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While everyone recognizes that REBECCA ($25) is a wonderful film classic that richly deserved the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940, there are those film fans that ask the following question. Does the credit for the film's tremendous success lie with producer David O. Selznick or with director Alfred Hitchcock? I find this to be a tough question to answer, since both men have left their mark on REBECCA. While REBECCA smacks of being a British production, it is actually Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, made under contract to producer David O. Selznick. Selznick’s influence can be felt in the choice of subject matter, which has more in common with a gothic romance, than it does with the type of suspense movies that Hitchcock built his career upon. The meticulous attention to detail found in the film’s sets and costumes is another telltale sign that REBECCA is indeed a David O. Selznick production. While the production design of REBECCA is trademark Selznick, it is the film’s visual style that is purely Hitchcock. Hitchcock maximizes the suspenseful elements of REBECCA, making the film far more mysterious and haunting than it would have been in the hands of any other director. Additionally, Hitchcock doesn't really linger on the film’s romantic elements. Instead, Hitchcock only uses them as a vehicle to deliver the audience to the mystery that lies at the heart of REBECCA.

REBECCA is based upon the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name, which tells the tale of a young woman who meets a wealthy widower in Monte Carlo while working as the paid companion of an overbearing dowager. Joan Fontaine portrays the nameless central character of Du Maurier’s story, who falls in love with the handsome, but brooding Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Maxim finds himself immediately taken with the simple, but awkward girl who immediately lifts his spirits. When the girl's employer takes ill, the two spend considerable time together in which they fall in love and quickly marry. However, the joy that Maxim and his second wife share in Monte Carlo proves to be short-lived, when the couple move into to Manderley, de Winter’s ancestral estate. Although Maxim’s first wife Rebecca has been dead for over a year, her presence continues to permeate Manderley because the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) keeps every item in the home exactly the way the first Mrs. de Winter wanted them. Mrs. Danvers, who displays an obsession with the deceased Rebecca that seems to border on mania, does everything in her power to make Maxim's insecure new bride feel unwelcome in her new home. With Mrs. Danvers driving a wedge between her and Maxim, the second Mrs. de Winter is forced to confront the memory of Rebecca and the mysterious circumstances of her death.

While both Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine give superb performances, it is Judith Anderson’s work in REBECCA that almost everyone seems to remember. Anderson manages to walk a very fine line with Mrs. Danvers, making the character’s obsessive mania is quite evident, while restraining her performance just enough to keep Danvers totally credible and completely compelling. Additionally, Alfred Hitchcock heightens Anderson’s portrayal by filming the character of Mrs. Danvers as if she has a supernatural quality. Mrs. Danvers doesn’t walk as much as she seems to float across the screen. Additionally, her entrances and exits are always silent, as though she materialized from nothingness before appearing on the screen. In addition to Olivier, Fontaine and Anderson, the first rate cast of REBECCA also features George Sanders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Melville Cooper, Florence Bates, Leonard Carey and Leo G. Carroll.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has done a marvelous job with their DVD edition of REBECCA. REBECCA is presented in its proper aspect ratio and the black and white transfer is stunning, besting Criterion’s Laserdisc edition by more than a few notches. The film element used for Anchor Bay’s transfer is superior to Criterion’s, however there are a handful of markings on the print that prove that the film is indeed almost sixty years old. Still, the black and white image is very rich looking and in every way a tribute to George Barnes’ Academy Award winning cinematography. Sharpness and detail are excellent, with all of the fabric and sets looking absolutely stunning on this disc. Blacks are as black as pitch and the contrast smoothly goes through every gradation all the way up to bright white. Digital compression artifacts are held in check by first rate DVD authoring.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural soundtrack is excellent for a film of this vintage, maintaining the maximum amount of fidelity one is likely to find in sixty-year-old recordings. Dialogue reproduction is quite good and the track is worth amplifying for Franz Waxman's Oscar nominated score. Sure, there are some limitations in the soundtrack because of its age, however they do remind one that they are watching a great film classic made during Hollywood's heyday.

The interactive menus are incredibly simple, providing only an interface to access the chapter selection feature. A total lack of supplements is the only disappointing aspect of this DVD. Obviously, the Criterion Laserdisc has bested Anchor Bay's DVD in at least one arena.

Without question REBECCA is one of the truly great film classics of all time. Anchor Bay Entertainment has given the film a great looking DVD presentation that will not disappoint its numerous fans. Recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 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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