Autumn 2014 Special Presentations series
Friday, November 7, 2014 at 7:00pm
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Michael Hogan, Philip MacDonald, Joan Harrison, and Robert E. Sherwood
Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier
Starring Leo G. Carroll, Nigel Bruce, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, and Laurence Olivier
Rated NR ·
Fundy Film sponsors a Special Presentation by the Town of Wolfville: REBECCA, Al Whittle’s favourite film of all time! Celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Grand Opening of the Al Whittle Theatre (Nov 7, 2004) with Hitchcock’s first Hollywood and a double Oscar-winning film (1940), based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel.
Admission first come, first serve; pay-what-you-can to help defray costs and to support FFS future Special screenings.
Rebecca (1940) is the classic Hitchcock gothic thriller and a compelling mystery (and haunting ghost story) about a tortured romance. An expensively-produced film by David O. Selznick (following his recent success with Gone With The Wind), it was Hitchcock’s first American/Hollywood film, although it retained distinctly British characteristics from his earlier murder mysteries. The film’s screenplay (by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison) was based on a literal translation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 gothic novel of the same name.
The film creates a brooding atmosphere surrounding the tragic courtship, marriage and relationship of a naive, plain and innocent young woman (Joan Fontaine) to a brooding and overburdened widower— an aristocratic, moody patriarch (Laurence Olivier) who lives in an estate named Manderley. The pathetic, bewildered and shy bride experiences fear, pain and guilt when psychologically dominated by the “presence” (and memories) of the deceased first wife (named Rebecca but never seen on screen), and when she is tormented by Rebecca’s blindly adoring, sinister and loyal housekeeper’s (Judith Anderson) recollections of the dead woman. Only by film’s end, with the flaming destruction of the estate, do the real character and secrets of Rebecca’s death become clear.
This black and white film received eleven Academy Award nominations—and won for the nominated director his first and only Best Picture Oscar. With his Best Picture win, Selznick became the first producer to win consecutive Best Picture Oscars. The film also won an Academy Award for Cinematography (George Barnes), and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Actor (Olivier), Best Actress (Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Director (Hitchcock’s first nomination in this category), Best Screenplay, Best B/W Interior Decoration, Best Original Score (Franz Waxman), Best Film Editing, and Best Special Effects.
“Rebecca is an altogether brilliant film, haunting, suspenseful, handsome and handsomely played. Miss du Maurier’s tale of the second mistress of Manderley, a simple and modest and self-effacing girl who seemed to have no chance against every one’s—even her husband’s—memories of the first, tragically deceased Mrs. de Winter, was one that demanded a film treatment evocative of a menacing mood, fraught with all manner of hidden meaning, gaited to the pace of an executioner approaching the fatal block. That, as you need not be told, is Hitchcock’s meat and brandy.
Laurence Olivier’s brooding Maxim de Winter is a performance that almost needs not to be commented upon. The real surprise, and the greatest delight of them all, is Joan Fontaine’s second Mrs. de Winter, who deserves her own paragraph, so here it is:
Rebecca stands or falls on the ability of the book’s ‘I’ to escape caricature. She was humiliatingly, embarrassingly, mortifyingly shy, a bit on the dowdy side, socially unaccomplished, a little dull; sweet, of course, and very much in love with—and in awe of—the lord of the manor who took her for his second lady. Miss du Maurier never really convinced me any one could behave quite as the second Mrs. de Winter behaved and still be sweet, modest, attractive and alive. But Miss Fontaine does it—and does it not simply with her eyes, her mouth, her hands and her words, but with her spine. Possibly it’s unethical to criticize performance anatomically. Still we insist Miss Fontaine has the most expressive spine—and shoulders!—we’ve bothered to notice this season.” (Frank Nugent, The New York Times, March 29, 1940)
“Everyone who loves film knows the opening words of Rebecca, that astonishing mixture of emotional hothouse and freezer that was Hitchcock’s first American film. But for all the portent of that opening voiceover, or the symbolic drama of the great Cornish mansion burning down as the film ends, it’s not about a place. It’s not really a thriller, either, in any meaningful sense – despite the suspense of the closing reel. Rebecca is a film about abusive relationships, and the way power might shift within them – and, most unusually, even for its time – its hero is the worst of the abusers. The romantic might view Laurence Olivier’s Max de Winter as someone haunted by his past; the realist would see him as someone haunted only by his inability to control his past, specifically his titular deceased wife, and so he alights upon Joan Fontaine’s gauche, clumsy (and nameless) gentlewoman’s companion as a wife who will give him no trouble.
The reason Rebecca still grips lies in the fact that we can all see ourselves in Fontaine’s role: everyone plunged into a new and unfamiliar milieu has felt her uncertainty and fear that they are the wrong person, in the wrong place. We have all had relationships in which we cannot be sure where the ground lies, in which the dynamics of power leave us isolated and clinging desperately to whatever fixed points we can find.” (Michael Hann, The Guardian, August 7, 2012)