‘Rebecca’ is an artistic success whose b.o. lure will be limited. Picture is noteworthy in its literal translation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel to the screen, presenting all of the sombreness and dramatic tragedy of the book in its unfolding. More important, it commands attention in establishing Joan Fontaine as a potential screen personality of upper brackets.
Dave Selznick’s picture is too tragic and deeply psychological to hit the fancy of wide audience appeal. It will receive attention from critics and class patronage as an example of the power in narrative drama of vivid screen portraiture, but general audiences will tab it as a long-drawn out drama that could have been told better in less footage.
Daphne du Maurier’s story unfolds the tragic experience of a young wife (Joan Fontaine) who lives in the shadows of the memories of Olivier’s first spouse. Concerned with her husband’s continual moodiness over the former wife, Miss Fontaine gradually pieces together the tragedy of the former marriage to eventually find marital happiness when the burdensome secret of Rebecca’s death is lifted from the shoulders of Olivier.
Alfred Hitchcock, English director, pilots his first American production with capable assurance and exceptional understanding of the motivation and story mood. Despite the psychological and moody aspects of the tale throughout its major footage, he highlights the piece with several intriguing passages that display inspired direction and portrayal.
Olivier provides an impressionable portrayal as the master of Manderley, unable to throw off the memory of his tragic first marriage while trying to secure happiness in his second venture. Miss Fontaine is excellent as the second wife, carrying through the transition of a sweet and vivacious bride to that of a bewildered woman marked by the former tragedy she finds hard to understand.
Supporting cast has been selected with careful attention to individual capabilities. Judith Anderson is the sinister housekeeper and confidante of the former wife; George Sanders is personable in portrayal of the despicable Jack Flavell; and Reginald Denny is Crawley, the estate manager and pal of Olivier. Florence Bates provides many light moments in the early portion as a romantically-inclined dowager.
Artistically, ‘Rebecca’ is one of the finest productional efforts of the past year.
1940: Outstanding Production (Selznick International Pictures), B&W Cinematography (George Barnes)
Nominations: Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Actor (Laurence Olivier), Actress (Joan Fontaine), Supp. Actress (Judith Anderson), Screenplay, B&W Art Direction, Editing, Original Score, Special Effects, Writing–Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison)