Monday, September 30, 2013


Think of the film The Birds.  Then think of the film Rebecca.  Is there one name that comes to mind for both?  If there is, it is probably Alfred Hitchcock.  And rightly so, for he directed both of these films.  However, when I hear Rebecca, the name Daphne du Maurier also comes to mind for she wrote that brilliant novel—winner of The Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.  But did you know that Daphne du Maurier also wrote a short story entitled “The Birds”?  Holy Moley!  That was a surprise to me!  And yes, it is the same story Hitchcock turned into an incredibly scary film.  Different stories.  Different settings.  Different aspects of terror.  

Last night I happened to turn on Turner Classic Movies just in time to hear Robert Osborne introduce a showing of Rebecca.  I groaned.  Not because of any negative feeling about the film, but because I had watched it once long ago, and it so frightened me with its haunting atmosphere and gripping Gothic suspense that I could not bring myself to watch it again.  But last night I was in the mood for something engrossing, and Rebecca is nothing if not engrossing!
That famous first line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” is delivered by Joan Fontaine playing the “new Mrs. Maxim de Winter” with a combination of innocence and devastation.  It is so telling that we never know this young girl’s first name, yet the previous Mrs. de Winter’s first name looms large at the title of book and film leaving no question as to who dominates the story.  But Rebecca herself is dead and only a memory, albeit one that is chillingly alive at Manderly.  And Joan Fontaine so forcefully embodies the unsophisticated, insecure, self-deprecating, and completely in love young woman that Maxim marries in Monte Carlo and brings home to Manderley that for me she is the undeniable star of the show.
Hitchcock employs his famous close-up camera work to great end with Fontaine capturing every nuance of edginess, terror, and—later on—supreme command of everything: her circumstances, Maxim, and yes, thrillingly of the devilish tormentor Mrs. Danvers herself, played with brilliant simmering fury and controlled malevolance by Judith Anderson.  Laurence Olivier is breathtakingly handsome and heartbreakingly tortured as Maxim de Winter and has top billing over Joan Fontaine, but believe me when I say that this is Joan Fontaine’s movie.
Perfect casting, expert storytelling, and evocative cinematography make this rendering of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel one of if not the best of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
A little insider information provided by Robert Osborne: this was Hitchcock’s first movie made in the United States; it won the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, Hitchcock’s only film to do so; David O. Selznick, producer of Gone With The Wind in 1939 also produced Rebecca and, with GWTW being an incredibly hard act to follow, won a second consecutive Oscar for Rebecca, being the only producer to do so at the time; and though Olivier, Fontaine, and Anderson were each nominated for Oscars in the acting categories and Hitchcock in the directing category, none of them won.  Such an injustice!        

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