“Rebecca” Provided Hitchcock’s Only Oscar
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” is one of the most memorable opening lines in a movie, in this case from Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film “Rebecca.” But the words and the gothic sense of foreboding come from the original 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier.
Hitchcock put three of du Maurier’s works onto film: “Rebecca,” “Jamaica Inn,” and “The Birds.”
“Rebecca” is considered du Maurier’s most popular novel, at one time cited as the most frequently checked-out library book. The influence of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” is apparent in this story of a paid companion who meets and marries a wealthy widower whose first wife Rebecca seems to haunt the relationship.
The work has been adapted for stage and screen on several occasions, but Hitchcock’s film is the masterpiece of the lot.
“Rebecca” (1940) is Monday night’s classic film selection at the Tropic Cinema.
Joan Fontaine (she also starred with Carey Grant in Hitchcock’s “Suspicion”) takes on the role of the Second Mrs. De Winter. Sir Laurence Olivier is a mercurial presence as Maximilian De Winter. And Dame Judith Anderson gives a chilling performance as Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper who idolizes the late Mrs. De Winter, the eponymous Rebecca.
Two interesting items about the film: The Second Mrs. De Winter is never given a name. And the ever-present Rebecca never actually appears in the film.
Producer David O. Selznick had a reputation for a heavy hand in his projects. So Hitchcock edited the entire film in camera, shooting only the footage to be used in the final cut, a technique that prevented Selznick from doing any reediting. All changes required expensive reshooting. Fortunately, Selznick was tied up with the production of his masterpiece “Gone With the Wind,” allowing Hitch to have much of the freedom he required.
Daphne du Maurier drew on her own life for elements in her novels. A frosty curmudgeon, she had more in common with Mrs. Danvers than with the Second Mrs. De Winter. She tended to be a stay-at-home recluse, eschewing society functions. Her home, an estate in Cornwall known as Menabilly, was the inspiration for the Manderley in “Rebecca.”
Du Maurier had hated Hitchcock’s version of her “Jamaica Inn” the year before. So she was not pleased to learn he was directing “Rebecca.” She was particularly worried when Hitch announced, “"I shall treat this more or less as a horror film.”
However, Selznick, who had paid a high price for the rights to the novel, was determined to remain faithful to it. “Well, it’s not a Hitchcock picture,” complained the director.
Despite the teaming of the most autocratic of producers with the most independent of directors, “Rebecca” was a success. The film won an Academy Award as 1940’s Best Picture. And its cameraman George Barnes picked up a golden statuette for Best Cinematography, Black and White. All three stars, as well as Hitchcock, were nominated.
Surprisingly, this is the only Best Picture Oscar that Hitchcock ever won.
As Hitch later observed, “It has stood up quite well over the years. I don’t know why.”
[from Solares Hill]