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REBECCA

Although REBECCA ($40) was Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, there are times the end result seems to be more of a David O. Selznick production, than a movie directed by "the master of suspense." Don’t get me wrong, REBECCA has Hitchcock’s fingerprints all over it, however the opulence of the production and the romanticism certainly has a lot more in common with Selznick at that time, than it did with the director of effective British thrillers. Still, it is the Hitchcock touch that underlines the film’s haunting quality, making it a true cinematic masterwork... After all, REBECCA did garner the Best Picture Oscar for 1940.

Based upon the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, REBECCA tells the story of an unnamed heroine (Joan Fontaine), who is employed as the traveling companion to an overbearing dowager. While in Monte Carlo, our heroine meets the handsome, but brooding Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Maxim is immediately taken with the simple girl, who is completely unlike the society women he usually encounters. After a whirlwind courtship, the two quickly fall in love and marry. Unfortunately, their happiness is disrupted when the newlyweds return to Maxim’s ancestral estate of Manderley. Although Maxim’s first wife Rebecca has been dead for over a year, her presence continues to overshadow Manderley due to fact that the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), still keeps every item just exactly as the first Mrs. de Winter had wanted them. Mrs. Danvers obsession with the dead Rebecca borders on mania; compelling her to drive a wedge between Maxim and his new bride leaving, so that she will leave Manderley and leave him alone with his memories of Rebecca. In addition to Fontaine, Olivier and Anderson, the excellent cast of REBECCA also includes George Sanders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Melville Cooper, Florence Bates, Leonard Carey and Leo G. Carroll.

The Criterion Collection has done a truly wondrous job with their black and white transfer of REBECCA, which improves upon the very nice movie only edition previously released by Anchor Bay Entertainment. The digital film and sound restoration employed for this release brings REBECCA very close to pristine condition. Occasional specks and a bit of film grain are the only reminders that REBECCA is over sixty years old. The black and white image is marvelously sharp and finely detailed, which brings out the richness in the sets and costumes. Blacks are incredibly pure, as are the completely stable whites. Contrast is excellent, plus the picture produces cleanly defined shades of gray that gives the image both depth and character. The limitations in the rear screen process work are the only times when the contrast doesn’t seem perfect. Dual layer authoring effectively disguises digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack holds up quite well, offering crisp and completely understandable dialogue. Background hiss has been minimized, plus the track will take a fair amount of amplification, without distortion. Although the fidelity is limited by 1940’s recording technology, Franz Waxman’s beautiful score still sounds quite good. While there are no foreign language soundtracks, English subtitles have been provided on the DVD.

Subtle animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s attractive interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as this two-disc set’s extensive supplemental materials. Leonard J. Leff, the author of Hitchcock & Selznick recorded an audio commentary for the previous Criterion Laserdisc release of REBECCA, and the track is offered on this DVD as well. This is a scholarly and detailed track that serious film fans will find well worth a listen. An isolated music and effects track is also included.

On disc two, there is a wealth of features that include screen tests for Anne Baxter, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young, Margaret Sullavan and Joan Fontaine. Makeup, costume and lighting tests for the actresses are also included. Three separate radio broadcast versions of REBECCA are also provided on the DVD. Totaling three hours, the productions stared Orson Welles in 1938, Ronald Coleman & Ida Lupino in 1941, and Laurence Olivier & Vivien Leigh in 1950. Also included are script excerpts and a deleted scene, plus a theatrical trailer and footage from the 1940 Academy Award ceremony. Audio interviews with Hitchcock, as well as Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson are also provided on the DVD. The supplemental materials also include production notes, hundreds of still images, plus casting notes and production correspondence, including some of David O. Selznick’s legendary memos.

Without question, REBECCA is a cinematic masterpiece that came into being by bringing together the individual talents of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick. Criterion’s DVD looks and sound marvelous, so when you factor in the overwhelming supplemental materials, you come up with a disc that belongs in every serious movie buff’s collection. Absolutely recommended.

 
REBECCA 


Rebecca - Criterion Collection

  


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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