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