Thursday, February 18, 2016
(April 1940, U.S.)
First REAR WINDOW and now REBECCA! Oh man, how I do love these little coincidences that manage to create double features on my blog! This film, based on Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel, was Alfred Hitchcock's first one to be made in America. It's a glorious black and white gothic tale of the psychological and mysterious elements of one's past continuing to haunt them. And as is the case with most Hitchcock material, it's also a fine love story. One of, if not the key element of psychological intrigue in this film is that we never get to see the character of Rebecca de Winter because she's already died before the story even really starts. Brooding aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter (played by Lawrence Olivier) is clearly haunted by his wife's passing, but we're not entirely sure why. We also don't know how she died. Clearly, though, her passing and even just the mere mention of her name has left a mark not only on the widower and the entire domestic staff at his home of the English country mansion Manderley, but particularly with his new naïve second wife (played by Joan Fontaine, whose character name, by the way, is never mentioned in the film. She's simply known as the second Mrs. de Winter) who must not only deal with the memory and reputation of the dead first wife, but also with Manderley's rather creepy head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (played by Judith Anderson), who appeared to have absolutely adored Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers is cold, domineering and completely obsessed with the beauty, intelligence and sophistication of the eponymous first Mrs. de Winter, preserving her former bedroom as a shrine. Did I say she adored Rebecca? Adored, my ass! Although the subject of lesbianism was still considered a screen taboo in 1940, it's pretty damn obvious that Mrs. Danvers was in love with Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier was rumored to be bisexual, so the idea is not totally without merit)!
Rebecca's presence and intimidation, even from the grave, is apparent and obvious throughout Manderley. The fact that her presence is also so highly protected by the icy Mrs. Danvers makes it all the more chilling because there's nothing more challenging than to try and survive than the memory of the dead. The second Mrs. de Winter longs to belong not only to Manderley and its servants, but also longs to be the perfect wife she imagines she should be to her new husband. As the stress of belonging and the mystery of who Rebecca was and what happened to her in the end progresses throughout the film, the second wife is nearly pushed over the mental and psychological edge by Mrs. Danvers. In a particularly haunting scene, Mrs. Danvers is hardly shy about urging the second wife to jump to her death in the sea below, citing that there's really no viable reason for her to remain at Manderley or to even live, for that matter. As mentioned, there's no quiet subtlety in this action. Mrs. Danvers stalks and hovers over the second wife with piercing eyes and the strongest of will...
This bitch is definitely not someone I want working for me in my house! Still, however, we must remember that this is still a Hitchcock mystery and despite any early indications of weakness and frailty, the so-called victim eventually rises to the occasion, so to say, and not only finds a way to defend herself against the wicked housekeeper, but to also uncover the truth of Rebecca. The truth, as an element of intricate plotting, is actually far more astonishing than you might imagine. The truth, as we're meant to understand it, is that Maxim de Winter absolutely hated his wife (for specific reasons, please watch the film!)! And while it appears he had good reasons to want to murder her (he is suspected of such for a while), Rebecca's death was the result of her own hand when she learned she suffered from a terminal cancer. The film attempts to conclude itself with a sense of resolve, absolution and the triumph of love, but I'm afraid we're not let off the hook that easily. In what I can only describe as a vivid and even frightening image in black and white, we finally watch the great house of Manderley burn to the ground at the hands of the crazed Mrs. Danvers in a scathing inferno that lights up the entire night sky...
This burning house actually sets the stage for the film at the very beginning because we're first introduced to the story in the idea of the second Mrs. de Winter's dream of the once great Manderley, now a smoldering ruin of ashes and rubble..."Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
REBECCA won the Oscar for best picture of 1940. Not bad for Hitchcock's first American film!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mrs. Danvers (speaking of the first Mrs. de Winter) "You wouldn't think she'd been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step. I couldn't mistake it anywhere. It's not only in this room, it's in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now. Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?"
Second Mrs. de Winter (crying): "N-no, I don't believe it."
Mrs. Danvers: "Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn't come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don't you stay here a while and rest, and listen to the sea. It's so soothing. Listen...listen to the sea."