Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. So begins Alfred Hitchcock’s film and Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca. This gothic tale tells the story of the whirlwind romance of a young woman (never named) with the handsome aristocratic widower, Maxim de Winter, and his young second wife’s struggles to compete with the memory of the first Mrs. de Winter (the eponymous Rebecca).
I have never read the original novel and hadn’t seen this adaptation before, and I thought it was superb. The dialog was snappy and smart, and the new bride’s anxiety at falling short in comparison to the dazzling late Rebecca was palpable. I thought the young and beautiful Joan Fontaine reminded me a lot of Kate Winslet.
Of all the films this month, I thought this was the most “unhitchcockian” maybe because I think he played it mostly straight up. Extra props for getting in topics (cousin incest, barely veiled lesbian obsession) that I would have thought would be pretty scandalous in 1940. Then again, maybe that’s why the novel was so popular.
Also, it’s funny in this social media obsessed and over-sharing world that there was a time when people could have secrets. At some level you just want to shake de Winter and have him just be honest with his new bride for like five minutes instead of being all dark, distant and sulky.
Things I liked most: The creepy Mrs. Danvers’ obsession with Rebecca. Fontaine’s performance that took her character from a wide-eyed girl to tough competitor fighting for her husband. “That’s not the Northern Lights. That’s Manderley!”
Things I didn’t like: de Winter is supposed to be around 40 and Fontaine’s character is in her early 20s. Isn’t that kind of creepy? Maxim could have solved a lot of problems by having a simple conversation with his new bride. Maxim not quite clueing in that a whole houseful of “R”-emblazoned things might make his new girl feel a little awkward.
Things that are still with me: The way the whole movie shifts when de Winter admits his true feelings about Rebecca.