Sunday, November 14, 2010
Studio: A Selznick International Picture
Screenplay: Robert E Sherwood & Joan Harrison; Adapted by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan
Source Material: From the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Running Time: 130 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 14th November, 10:45
Here we are at the beginning of Hitchcock's Hollywood career which would also be the most successful part of his life in the movie industry. I have loved sitting through his silent movies and then his talkies during those early British years. They have a distinct charm and appeal but, most importantly, they provide a viewing audience with a fascinating insight into the genius of a man in the early development of his career as he hones his skills to perfection.
I have been looking forward to today's movie as it's one of my favourites. I love the novel and this adaptation is exquisite. It was the right time too; morning tea, mince pies and my feet up on the settee - leading perfectly into lunchtime.
George Fortesque Maximilian de Winter - Laurence Olivier
The second Mrs de Winter - Joan Fontaine
Jack Favell - George Sanders
Mrs Danvers - Judith Anderson
Giles Lacy - Nigel Bruce
Frank Crawley - Reginald Denny
Colonel Julyan - C. Aubrey Smith
Beatrice Lacy - Gladys Cooper
Mrs Edythe Van Hopper - Florence Bates
The Coroner - Melville Cooper
Dr Baker - Leo G Carroll
Ben - Leonard Carey
Tabbs - Lumsden Hare
Frith - Edward Fielding
Robert - Philip Winter
Chalcroft - Forrester Harvey
We begin with a flashback as our narrator describes a dream in which she returns to the house that once featured rather dramatically in her life. We then head back further to an incident which began it all, on a cliff top in Monte Carlo...
A young shy girl with mousey hair and a sketch pad under her arm sees a man standing close to the edge of a cliff. She calls out and he admonishes her for being foolish.
Later, back at the hotel at which she is staying with her employer, the gregarious American, Mrs Van Hopper, she sees the man again. This time he is composed and polite and she discovers he is Maximilian de Winter. She falls for his dashing good looks and charms immediately.
Whilst staying at Monte Carlo, Mrs Van Hopper becomes ill and she allows her young companion to do her own thing and believes she is taking tennis lessons, however, she is secretly meeting with Maxim and they spend many beautiful days together taking drives in the countryside. She learns from Mrs Van Hopper that his first wife died by drowning just the year before. Our heroine is mortified.
Mrs Van Hopper learns that her daughter is getting married and she plans to return to New York immediately but her young companion is horrified because she knows this means she won't get to see Maxim ever again. She goes to his room and explains and he asks her to return to his home, 'Manderley', in Cornwall with him as his wife. She is flabbergasted, but agrees heartily. Mrs Van Hopper feigns congratulations to Maxim, but in private, she scalds her now ex-companion for lying and being so incredibly foolish, predicting it will all go horribly wrong.
Maxim and his new wife return to Manderley after their honeymoon and are greeted by rain and an awaiting staff including Frith, the butler, and Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper. Mrs Danvers seems ultimately unimpressed with Manderley's new mistress.
She is shown to her room in the east wing and Mrs Danvers explains that she arrived her with the first Mrs de Winter when the latter was a bride. The west wing has been closed since her death.
Over the next few days, Maxim's new bride tries to settle into her new home. She meets Frank Crawley, a pleasant and engaging man who runs the estate for Maxim. She also meets Maxim's sister Beatrice and her husband Giles Lacy.
She discovers that the house is run (and has always been run) in a certain way and no one refrains from letting her know. On occasion, she forgets her role, having been only in service to others recently, and makes a number of mistakes which puzzle the staff.
She is also constantly aware of the presence of Rebecca as her belongings still lie scattered around the foreboding building with her initials adorning linen and stationery.
One afternoon, she goes with Maxim and their dog Jasper for a walk. She innocently begs to go down to a small cove where she chases after Jasper who is trying to get into a small cottage. There is a strange man named Ben who fears that Rebecca is one day going to return. he seems genuinely fearful of her. When Mrs de Winter enters the cottage to find some rope to act as a leash for Jasper, she discovers more of Rebecca's belongings. This must have been a home away from home...
haunted by her fears and the 'ghost' of Rebecca, the new Mrs de Winter confides in Frank Crawley who is comforting and respectful of her concerns. However, he does describe Rebecca as being one of the most beautiful creatures he has ever seen.
This inspires our heroine to buy new, more fashionable dresses from London and even does her hair differently, just in an attempt to live up to the late Rebecca's legacy.
One day, while Maxim is in London, Rebecca's cousin Jack Favell turns up and chats amiably with Mrs Danvers. He is obviously a man of disreputable character and his charm is false and patronising. He requests to Mrs de Winter that she does not tell Maxim of his visit to which she agrees reluctantly.
She then decides to investigate this notorious west wing. She goes into Rebecca's old room and is caught by Mrs Danvers who has been keeping it immaculate ever since Rebecca's death. The housekeeper gloriously relishes showing the beauty of the room and Rebecca's clothing to the new Mrs de Winter and her performance as this overtly fanatical woman unnerves our heroine. However, she stands up to her and states that she is Mrs de Winter now...
Upon Maxim's return, Mrs de Winter suggests they have a costume ball to which Maxim agrees. She wants to design her own dress, but Mrs Danvers suggests she copies one of the outfits from the portraits in the hallway - she even specifies an image of Maxim's ancestor, Caroline de Winter.
The night of the ball, Mrs de Winter descends in her beautiful gown, her face radiant with pleasure as she feels that she is finally going to make Maxim happy. Her crowning glory is dashed as his face expresses horror. It turns out Rebecca wore an exact replica at a ball the last year of her life. Our heroine is distraught and races back upstairs. She sees Mrs Danvers and challenges her, makes her admit she did it on purpose. Mrs Danvers has her dramatic showdown in Rebecca's bedroom and even tries to persuade the sobbing heroine that she ought to leave, or better still, kill herself...
Suddenly, the tension is broken by a flare outside the window. A ship has crashed and everyone dashes to assist.
Early the next morning, it is revealed that during the attempts to salvage the wreckage, Rebecca's old boat was also found at the bottom of the sea. Our heroine finds her husband alone in the cottage by the cove. He is a wreck of a man now. All his brevado has fallen away. He now admits to his wife the truth. He hated Rebecca, he hated her from very early on in the marriage when he discovered the kind of woman she was - a woman who liked to have many lovers and was proud of it. He was a man of great standing and could not face the divorce courts, so lived his life a lie to save the family honour. That night, she had told him she was pregnant and she was enjoying the irony that the bastard child would inherit Manderley when maxim was gone. He couldn't contain himself and he hit her. She laughed at him some more but stumbled and fell, hitting her head and killing her instantly.
Maxim knows that they'll find Rebecca's body in the boat and he admits that the corpse he once identified was not Rebecca, just some poor nameless woman now residing in the family crypt.
The tables have turned. Maxim is now the weak one and his wife is becoming stronger as she becomes the crutch he needs to keep going.
There is an inquest and Maxim has to identify Rebecca's body. Tabbs, the ship builder states that the boat could not have capsized and it appears there were holes drilled in the bottom of the boat. No one believes it could be evidence of suicide, especially Mrs Danvers and Favell.
The case is adjourned briefly and whilst they take lunch, Favell produces a note from Rebecca dated the day she died - it implies she has something to tell Favell and he says that this proves she didn't want to kill herself. He is willing to not hand over this evidence to Colonel Julyan (the local head of police) if Maxim is willing to pay handsomely. Maxim does not fall for such a disgraceful ploy and summons Colonel Julyan to share the information. Favell then has to take a different road. He believes Rebecca was pregnant and, thanks to Mrs Danvers' information, a Dr Baker could testify to this.
The Colonel, Jack, Maxim and Frank seek out Dr Baker but he denies having ever treating a Mrs de Winter. However, in his books on the day in question, a young beautiful woman using the name 'Danvers' had been to see him. It appears Rebecca had been using this pseudonym for years. Dr Baker tells of how the young woman thought she may have been pregnant, but he was the bearer of bad news - she actually had cancer and she had only a matter of months. She had replied; "Oh no, doctor, not that long..."
Telling words for a determined woman.
Jack Favell is horrified. He telephones Mrs Danvers with this frightful news.
When Frank and Maxim return to Manderley, it is all ablaze. Mrs Danvers has gone mad and destroyed the building in order to prevent Maxim and his new bride to live under it happily. Mrs Danvers dies in the fire.
Maxim finds his wife is alive and well and they embrace. Inside, Rebecca's possessions curl up in flame.
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
On her father, our heroine states: "...he had a theory that if you should find one perfect thing or place or person, you should stick to it."
Maxim's ghastly and deeply unromantic proposal is a gem:
"I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool."
The wonderfully blunt Beatrice makes quite an impression on our poor heroine with a number of pertinent comments, but two are rather important as they foreshadow things to come in a variety of ways:
On Mrs Danvers: "She simply adored Rebecca"
and: "I can see by the way you dress you don't care a hoot how you look."
This was a big hit for Hitch and it won the Academy Award for Best Picture (he did not win Best Director, sadly, and would never get that deserved award although he did receive the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his contribution to cinema).
It is interesting to note the one major discrepancy between book and film. In the book, Maxim actually killed Rebecca, but there was a serious Production Code in Hollywood at the time which implicitly stated that no one could 'get away' with murder, so they made it an accidental death. Frankly, this is a shame because it's all too convenient considering the plot twists. Rebecca wanted to die. She wanted Maxim to kill her or she might very well have killed herself. But to conveniently slip and knock her head on something is stretching the suspension of disbelief a tad too far. However, this effect from the legal of things is so minor, it does not disturb my enjoyment of the film. These little moments of coincidence are but a mere seasoning to a much more flavoursome sandwich. Agatha Christie practically lived on them!
The whole film is majestically lit, particularly in the Manderley scenes, with shadows playing a subtle role once more, be it Mrs Danvers' ominous yet iconic silhouette cast against the walls or the shadows of the rain soaked windows giving an eerie notion of the house weeping internally as it mourns its former mistress.
My favourite 'Hitchcock moment' has to be when Maxim is telling the tale of that fateful night and Hitch's camera follows the path of the 'ghost' of Rebecca as we relive her final moments. One of those incredibly simple pieces of film-making, but devastatingly effective.
There have been attempts at sequels to Daphne Du Maurier's exquisite novel. Initially there was one by Susan Hill simply entitled Mrs de Winter and then later came Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman. The former was adequate and faithful in its plot and characterisation, but felt a little spare in depth. The latter was a much meatier affair and suitably vivid with some interesting choices made. Although both are intriguing for curiosity's sake, one would not be living an emptier life without them. Daphne Du Maurier's original novel is a 20th century classic and shall remain so for ever more.
(I can't believe I had to come back and edit this post to say this next bit!)
Judith Anderson is amazing as Mrs Danvers. She was also nominated for an Oscar alongside Olivier and Fontaine, but, like them, didn't win. Great shame!!
One of my absolute favourites. It may have been Hitchcock's first film in Hollywood, but his years of experience made this an uncertain masterpiece. 10/10