Watching Resolution: Rebecca (1940)

8. An Oscar-winning movie: Rebecca (1940)

List Progress: 10/12

It is fascinating to watch films from early Hollywood and see directors learning and developing film language in front of your eyes. Over the weekend, I watched two movies by Alfred Hitchcock: Rebecca, from 1940, and Psycho, from 1960. Both are masterful examples of filmmaking, but where Psycho feels like it could have been made today, Rebecca feels like a stage play with lavish sets. But being from an earlier artistic era does not detract at all from the rich drama on screen, as a tale of abuse, paranoia and obsessive love unfolds.

Based on the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca follows an unnamed young narrator as she is swept up in a whirlwind romance with the mysterious widower Maxim de Winter. Maxim is as cold as his surname suggests, but offers her just enough affection and hints of deeper feeling to hook the naive young woman into a marriage. But after a quick marriage, she goes with him to his estate house Manderley, which is still draped in the influence of his late first wife, the titular Rebecca de Winter. The second Mrs. de Winter feels that she can never live up to the ghost of Rebecca, especially when the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, seems obsessed with keeping her memory alive. It is a wonderfully tense premise, and lead actors Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson play it for everything it is worth. The first two acts of Rebecca are beautifully and painfully crafted, in a way that simply aches.

The final act of the film isn’t bad, per se, but it falls slack compared to what came before it. The movie feels like it climaxes about a half hour before it ends, and after the early pseudo-climax, the main focus moves away from the second Mrs. de Winter and onto lesser characters. In a novel with a first person narrator, there is probably a way to keep her more emotionally involved in the finale, but the movie feels like it loses a bit of its heroine by the end.

But ending critiques aside, Rebecca is a journey, and a beautiful one. The behind-the-scenes dynamics were apparently a mess, but what ends up on screen is powerful, painful and rich, a lovely example of early Hollywood.

Would I Recommend It: Yes.

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