Monday, August 30, 2010

1940: Rebecca

This movie is freaky, but in a good way.  Of course it is; it's Alfred Hitchcock.

Rich, handsome, troubled Maxim de Winter (aka Laurence Olivier) and Joan Fontaine's very unwealthy but untroubled character fall for each other and get married.  The second Mrs. de Winter (who has no other name in the film) soon discovers that, not only does she have to adjust to a completely different lifestyle than she has been used to (in a mansion with doorknobs level with her shoulders, to make her seem more insignificant), but she is also constantly being compared to Maxim's late first wife, Rebecca, whom everyone adored, none more so than the majorly creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson).  Thus begins a film so full of plot twists and thwarted expectations that it must be watched several times before everything is fully understood.  Phrased differently: it's a good Hitchcock film.

This was Hitchcock's first American film (although the cast is primarily British and it takes place in England), and it was also the only film he directed that won Best Picture.  While I would not call it my absolute favorite of his films, I would definitely call it one of his best.  The story unfolds beautifully, the pacing is very good (well, okay, the intro is a little boring, and the whole movie feels a bit long, but other than that the pacing is good), and the costumes and sets perfectly complement the character development and story.

The casting was marvelous.  Joan Fontaine always seems to look upset, which was perfect for this character, since she was usually scared, worried, nervous, intimidated, or otherwise uncomfortable.  I don't know where to begin praising Laurence Olivier; he was fabulous, not that that's any surprise.  Mrs. Danvers is one of the most disturbing, sinister characters I've ever seen, so Judith Anderson must be a very talented actress, though I've never seen her in anything else.  George Sanders's voice always makes me think of a tiger, thanks to The Jungle Book, which totally worked for his role in this film.

Fontaine, Olivier, Anderson, and Hitchcock were nominated for Best Actress, Actor, Supporting Acress, and Director, respectively, but none of them won.  Of course, this was the year that Ginger Rogers won Best Actress, and Jimmy Stewart won Best Actor for The Philadelphia Story (which was also nominated for Best Picture and should have won, not because Rebecca isn't a great movie, but because The Philadelphia Story is just so wonderful), so I forgive the Academy for overlooking Fontaine and Olivier.

Rebecca is kind of an uncomfortable film to watch, but if you want a good suspense thriller, this is the perfect choice.

Coming up next: How Green Was My Valley

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