(director/writer: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: Robert E. Sherwood/Joan Harrison/Michael Hogan, Philip MacDonald/from the novel by Daphne Du Maurier; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Hal C. Kern; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Laurence Olivier (Maxim de Winter), Joan Fontaine (Mrs. De Winter), George Sanders (Jack Favell), Judith Anderson (Mrs. Danvers), Nigel Bruce (Major Giles Lacy), Gladys Cooper (Beatrice Lacy), Florence Bates (Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper), Reginald Denny (Frank Crawley), C. Aubrey Smith (Colonel Julyan), Leo G. Carroll (Dr. Baker), Leonard Carey (Ben), Melville Cooper (Coroner), Lumsden Hare (Tabbs, boat builder), Edward Fielding (Frith, butler); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David O. Selznick; Anchor Bay; 1940)

“Both a tender gothic romance and a haunting ghost story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, that’s both a tender gothic romance and a haunting ghost story told from a woman’s point of view. It proves to be a superbly crafted, well-acted and painful tale about class, guilt, fear, deception and power. It was the first Hollywood picture for Alfred Hitchcock (“The Paradine Case”/”Jamaica Inn”/”The Birds”) and the only one he won an Oscar for Best Picture. It’s finely written by Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Michael Hogan, Philip MacDonald and Hitchcock. The sumptuous production and moody romantic melodrama is set in Monte Carlo and Cornwall. Producer David O. Selznick and Hitchcock sparred over artistic decisions, but their collaboration nevertheless resulted in a superior film that remained faithful to the novel except for the changed ending to appease the censors.

While a saddened Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), a wealthy aristocratic fellow, is in Monte Carlo to forget the drowning death from a year ago of his beautiful perfect wife Rebecca, he falls in love with the shy paid travel companion (Joan Fontaine) of the overbearing, crude and verbally abusive socialite Edythe Van Hopper (Florence Bates). The companion’s first name is never revealed on purpose in order to show how inconsequential she is. After a whirlwind romance behind Van Hopper’s back, they marry in Monte Carlo and Max takes her to live in his palatial countryside Cornwall estate called Manderley. The simple working-class girl is out-of-her league in these classy digs, as she’s overwhelmed when introduced to the many servants and the imposing nasty head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson). Mrs. Danvers deeply admired the first Mrs. de Winter and openly shows her hostility to the second Mrs. de Winter, thinking she lacks her beauty, sophistication and wit. The new bride feels bewildered in this elegant setting, not certain how to act as the mistress of such an opulent house, and the master of the house is of little help because he can’t get over the memory of his first wife, someone everyone admired.

In the third act, we learn the true story of Max’s relationship with Rebecca, as their dark secrets are revealed. Max confesses to his insecure wife what really happened on the boat that capsized causing Rebecca to drown. The sinister car salesman Favers (George Sanders), Rebecca’s lover, shows up at the inquest when Rebecca’s body is found and blackmails Max saying he has proof her death was murder and not a suicide, as he impregnated her. It ends with a crazed Mrs. Danvers burning down Manderley when she realizes she will no longer be welcome there, as Max and his blossoming bride receive the good news from Colonel Julyan’s (C. Aubrey Smith) investigation that Rebecca’s death was ruled a suicide even though Max thought he killed her.

Rebecca Poster