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Alfred Hitchcock
Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny
Writing Credits:
Daphne Du Maurier (novel), Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Philip MacDonald (adaptation), Michael Hogan (adaptation)

The shadow of this woman darkened their love.

Rebecca's haunting opening line conjures the entirety of Hitchcock's romantic, suspenseful, elegant film. A young woman (Joan Fontaine) believes her every dream has come true when her whirlwind romance with the dashing Maxim de Winter (Sir Laurence Olivier) culminates in marriage. But she soon realizes that Rebecca, the late first Mrs. de Winter, haunts both the temperamental, brooding Maxim and the de Winter mansion, Manderley. In order for Maxim and the new Mrs. de Winter to have a future, Rebecca's spell must be broken and the mystery of her violent dead unraveled. The first collaboration between producer David O. Selznick and Hitchcock, Rebecca was adapted from Daphne du Maurier's popular novel and won the 1940 Academy Award®™ for Best Picture and Cinematography (Black and White).

Box Office:
$1.288 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 131 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 1/24/2012

• Audio Commentary With Film Critic Richard Schickel
• Isolated Music and Effects Track
• “The Making of Rebecca” Featurette
• “The Gothic World of Daphne Du Maurier” Featurette
• Screen Tests
• Three Radio Plays
• Two Hitchcock Audio Interviews
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Rebecca [Blu-Ray] (1940)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 3, 2012)

How is it possible that Alfred Hitchcock - possibly the most famous and influential filmmaker of all-time - never won an Oscar as Best Director? Five times nominated, he came up empty on each occasion, even the one time that a film of his won Best Picture: 1940's Rebecca; that year, John Ford took home the Best Director prize for The Grapes of Wrath.

While my sympathies go to Hitchcock for his consistent slighting at the hands of the Academy, I must admit that I understood their dilemma; both Ford and Hitchcock were amazing directors, and both their 1940 releases were strong pieces of work. Perhaps this a fair way to honor both films. Boy, that was a tough era for Academy voters, because the competition was so stiff; things lightened up a little after the legendary batch of nominees from 1939, but still stayed tough. (It didn't get much easier the next year, when Citizen Kane lost to How Green Was My Valley, another Ford production, but a much crummier one than Wrath.)

Anyway, I won't try to argue which of the two 1940 contenders was the better movie but Rebecca definitely offers a fine film. It's a curious kind romantic thriller, made odd partially due to the fact we never meet anyone named "Rebecca"; indeed, we discover very early on that she's the dead wife of Maxim De Winter (Laurence Olivier), an independently wealthy British manor owner who apparently remains despondent over his wife's demise.

During a visit to Monte Carlo, Maxim hooks up with a young cutie played by Joan Fontaine; she quickly becomes the second Mrs. De Winter and the two return to Manderley, his daunting and haunting mansion on the English shore. Unfortunately, the figurative ghost of Rebecca hangs over Fontaine at all times, as the occupants - the De Winters continue to employ a large staff, headed by the icy, Rebecca-obsessed Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) - and local residents remain fascinated by all things Manderley.

Most of the film focuses on Fontaine’s role and shows the apparent obsession over Rebecca maintained by her husband and the others; we see how this ghostly competition weighs upon her and causes various problems. This being Hitchcock, of course, things are not exactly what they seem, and I'll leave it at that so I don't ruin any surprises.

Hitchcock does a wonderful job of pacing the film and building the suspense; we just know something nasty will eventually happen, and he creates a delicious tension as we wait for these revelations. Hitchcock seems to take a misstep part of the way through the movie, as we reach what looks to be the ending yet are stuck with quite a lot of additional film to watch; however, more surprises are yet to come, so don't give up on the story.

The acting seems terrific from top to bottom. Olivier plays a role emotionally similar to Heathcliff in 1939's Wuthering Heights, but I thought he brought a lot more nuance to Maxim. Heathcliff just seemed stiff and petulant, whereas Maxim appears vaguely warm but haunted; it's easy to understand why he'd look like such a catch to the women of the film.

In an unnamed role - which helps make her additionally anonymous and reinforces the dominance of Rebecca – Fontaine may come across as overly simpy and meek for some, but her attitudes make sense in the part. A more forceful personality would have overpowered the aura cast by Rebecca, and that would have made the entire storyline collapse.

While we never see her - not even via a photo or a painting - Rebecca really is the main figure in this tale. Fontaine also matures nicely in the part and shows additional growth as the story proceeds. The only objection I have to her casting is that she seems too beautiful. I think we're supposed to believe that the allegedly-stunning Rebecca overshadows Old No-Name in the looks department, and that might be the case, but Fontaine is way too hot for me to believe that Becky could have been all that much sexier.

Possibly the strongest piece of acting in the cast comes from Judith Anderson as the house assistant Danvers. Anderson is truly creepy in the role but she refrains from being so overtly over-the-top that we won't accept her. While all of the residents of Manderley communicate the allure of Rebecca, she's the one who really has the most impact on Anonymous, and Anderson makes those scenes a sight to behold.

Another wonderful piece of supporting acting comes from George Sanders as an intimate Rebecca admirer, Jack Favell. Sanders' smarmy insolence initially makes him look like nothing more than a typical country-club gadabout, but we later find a darker side to the character. Sanders takes a small part with throwaway lines and infuses him with snarling malice, something that would serve him well in his best-known role, that of Shere Khan in Disney's The Jungle Book.

Rebecca didn't impress me as much as later Hitchcock films like Psycho or The Birds, but it nonetheless delivers a strong piece of work. The story of obsession may seem old hat, but Hitchcock's spin on it makes for compelling viewing, especially when complemented by some terrific acting.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

Rebecca appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The Blu-ray delivered a very pleasant representation of the movie.

Sharpness seemed consistently strong, as the film looked crisp and well defined at almost all points of the film. This appeared even more remarkable given how much of the movie occurred in low-light situations; nonetheless, the shots were clear and fine. The only real exceptions to this rule came with some of the close-ups of Fontaine, as Hitchcock always loved soft focus for his leading ladies. Nonetheless, the transfer should not be faulted for Hitchcock's technique.

I detected no examples of moiré effects or jagged edges, and edge enhancement remained absent. Print flaws were minimal; we found natural grain and a couple of small marks but nothing distracting. The movie did flicker a bit at times, though.

Throughout the film, black levels looked consistently great, as they always seemed deep and rich. Shadow detail also appeared very good, with a nice level of opacity that rarely looked too heavy. This was a splendid image that brought real luster to the film.

I felt fairly pleased with the film's monaural soundtrack. Audio quality seemed quite good for a movie of this vintage. Dialogue sounded clear and relatively warm, and I never had any trouble understanding it. Effects were usually clean and fairly realistic, with little evidence of distortion, and music was reasonably concise; the score lacked much vivacity, but it offered decent clarity for its age.

Only a light layer of noise could be heard; that appeared sporadically and wasn’t a concern. The audio showed its age but not in a severe manner. That meant the mix was pretty positive for its vintage.

When we shift to the disc’s extras, we launch with an audio commentary from film critic Richard Schickel. In his running, screen-specific track, Schickel discusses the source novel and its adaptation, censorship issues, cast and crew, story and characters, and some interpretation.

To date, I’ve listened to more than a dozen Schickel commentaries, and they almost invariably seem a lot alike. At best, he offers decent insights into the films, and we learn good details. At worst, Schickel leaves lots of dead air and tends to simply narrate the movies.

Schickel’s Rebecca track follows these trends but leans toward the “at worst” side of things. Schickel starts out reasonably well and keeps us moderately engaged through the first act or so, but after that, he peters out to a large degree. Comments become more and more infrequent, and even when Schickel speaks, he tends toward banal observations. Even by Schickel’s modest standards, this is a weak track.

Another special audio program appears. We discover an Isolated Music and Effects Track which offers exactly what its name implies. This lets you watch the movie with all of the sound except for dialogue. Some vocal material remains in the form of background hubbub, but none of the lines can be heard. I can’t say this track did a lot for me, but it seems like an interesting addition nonetheless.

Two featurettes follow. The Making of Rebecca goes for 28 minutes and provides notes from Schickel, Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary Stone, author/film historian Rudy Behlmer, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film author Will Schmenner, UCLA film professor Jonathan Kuntz, Hitchcock at Work author Bill Krohn, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick author David Thomson, film historian/professor Tom Schatz, Hitchcock’s Music author Jack Sullivan, Hitchcock and Selznick author Leonard Leff, Princeton University Professor of English and Comparative Literature Maria DiBattista, USC Professor of American Film Drew Casper, Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism author Paula Marantz Cohen, Hitchcock’s America co-editor Jonathan Freedman, Hitchcock as Philosopher author Robert Yanal, Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho author Stephen Rebello, actor Bruce Dern, It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock: A Personal Biography author Charlotte Chandler, The Hitchcock Romance author Lesley Brill and film historian Bruce Scivally.

We get some biographical notes about director Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick before we launch into issues related to the adaptation and production of Rebecca, with an emphasis on the clashes between the two men. “Making” moves briskly and provides a nice “bounce back” after the weak audio commentary. We get a nice overview of the film and learn quite a lot in this efficient program.

During the 19-minute, two-second The Gothic World of Daphne Du Maurier, we hear from DiBattista, Rebello, Kuntz, Schatz, Yanal, Leff, Daphne Du Maurier, Haunted Heiress author Nina Auerbach, film historians Collin Stutz and John Cork, The White House Chef Mystery Series author Julie Hyzy, and Institute for the American Musical president Miles Kreuger. We get notes about Du Maurier’s life and work as well as related films. While not quite as stimulating as “Making of”, “Gothic” offers an interesting encapsulation of the appropriate topics, with a particularly good look at genre areas.

A collection of Screen Tests fill a total of nine minutes, seven seconds. We see shots of Margaret Sullavan (4:00) and Vivian Leigh/Laurence Olivier (5:07). As expected, the quality of the film stinks – these snippets have seen better days – but they’re still an awful lot of fun to see.

We also get three different Radio Plays that adapt Rebecca. "The Mercury Theatre Presents Rebecca" comes from December 9, 1938, this adaptation stars Orson Welles as Maxim and Margaret Sullavan as “I”; it lasts 59 minutes and 35 seconds. Selznick apparently was impressed with this one, for it showed how easily the material could be adjusted to a non-text format. It’s interesting to hear a different take, though I thought Welles was too haughty and “American” in the part.

Next we get a "1941 Lux Radio Theatre" version of the material. From February 3rd of that year, this one stars Ronald Colman as Maxim and Ida Lupino as “I”. Both seem wrong for their roles. Colman is too prissy and patriarchal; he comes across like a Henry Higgins take on the part. Lupino displays little more than breathy innocence, and feels like an addled Snow White. Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to listen to this 58-minute and 31-second version, and I can’t wait until I send away for my Gone With the Wind brooch!

Lastly, we find the "1950 Lux Radio Theatre" adaptation from November 6th. This one-hour and 22-second broadcast finds Olivier back as Maxim and finally puts Vivien Leigh into the lead as “I” a decade after Olivier first stumped for her. This show again demonstrates how wrong she was for it; she comes across as overly self-assured and mature. Of course, she was 37 at the time, which really did make her too old for the part. As with the others, this is a flawed rendition, but it’s still cool to hear. (And if anyone doubts the programs went out live, check out the woman in the crowd who hacks her way through the performance!)

In addition to the film’s trailer, the Blu-ray finishes with two Hitchcock audio interviews. The first comes with Peter Bogdanovich (4:20), while the second features Pierre Truffault (9:15). Both offer some nice details and add value to the set.

While Rebecca may never be one of my favorite Hitchcock flicks, it nonetheless holds up much better than the vast majority of movies from the 1940s (or 1930s or 1950s or 1960s... oh, you get my point). It remains a compelling and haunting experience. The Blu-ray provides very good picture, audio and supplements. This turns into a fine release for a high quality film.

To rate this film visit the Criterion Collection review of REBECCA

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main