Principal photography was completed twenty-seven days behind the original thirty-six-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 policeman, with Sanders having only been seen in close up while talking on the phone.
Although producer David O. Selznick wanted this movie to stay faithful to the novel, Sir Alfred Hitchcock made several changes 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 movie, Mrs. Danvers is much younger, and her past isn't revealed, while Rebecca is "the source of evil that exists in Mrs. Danvers." The movie added the raining right before entering Maxim's home Manderley and meeting Mrs. Danvers. The raining made the second Mrs. de Winter cold and shivering when she meets Mrs. Danvers. In the book, the second Mrs. de Winter travels with Maxim to London to meet Dr. Baker. In order to increase the tension and the suspense, Hitchcock let the second Mrs. de Winter stay at Manderley instead of travelling with Maxim de Winter to meet Dr. Baker (Leo G. Carroll). Instead of the second Mrs. de Winter, Frank Crawley travels with Maxim de Winter to London to meet Dr. Baker in the movie. In the book, the second Mrs. de Winter is the one who is having an uncomfortable feeling while travelling back to Manderley with Maxim in the end, but in the movie, Maxim de Winter is the one who is having the uncomfortable feeling while driving back to Manderley, where the second Mrs. de Winter is waiting. In the book, it is uncertain what happened to Mrs. Danvers in the end, but in the movie, Mrs. Danvers is destroyed along with Manderley at the end.
Producer David O. Selznick wanted the smoke from the burning Manderley to spell out a huge R. Sir 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 movie.
In the book, the second Mrs. de Winter was fainting during the inquest just like in the movie. Frank Crawley drives the second Mrs. de Winter back to Manderley. While staying at Manderley, Jack Favell comes to see the second Mrs. de Winter and Maxim to talk about the death of Rebecca, but in the movie, Sir Alfred Hitchcock lets Jack Favell meet the second Mrs. de Winter and Maxim during the break in the inquest to heighten the tension.