Tuesday, June 1, 2010


The whole reason behind this project was the realization this semester that I had only ever seen one Hitchcock film in all my life (Pscyho – 1960). Since then I’ve seen one more, the Cornell Woolrich -inspired Rear Window (1954). That left 28 films of the master of suspense that I had yet to see. Since there were 30 days in June, I figured it the perfect time to watch all 30 of his films. I am going to try and watch them in chronologic order, but may have to substitute one or two if need be. I am also going to try to keep the blog up to date, but at some point I expect to fall behind, so be aware.  If anyone is intrigued enough to want to watch any of them, I can burn a copy for you. Or if anyone wants to join me, I don’t have to watch all 30 alone.

That said, here we go…


REBECCA – 1940 
Lawrence Olivier, Joan Fontaine

This is the first of Hitchcock’s American-made films and the first of two released in 1940. It stars British actor Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine (the sister of Olivia De Havilland) as a husband and wife who struggle to make their new marriage work despite the lingering influence of Olivier’s deceased wife, Rebecca.

Expecting a Hitchcock film, my first reaction is that the film drags for the first half. Joan Fontaine keeps the film moving as she comes up against leery housekeepers who refuse to accept her as the new Mrs. de Winter. Fontaine, who was not the first choice for the film (Olivier wanted his girlfriend Vivien Leigh, producer Selznick wanted Carole Lombard), excels in the role, going from the innocent wife blinded by love to the outcast in a house dominated by a dead woman to the supportive wife faced with her husband’s terrible past. Fontaine was  nominated for Best Actress for her role, which she didn’t win, but a year later she would become the first and only actress in a Hitchcock film to win the award for her role in Suspicion (which I will get to later in the week). The film is also notable for the fact that it was the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture, which, since it is only the third of his that I have seen, I can’t say it is his best, but for a first effort it is surprisingly good, and has gotten me suitably excited for the rest of the month.

While Fontaine keeps the film moving, when the turn comes in the dead center of the film, Olivier takes over. Normally an expository scene can run dry, even when the likes of Humphrey Bogart explains the crime at the end of the film. But as Olivier describes the back story of Rebecca’s demise, he takes command, hands jittery as he paces about the cabin explaining to his new wife what happed to his old wife. The two play off each other perfectly, Fontaine’s metamorphosis from pleasant lover to frightened wife complete as Olivier completes his story.

He describes her transformation perfectly:

“I can't forget what it's done to you. I've been thinking of nothing else since it happened. It's gone forever, that funny, young, lost look I loved won't ever come back. I killed that when I told you about Rebecca. It's gone. In a few hours, you've grown so much older.”

My favorite noir film is Laura (1944), not only because I am madly in love with Gene Tierney, but because it accomplishes one of the most difficult things in cinema: it builds up a character who is already dead. With Laura Otto Preminger achieves this through exposition on the part of investigating detectives and through flashbacks. Hitchcock fleshes out Rebecca through the overbearing reactions of the housekeepers to a Rebecca’s replacement, especially Mrs. Danvers, whose infatuation with Rebecca progressively drives her into a deeper psychosis. “You wouldn't think she'd been gone so long, would you,” she tells the new Mrs. de Winter.  “Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn't mistake it anywhere. It's not only in this room, it's in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now.” The book The Black Dahlia accomplished this superbly as well, but the film failed to live up to the novel, so that film is a mediocre example of it. 

One small note that I loved was that Joan Fontaine has no name, she is simply referred to as Mrs. de Winter, as opposed to the old Mrs. de Winter, who is Rebecca, the title character. It is simple trick and subtly degrades the character a little further. 

Mrs. Danvers looms over the new Mrs. de Winter and 
tries to make her commit  suicide

The only thing that I disagreed with, as it the case with many films of the time, is that the ending was changed to suit the film code. Without giving away the ending, the way the book ended sounded much better.

Overall I still think it drags in the beginning, but the second half rolls as the details are unveiled and the impeccable Olivier is forced to balance the terrors of his past with his uncontrollable temper and Fontaine’s doe-eyed angel was deserving of an Oscar nod.

Tomorrow’s film, 1940’s Foreign Correspondent

(P.S. Here is a photo of the magnificent Gene Tierney...) 

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