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The film's title cards read "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Olivia de Havilland in Daphne Du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel." Throughout the picture, voice-over narration by Richard Burton as "Philip Ashley" is heard intermittently. In Du Maurier's bestselling novel, which appeared as a serial in Ladies Home Journal (Nov 1951-March 1952), Philip Ashley narrates the story as he is about to be hanged for "Rachel's" murder. According to a August 1, 1951 Daily Variety article, Du Maurier's agent announced that the purchase price for a seven-year lease on screen rights to My Cousin Rachel would be $100,000, plus 5% of the world gross. The article reported that "all studios...nixed [the terms] as 'out of this world.'" When Twentieth Century-Fox acquired the rights in early September 1951, a Variety article reported that the purchase price was a flat $80,000, plus another $20,000 if the studio decided to option the perpetual rights. Variety noted that the studio's only competition for the rights came from independent producer David O. Selznick, because the "high price asked by [Du Maurier's agent] scared off other studios despite assurance by story editors that [the] book will be a bestseller and is surefire pic material."
According to a February 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, after the book's publication in the United States, "at least two British production companies and one in this country...made overtures" to Twentieth Century-Fox to buy the screen rights. Contemporary sources note that George Cukor was originally set to direct the picture, and in May 1952 Daily Variety reported that Cukor withdrew from the project after failing to reach "agreement on [the] story's interpretation" with producer-screenwriter Nunnally Johnson. According to modern sources, Cukor, who wanted Vivien Leigh to star in the picture, was unhappy with Johnson's screenplay, as was Du Maurier. The author reportedly volunteered her own screen treatment of the story, but Johnson was not interested and Cukor left the production.
Modern sources also report that Johnson sought to sign Greta Garbo for the lead, that Selznick pressed studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck to cast Jennifer Jones as "Rachel" and that Carol Reed was considered to direct the picture. Hollywood Reporter news items include Earl Spainard, Kathy March, Ed Mundy and Christy Olsen in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Nicholas Koster, who plays "Philip" as a boy, was the son of director Henry Koster. According to an American Cinematographer article, background footage for the picture was shot on location in Cornwall, England.
Richard Burton, who made his American screen debut in the picture, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, and received a Golden Globe as the Most Promising Newcomer of the year. Although the Los Angeles Examiner critic called Burton "terribly, terribly tweedy," he received mostly excellent reviews. The Los Angeles Daily News reviewer stated "young Burton registers with an intense performance that stamps him as an actor of great potential." The production also received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (B&W), Art Direction (B&W) and Costume Design (B&W). On September 7, 1953, Olivia de Havilland co-starred with Ron Randall in a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story. In 1982, the BBC produced a four-hour serial based on Du Maurier's novel, which was directed by Brian Farnham and starred Christopher Guard as "Philip" and Geraldine Chaplin as "Rachel."