Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Release date: 1940
Cast: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson
I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said Daphne du Maurier’s ‘ Rebecca’ was safe in the hands of Alfred Hitchcock. Though some alterations were made, he didn’t allow the essence of Maurier’s book to erode.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
She was narrating her dream about Manderley. She was nameless.
In her dream, she saw, Manderley was deserted and abandoned. The shrubs, the trees , the plants had encroached the drive and all around from their usual place giving it a ghostly look. Like any other bride, when she came to Manderley dreamt of a quiet life with her husband. But there was something sinister going on in Manderly.
Every wall of Manderley was yelling a name ‘ Rebecca’. She was the first wife of Max de Winter who died of drowning in the sea. Mrs Danvers, an ardent devotee of Rebecca and the head house keeper of Manderley intimidated the narrator.
She met him in Monte Carlo, France where she was accompanying a wealthy American woman called Van Hopper as a paid companion. Her employer’s illness gave her the opportunity to spend more time with Max and eventually, they ended up marrying.
It was not that she had to fight with humans but with the haunting and all pervading presence of Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter who died of drowning in the sea.
Rebecca was dead. But Manderley retained her undaunting spirits. Mrs Danvers had kept Manderley as if Rebecca had just gone out for a brief vacation and would be back anytime. The narrator did not do anything to alter the situation as she did not want to risk losing Max, her husband whom she thought was still in love with his first wife.
Everyone compared her with Rebecca. Beatrice, Max’s sister told her that she was nothing like Rebecca and when she met Max’s grandmother who also in her senility insisted of meeting Rebecca, leaving our narrator all the more perplexed. When Rebecca was alive, they had their bedroom in the western wing of the Manderly and the second Mrs de Winter and Max used the rooms in the eastern wing which was comparatively smaller in size.
Mrs Danvers intimidated her to such an extent that the latter was almost successful in convincing her to commit suicide by saying on and on that she was unwanted in Manderley, even her husband did not love her. She would have jumped from the roof of Rebecca had the rockets were not fired indicating that a ship was aground in the sea near to the mansion with Max ordering everybody to offer help to the people in the ship.
A year ago, after Rebecca went missing in the sea, a dead-body of a woman had washed up on the shore and Max identified her as Rebecca. But, to everybody’s dismay, when the divers dived in to check the condition of the ship, they came across a boat with a woman’s body stuck in its little cabin. The boat was of Rebecca’s.
No doubt! there would be an inquest. It was then our narrator heard something from her husband which she never expected. He was not in love with Rebecca and he hated her to the core. She was a woman of loose morals. That one sentence just changed our narrator in a trice.
Why was Mrs de Winter or the narrator of the story nameless? Was it because even after marrying Max de Winter, the owner of the famous Manterly, she was reduced to a shadow of his first wife. Perhaps yes!
She was living in her own world of imagination.
The revelation by Max that he never loved Rebecca came as a pleasant surprise to her though it came with a heavy price to pay.
Mrs Danvers was a woman who was absolutely mesmerized by Rebecca. They were alike in spirits -absolutely inconsiderate of other’s emotions. She considered Rebecca’s audacity to continue her clandestine relationships under the nose of everybody at Manderley as something heroic. Mrs Danvers was a cruel soul who lacked judgement. According to Mrs Danvers, Rebecca loved only herself.
Max, on the other hand, loved his second wife. But he was smarting over his own pain that he could not explicitly express that he was in love with Rebecca. I would say he was not bold enough to confront the reality.
Speaking of the cast, Joan Fontaine who played the second Mrs de winter was perfect for the role. She could bring forth a naive, timid girl. After ‘ Gone with wind’ actor Vivian Leigh who was Olivier Laurence’s fiancee then wanted to take up the role of second Mrs de Winter. She also gave a test. But it never happened as it was deemed that her personality was too strong to play the demure, timid and gauche second Mrs De Winter.
I have read the book before watching the movie and I could never imagine anybody else in the role other than Joan Fontaine. Though Vivian Leigh could not work with Hitchcock in that movie, Alfred Hitchcock thought there was one role she could play and it was none other than the role of ‘ Rebecca’.
Like Joan Fontaine, the other actor who took her character to another level was Judith Anderson. The sinister look she had on her face was horrifying and the rigid look never wavered even for one single moment.
One of the main alterations which Hitchcock did with the movie was the death of Rebecca. When Daphne made Max kill her, Alfred made it an accidental death.
Laurence Olivier was good in his role as Max but it was more of Joan’s movie. My imagination of Max after reading the book was a bit different, the primary one being his look. I imagined him to be somebody without a moustache. It did not mean that I did not like the ‘ Olivier Max’. Daphne like his Max.
Loved the movie and always a Hitchcock fan.
by Shalet Jimmy