Review: Rebecca (1940)

This film has never been a favorite of mine. No matter the role, Joan Fontaine always seems mousey and dull, which works for her character in Rebecca, but still. Pair her with Laurence Olivier (another yawner) and the lack of chemistry is astounding.

Which makes sense, since Fontaine and Olivier apparently didn’t get along off camera either. Larry’s girlfriend Vivien Leigh flunked the audition and didn’t get the part, which Lord O deeply resented. Hitchcock knew this and encouraged the animosity between Fontaine, an untested and insecure actress, and the rest of the cast–an isolating trick that played right into her portrayal of a wallflower who’s romanced whirlwind-style into a marriage to the wealthy, upper-crust widower Max De Winter.

These trivia gems are the kind of juicy fun that’s revealed in the multitude of special features packed into this two-disc DVD re-issue. Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time watching the Hitchcock classic (and everyone really should see it at least once) it’s great fun for classic film fans to go behind the scenes.

As many times as I’ve seen Rebecca, it took the commentary for me to realize that Fontain’s character is never referred to by name. She’s listed in the credits (and in the book, which I also read a while back) as “the second Mrs. De Winter.” Rebecca is the first Mrs. De Winter, a dead woman whose formidable presence and mysterious death hangs over the newlyweds when they return to De Winter’s gothic mansion, Manderlay. **** (out of 5 stars)

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