Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 279 - Rebecca

Rebecca (1940) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Surprisingly for as many great movies that he's directed, Hitchcock has been more or less shut out by the Academy Awards. He's never won Best Director and only one performance has won an Oscar for acting in his films. He does however have a Best Picture in his catalogue and interestingly it may be one of his lesser known works to the casual fan. It wasn't Psycho, Rear Window, North by Northwest or Vertigo, but Rebecca, the psychological romantic drama that I'm a little embarrassed to admit I've never even heard of until recently.

Maxim de Winter, a wealthy high society man, meets and falls in love with a simple girl and the two marry in a whirlwind romance. It is interesting to note that we actually never know the girl's name; after she is married she is simply referred to as Mrs. de Winter. This is significant because it shows how little power she has in this film. It is dominated by the memory of Maxim's late wife Rebecca whose presence is felt every moment of the film. It doesn't help that the new Mrs. de Winter is terribly insecure and must live in the shadow of her predecessor and the watchful eye of Mrs. Danvers, the head maid who instantly takes a disliking to the new lady of the house. Rebecca is a terrific psychological thriller that revels in its mystery and moody atmosphere. We can see Mrs. de Winter's life in the ominous house slowly crumble as the weight of Rebecca's memory crushes her.

There are a couple key points to the film. First is whether or not Mrs. de Winter can fully adapt to her new life, second is the intentions of the creepy Mrs. Danvers who seems to have a secret agenda of her own and finally the nature of Rebecca's untimely death. They all come together like pieces of a puzzle until the fiery end. Nothing is quite what it seems as the film plays with our expectations of what a proper suspense thriller should be in classic Hitchcock fashion.

Consider a key scene where Mrs. Danvers sabotages Mrs. de Winter's costume party by suggesting she wear the same dress that Rebecca wore. Mrs. de Winter confronts Mrs. Danvers who manipulates her into an emotional breakdown by saying she will never live up to Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers slyly opens the window and suggests she commit suicide. Did anyone at this point think that Mrs. Danvers might have had something to do with Rebecca's death? I like how the film explores the different possibilities by setting up Mrs. Danvers to be a real villain. Speaking of which, her character is genuinely scary because of how cold and as it turns out crazy she is. The final scene when she burns down the house is spectacular film making and a pretty much a perfect ending.

If I had one complaint it might be that Rebecca starts off a tad bit too slowly. True, we must establish the romantic connection but it really isn't until 40 or so minutes in that we really get into the meat of the story. It isn't necessarily a bad thing though, it just takes some patience. Don't expect immediate thrills or suspense but rather a slow building story with an explosive payoff. Overall, Rebecca is a strong psychological drama that deserves mention with Hitchcock's other great works.

Grade: A-

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