Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders
In 1938 Daphne du Maurier published a novel titled Rebecca. Two years later, the celebrated director Alfred Hitchcock turned it into the Best Picture winner of 1941. The film also won Best Cinematography at the Oscars that year. The movie was also nominated for an additional 9 Oscars, including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. All of these awards went to worthy competitors, including Jimmy Stewart (The Philadelphia Story), Ginger Rogers (Kitty Foyle), and Jane Darwell and John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath).
When a young woman (Fontaine) meets Mr. de Winter (Olivier), a rich widower, while traveling overseas she falls in love. After a short romance, the two are married and return to his massive estate at Manderley. As the new Mrs. de Winter attempts to find her place in her new home, she’s haunted by the lingering memories of the first Mrs. de Winter. With a staff loyal to her predecessor, this young bride searches for the truth behind her husband and the demise of his first wife.
This movie is perhaps one of the best psychological thrillers ever made. Of course it was done by the master of thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock. This was his only Best Picture winner despite a career filled with many impressive films. Like many of his other movies, this story doesn’t have a false premise of joy and sunshine. Even as the young woman and Mr. de Winter fall in love there is an undercurrent of trouble always surrounding them. This creates a desire for something good to come, which seems elusive throughout the film.
Thanks to wonderful acting, the movie seems to movie at a perfect pace. Olivier plays his part as the brooding and lost widower wonderfully. At times his inner-conflict seems to almost destroy him. Fontaine does an awesome job playing the young and often immature wife. The emotions she goes through while looking for a way to fit into another woman’s place are great. One other standout performance came from Judith Anderson, who plays the obsessive servant Mrs. Danvers.
The editing and camera work also contribute to a movie that has just the right mood and imagery to fit the story. Like all of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, this movie seems to capitalize on perfect lighting and camera work. This continues throughout the entire film and is especially evident in the final scenes of the movie.
I am surprised that it took me so long to finally see this movie. It’s a perfect example of how to make a psychological thriller, and it works just as well today as it did when it was made. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.