And so to America, and the big studio resources are clear for all to see on the screen. But Rebecca opens with a lovely model tracking shot through the gates and along the overgrown paths to Manderley - as if Hitch was saying “if you want me Selznick, you get all of me”.
To be honest (and this might be clear if you’ve read any of the previous posts in this series) that Hitch’s model shots are part of what I’ve loved most about his British era films so it’s nice to see he decided not to build a full-size Manderley on the studio backlot.
Hitchcock described Rebecca as being “not a Hitchcock film” but it undoubtedly has Hitchcock’s hand and maybe in the wake of the British films and with the hindsight of his American films Rebecca looks like a Hitch film to me.
Joan Fontaine is adorable as the new Mrs de Winter. She plays demure and insecure so beautifully. While I’ve loved the sassy confidence and give-as-good-as-they-get humour of Pamela (The 39 Steps), Erica (Young and Innocent) and Iris (The Lady Vanishes). I think the gaucheness of Joan’s Mrs de Winter is played in a way that still allows her to show a different kind of strength.
Olivier is Olivier and as such is believable as the damaged Maxim and the scene where they’re watching their honeymoon films is a little heartbreaking to see them so happy in the films and so broken in reality.
Judith Anderson is remarkable as Mrs Danvers, and George Sanders is such a sleaze that you wonder how anyone could want to liaise with him!
But one thing that Hitch might have been right about, and something that maybe does make it a little less Hitchcockian is the lack of humour - it could use a little more light, and while Nigel Bruce and Florence Bates take a pop at lightening things it’s not enough.
Source: Criterion DVD
Hitchcock Zone: Rebecca (1940)