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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rebecca (1940)

In Monte Carlo, a rather colorless paid companion (Joan Fontaine) encounters a British aristocrat (Laurence Olivier) and they fall in love. But when he brings her to Manderley, his showplace family home, she discovers a troubled history regarding his deceased first wife, the beautiful Rebecca. Based on the best seller by Daphne Du Maurier, this was Alfred Hitchock's American directorial film debut. There have been attempts in recent years to dismiss the film as more of a David O. Selznick film than a true Hitchcock but the film features wit, ingenuity and a stylish suspense, none of which are Selznick trademarks. It's a perfectly crafted piece of entertainment that shows the Hollywood studio system's clockwork precision at its best. This features Fontaine's star making role and she's terrific. Her mousy, timid plain Jane is such a ninny at times that in the hands of a lesser actress, her character could have been irritating. Instead, we're rooting for her (the character and the actress) right from the beginning and she justifies our faith in her. Nearly stealing the film is Judith Anderson as the formidable Mrs. Danvers, imposing and ominous in her stillness even. Her scene with Fontaine in Rebecca's bedroom as she describes Rebecca is amazing. One of those films that I can't resist visiting every couple of years or so. The strong underscore is by Franz Waxman. With George Sanders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Leo G. Carroll, C. Aubrey Smith, Melville Cooper and in a marvelous turn, Florence Bates as Fontaine's snobby employer. When she finds out Fontaine is going to marry Olivier, Bates eyes her coldly and asks, "Tell me, dear. Have you been doing something you shouldn't?"

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