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After the glamorous, universally-adored wife of Maxim de Winter dies at a tragically young age, her brooding husband meets a shy young woman in Monte Carlo. They have a whirlwind courtship and Maxim marries her and takes her to Manderley, his palatial estate in the English countryside. There, the second Mrs. de Winter must compete with the memory of the late Rebecca, and cope with the menacing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: David O. Selznick
Screenplay: Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison
Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editing: James E. Newcom, Hal C. Kern
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Laurence Olivier (Maxim de Winter), Joan Fontaine (Mrs. de Winter), George Sanders (Jack Favell), Judith Anderson (Mrs. Danvers), Nigel Bruce (Maj. Giles Lacy), C. Aubrey Smith (Col. Julyan), Reginald Denny (Frank Crawley), Gladys Cooper (Beatrice Lacy), Florence Bates (Mrs. Van Hopper), Melville Cooper (Coroner), Leo G. Carroll (Dr. Baker), Lumsden Hare (Tabbs), Alfred Hitchcock (Man Outside Phone Booth).
Why REBECCA is Essential
Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock's first American film. After winning a following here with such British thrillers as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938), he established himself as a major Hollywood director with this picture.
Forced to bring Daphne Du Maurier's novel to the screen faithfully, Hitchcock for the first time in his career displayed his skill at using psychologically complex characters to generate suspense. Rebecca would pave the way for such later psychological thrillers of his as Suspicion (1941), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960).
Maxim de Winter's relationship with his second wife represents the first portrait of a controlling male figure in Hitchcock's films, a theme that would prove central to such later works as Vertigo and Marnie (1964).
With Hitchcock's talent for subtlety, Rebecca was years ahead of its time in suggesting the sexual misbehavior of its unseen title character. In particular, the film leaves little doubt that the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), had a lesbian attraction to her mistress even though there was no clear indication in the script to upset the film industry's censorship board. The character has been referenced in several studies of homosexuality in Hollywood films.
The role of the second Mrs. de Winter made Joan Fontaine a star after years of thankless roles in Hollywood movies, where she had been fired by RKO just a few years earlier.
David O. Selznick reached the pinnacle of his success as an independent producer with Rebecca, his second in a row (after 1939's Gone with the Wind) to capture the Oscar® for Best Picture. It also marked the third picture in a row in which he had introduced a new star to U.S. audiences, with Joan Fontaine's success following that of Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) and Vivien Leigh's in Gone with the Wind.
Rebecca was one of the first to use voice-over narration successfully, with Joan Fontaine delivering lines drawn largely from Daphne Du Maurier's novel, which had been written in the first person.
Rebecca was the first of six films to team Hitchcock with the actor he worked with more than any other, Leo G. Carroll. He would appear most notably in the Master of Suspense's Spellbound (1945) and North by Northwest (1959), and even played a character modeled on Hitchcock in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) for director Vincente Minnelli.
by Frank Miller
Rebecca was extremely popular in Spain, where Joan Fontaine's costuming triggered a craze for women's jackets that came to be called "rebeccas."
Daphne Du Maurier wrote a stage version of Rebecca that premiered in London in 1940. It played Broadway in 1945 with Diana Barrymore as Mrs. de Winter. It only lasted 20 performances.
The Germans used an edition of Rebecca as the basis for a code during World War II; it was mentioned in Ken Follet's novel The Key to Rebecca.
Rebecca was first adapted for television in England in 1947. That version starred Dorothy Gordon and Michael Hordern.
Other television versions of Rebecca aired in the U.S. in l952, with Patricia Breslin and Scott Forbes; in England in 1962 with Joan Hackett as Mrs. de Winter, James Mason as Maxim and Nina Foch as Mrs. Danvers; and England in 1979 with Jeremy Brett as Maxim, Joanna David as his new wife and Anna Massey as Mrs. Danvers.
The most recent television version of Rebecca was a 1997 mini-series starring Charles Dance and Emilia Fox, with Diana Rigg as Mrs. Danvers, Faye Dunaway as Mrs. Van Hopper and Jonathan Cake as Jack Favell. When it aired in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatre, Rigg won an Emmy for her performance.
Rebecca has also been filmed in India, with Shashi Kapoor in 1973 and again in 2007 with Dino Morea; in Hong Kong in 1964 and as a 2008 Italian television film.
In discussing Rebecca years later with critic-turned-director Francois Truffaut, director Alfred Hitchcock dismissed it as "not a Hitchcock picture" because of its lack of humor and producer David O. Selznick's insistence that he stick closely to the original novel. "It has stood up quite well over the years," he said. "I don't know why" (from Hitchcock/Truffaut).
Hitchcock would also joke about Selznick's penchant for writing lengthy memos: "When I came to America to direct Rebecca, David Selznick sent me a memo...I've just finished reading it...I think I may turn it into a motion picture...I plan to call it The Longest Story Ever Told" (from Inside Oscar®: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards® by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona).
Rebecca provided a plot line for the daytime drama Dark Shadows with Kathryn Leigh Scott in the Joan Fontaine role, David Selby as the husband, Grayson Hall as the housekeeper and Lara Parker as the dead wife's ghost.
Stephen King has included references to Mrs. Danvers in his novel Bag of Bones, in which she serves as a boogeyman figure, and as a servant's name in the 1982 film Creepshow.
In a 1994 episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Crow T. Robot quotes the film's first line, "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again," while watching the 1961 horror film Bloodlust!
A poster for Rebecca appears in the 2000 video game Tomb Raider: Chronicles.
Du Maurier's novel has inspired three other books, including an official sequel by Susan Hill titled Mrs. de Winter. The Other Rebecca by Maureen Freely updated the story to 1996, while Sally Beauman's 2001 Rebecca's Tale explored four other lives touched by the first Mrs. de Winter.
In 2006 a stage musical based on Rebecca debuted in Vienna. Plans to move it to Broadway fell through when it was deemed too expensive because of its set requirements.
by Frank Miller
Producer David O. Selznick's major concern before buying the rights to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca was the title, which he thought made it sound Jewish. He even tried to convince the book's U.S. publisher to change it.
In his first treatment of the adaptation, director Alfred Hitchcock gave the novel's nameless narrator a first name, Daphne, named after the book's author.
Selznick's wife, Irene, provided the handwriting for Rebecca de Winter that is discovered among the character's stationery.
When director Alfred Hitchcock realized that assistant director Eric Stacey and script girl Lydia Schiller were reporting directly to Selznick about what happened on the set each day, the director made their lives miserable. With Schiller, he peppered all their meetings with obscenities to the point that she often had to leave the room to regain her composure.
The entire second unit crew that filmed the approach to Manderley in Del Monte, California, had to be hospitalized after they caught poison ivy.
Casting Laurence Olivier in Rebecca gave Selznick a reason to let him accompany Vivien Leigh to the premiere of Gone with the Wind (1939) in Atlanta. Olivier could not have attended as Leigh's lover without creating a scandal, as both were still married to others, but he could attend as the star of Selznick's next picture.
During filming, Joan Fontaine lived out her own version of Rebecca as she learned to run the household of her new husband Brian Aherne and deal with memories and mementoes of his former mistress, actress Claire Eames. She even had her own Mrs. Danvers in the form of a butler who had been with Aherne for years; she eventually won him over to her side.
For one crying scene in Rebecca, Fontaine asked Judith Anderson (Mrs. Danvers) to slap her face before the cameras rolled. When Anderson refused, Fontaine asked Hitchcock, who was all too happy to oblige.
Fontaine missed the Hollywood premiere of Rebecca because she needed surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. Instead, her mother, Lillian de Havilland, accompanied Aherne to the screening. From her hospital bed, Fontaine heard gossip columnist Louella Parson's rave about the film and Fontaine's performance. When Parsons asked the star's mother for her reaction, Mrs. de Havilland said, "Joan may be phony in real life, but she's almost believable on screen" (from Sisters: The Story of Olivia de Havilland & Joan Fontaine by Charles Higham).
Contrary to legend, Selznick did not demand that the smoke from Manderley's burning form a giant "R" over the destroyed mansion.
Rebecca grossed $2.5 million in its first year of release.
Tagline for Rebecca: "The shadow of a remembered woman came between their lips...but these two had the courage to hope...and to live their love!"
Famous Quotes from REBECCA
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for awhile I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it. Nature had come into its own again, and, little by little, had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers. On and on wound the poor thread that had once been our drive, and finally there was Manderley -- Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, shining in the moonlight of my dreams..." -- Joan Fontaine, as Mrs. de Winter, delivers the film's opening narration.
"Most girls would give their eyes to see Monte Carlo."
"Wouldn't that rather defeat the purpose?" -- Florence Bates, as Mrs. Van Hopper, complaining about Joan Fontaine, as the future Mrs. de Winter, to Laurence Olivier, as Maxim de Winter.
"I remember when I was younger there was a well-known writer who used to dart down the back way whenever he saw me coming. I suppose he was in love with me and wasn't quite sure of himself." -- Bates, as Mrs. Van Hopper, excusing the sudden departure of Olivier, as Maxim de Winter.
"I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool." -- Olivier, as de Winter.
"I'm not the sort of woman men marry." -- Fontaine, as the future Mrs. de Winter.
"I wish I were a woman of 36, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls!" -- Fontaine.
"I'd like to have your advice on how to live comfortably without working hard." -- George Sanders, as Jack Favell.
"I say, marriage with Max is not exactly a bed of roses, is it?" -- Sanders, as Jack Favell.
"She knew everyone that mattered. Everyone loved her." -- Judith Anderson, as Mrs. Danvers, eulogizing the first Mrs. de Winter.
"Don't you believe the dead can see the living?" -- Anderson, as Mrs. Danvers, "haunting" Fontaine.
"You thought you could be Mrs. de Winter. Live in her house. Walk in her steps. Take the things that were hers. But she's too strong for you. You can't fight her. No one ever got the better of her. Never. Never. She was beaten in the end, but it wasn't a man. It wasn't a woman. It was the sea." -- Anderson, taunting Fontaine.
"Why don't you go? Why don't you leave Manderley? He doesn't need you...he's got his memories. He doesn't love you. He wants to be alone again with her. You've nothing to stay for. You've nothing to live for really, have you? Look down there. It's easy, isn't it? Why don't you? Why don't you? Go on. Go on. Don't be afraid..." -- Anderson, goading Fontaine to commit suicide.
"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." -- Olivier, lamenting Fontaine's new maturity.
"I've a feeling that before the day is over someone is going to make use of that old-fashioned but somehow expressive term 'foul play'." -- Sanders.
"That's not the Northern lights. That's Manderley!" -- Olivier, realizing his home is on fire.
Compiled by Frank Miller
Daphne Du Maurier grew up in an artistic household as the daughter of actor Gerald Du Maurier and granddaughter of cartoonist George Du Maurier. She started writing in her early twenties and had her greatest success in 1938, at the age of 31, with Rebecca. The novel, inspired by Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, had been written in Alexandria, Egypt, where her husband, Sir Frederick Browning, was stationed. The book was an instant best seller in both England and the U.S.
Director Alfred Hitchcock read Rebecca in galleys while directing The Lady Vanishes (1938) and considered buying the film rights, but finally decided they were too expensive.
David O. Selznick's East Coast story editor, Kay Brown, who had also pushed him to make Gone with the Wind (1939), sent him the book with her highest recommendation. He picked up the rights for $50,000. Originally he planned it as a vehicle for Carole Lombard and Ronald Colman, whom he had signed to a two-picture deal before making The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).
Impressed with the director's almost unbroken string of hits starting with the silent thriller, The Lodger (1927), Selznick signed Hitchcock to a personal contract in 1938 and announced that his first U.S. project would be a film version of the sinking of the Titanic. When that project proved too costly after the expense of Gone with the Wind, he announced that the director had been assigned to bring Rebecca to the screen.
In an unusual move for the time, Selznick gave Orson Welles permission to do a radio adaptation of Rebecca for his Mercury Theatre of the Air. Selznick reasoned that, coming on the heels of Welles' infamous production of The War of the Worlds, the adaptation would garner more publicity for the book and the upcoming film version. He also wanted to see if the novel's use of narration would work dramatically. After listening to the radio broadcast and studying Welles' script, Selznick advised Hitchcock to keep the narration by the novel's unnamed leading lady.
One other influence of Welles' radio version was the casting of Margaret Sullavan in the lead. She would be a major contender to star in the film version.
Selznick asked Du Maurier to write the screenplay, but she turned him down because she hated what Hitchcock had done to the screen version of her Jamaica Inn (1939).
In discussions about the screenplay, Selznick and Hitchcock decided to follow the novel in not showing the title character, Rebecca de Winter. Du Maurier had warned them that showing the first Mrs. de Winter would likely upstage the second, who was the novel and film's leading lady. Selznick reasoned that they could never find an actress who could match the audience's expectations of the character.
Hitchcock worked on the story treatment with his secretary, Joan Harrison, and Scottish novelist Philip MacDonald. He made so many changes from the original Selznick rejected it, writing in one of his famous memos, "We bought Rebecca and we intend to make Rebecca" (from Memo from David O. Selznick by Rudy Behlmer). In an attempt to lighten the novel's Gothic tone, Hitchcock had added two scenes in which Maxim's cigar induces seasickness in others, which Selznick considered cheap and old-fashioned. He also had created friends to accompany Maxim on his trip to the Riviera, which destroyed his sense of isolation when he first meets his future wife.
After Hitchcock prepared a more faithful adaptation, this time working with his wife, Alma Reville, and Michael Hogan, Selznick brought in playwright Robert E. Sherwood, who had won Pulitzer Prizes for Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1936) and There Shall Be No Night (1939). His chief job was punching up the dialogue and solving censorship issues.
To appease the Production Code Administration Sherwood altered the original story to make Rebecca's death accidental. Had they kept Maxim a murderer, it would have violated the Production Code prohibition that criminals never go unpunished in movies. In addition, they had to omit any suggestion that Rebecca, who knew she was dying of cancer, had committed suicide by goading her husband to kill her.
Despite Hitchcock's urging, Colman declined the offer to star in Rebecca because he didn't think the public would accept him playing a murderer and he was convinced the finished film would focus more on its leading lady. He and Selznick never made a second film together.
With Colman's defection, Selznick considered casting William Powell, Leslie Howard, David Niven and Melvyn Douglas before agreeing to cast Laurence Olivier, who had just scored a personal triumph as the star of Wuthering Heights (1939). One factor in his favor was his asking price, which was significantly less than MGM wanted to charge for lending Powell to Selznick. In addition, Olivier was fast developing a strong female following that Selznick hoped would contribute to the film's box office success.
With Olivier's casting, his fiance, Vivien Leigh, launched a campaign to win the female lead. Selznick had her tested with Olivier twice, once in Hollywood and once in England, but felt her too glamorous to be believable as the reticent second Mrs. de Winter.
Even before testing Leigh, Selznick tried to build interest in the film by announcing a national talent hunt on a par with the search for Scarlett O'Hara.
Other actresses tested for the lead in Rebecca opposite actor Alan Marshall. Among them were Loretta Young, Margaret Sullavan, Heather Angel, Anita Louise and Anne Baxter. The latter was still a New York stage actress and had never made a film. Selznick briefly considered Nova Pilbeam, who had starred in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Young and Innocent (1937), even though the director strongly objected to casting her.
Wanting to be fair to Leigh, Selznick asked their friend director George Cukor to screen the top screen tests. He watched most of them silently, then laughed loudly at Leigh's attempts to play a young, unglamorous innocent. His recommendation was Baxter.
Cukor also suggested Selznick test Joan Fontaine, who had impressed him with her work on The Women (1939). As a result, Fontaine's sister, Olivia de Havilland, refused to test for the role, even though at that point she was Selznick's first choice.
Biographer David Thomson has suggested that Selznick actually fell in love with Fontaine, writing her poetry and trying to interest her in an affair. She, however, found him physically unattractive and was already romantically involved with British actor Brian Aherne.
Eventually the choice narrowed down to Margaret Sullavan, whom Hitchcock wanted; Selznick's choice, Fontaine, and Baxter, who was highly favored by other employees at Selznick International. Selznick had major concerns about all three. He was afraid that Sullavan would come across as too strong as the mousy heroine, that Baxter would be too hard to photograph favorably and that Fontaine, who had been nicknamed "the wooden woman" at the studio, didn't have the range to pull off a demanding leading role. When he asked Fontaine to test in additional scenes to demonstrate her range, she refused, claiming her upcoming marriage to Aherne would not leave her time for the tests. Selznick finally asked Cukor to re-screen the tests and consulted with John Cromwell, who had directed Fontaine's test. Both advised him to cast Fontaine. Her agent had to track her down on her honeymoon in Oregon to offer her the role, and she immediately agreed to cut the wedding trip short.
Most of the film's supporting cast -- including C. Aubrey Smith, Leo G. Carroll, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny and Melville Cooper -- came from the group of British actors who had relocated to Hollywood.
For the role of housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, Selznick considered Russian stage star Alla Nazimova and British actress Flora Robson before agreeing with Brown's suggestion that he cast Australian-born actress Judith Anderson.
Among the actresses considered for the role of Mrs. Van Hopper, the New York social dragon who brings the future Mrs. de Winter to Europe as her traveling companion, were Alice Brady, Lucile Watson, Laura Hope Crews, Mary Boland and Cora Witherspoon. Then Hitchcock and his wife saw Florence Bates, a former Texas lawyer who had turned to acting on a whim, in a production at the Pasadena Playhouse. He recommended her for what would be her first credited film role.
For cinematographer, Selznick first assigned Harry Stradling, Sr., whom he had just fired from Intermezzo (1939). Still smarting from his replacement on that film, Stradling asked out of his contract. Selznick then tried for his replacement on Intermezzo, Gregg Toland, who wasn't available. He, in turn, suggested George Barnes, who had helped Toland learn the ropes years before.
Although Hitchcock had researchers show Selznick photographs of several British country houses the director thought might look like Manderley, the producer insisted on a palatial design more suited to the royal family than the de Winter family. Throughout production, Selznick would unintentionally amuse the director by insisting the characters live in a much grander style than would have been appropriate to their class.
by Frank Miller
Rebecca started filming on September 8, 1939, five days after the United Kingdom entered World War II. This proved particularly troublesome to director Alfred Hitchcock and the film's largely British cast.
Hitchcock's perfectionism slowed production from the start. Within two weeks, Rebecca was five days behind schedule.
Some of the delays were caused by the director's careful coaching of leading lady Joan Fontaine. Cast in her first major film role, she was understandably nervous. Things weren't helped by co-star Laurence Olivier's clear dissatisfaction with her casting. Since her character was supposed to be unsure of herself, Hitchcock spent as much time playing on her anxieties as he did coaching her. Among other things, he questioned her suitability in a cast of British stage veterans, told her nobody on the film liked her, pointed out how much less she was being paid than the other actors and even suggested she could have found a better husband than British actor Brian Aherne.
Another factor slowing down production was Hitchcock's refusal to rehearse while the crew was setting up lights. He claimed he found the noise distracting, even though rehearsing during camera set-ups was standard Hollywood practice.
Selznick was concerned with both stars' performances. He asked Hitchcock to speed up Olivier's reactions, which he thought were being played too slowly, and slow down his line readings, even asking the director to make sure the leading man knew what the lines meant. With Fontaine, he thought Hitchcock was directing her with too much restraint, and urged him to go for "a little more Yiddish Art Theatre" (from David O. Selznick's Hollywood by Ronald Haver).
Hitchcock frequently clashed with producer David O. Selznick over the director's habit of cutting in the camera. Rather than give the producer several complete shots of each set-up so the film could be assembled in a variety of ways, Hitchcock had the final cut already worked out before shooting and filmed only as much of each long shot and close-up as he planned to use in the film.
Selznick was so thrown by Hitchcock's methods he began questioning his own judgment. In October, he asked his wife, Irene, to come to the studio to look at some of the footage, a practice he rarely exercised. He even confided that he wanted her to tell him if he should just cancel the production. She viewed what had been shot and reassured him that the film was excellent.
To underline the character's menace and present her through the leading lady's eyes, Hitchcock rarely showed the Mrs. Danvers character walking. Instead, she just appears, stationary in the frame, when Fontaine least expects her.
Having started in film as an art director, Hitchcock was well-versed in using miniatures to save money, but had to convince Selznick that the process wouldn't look cheap.
A half-sized version of Manderley was built on a separate soundstage for the film's opening sequence, in which the camera moves up the drive to the ruined estate in the moonlight.
Many of the architectural details of Manderley, including ceilings and chandeliers, were matted in from drawings made by Al Simpson. The same was done with some of the flames during the climactic fire.
Second unit shots of Maxim de Winter's first meeting with his future second wife were filmed by stand-ins on the coast of Carmel, which stood in for the Riviera.
Some of the exteriors at Manderley were filmed at Del Monte, California, while the beach scenes were filmed on Santa Catalina Island.
The principal photography on Rebecca was completed on November 20, 1939, 27 days behind the film's original 36-day schedule. Three of the lost days were caused by Fontaine's contracting the flu and another three by a sudden strike by the stagehands' union.
After completion, Rebecca sat on the shelf for a month before Selznick could work on the final cut. He was too busy preparing Gone with the Wind (1939) for its premiere.
A very rough cut of Rebecca previewed in San Bernardino, California, in December 1939. The audience applauded when the title appeared and responded enthusiastically to the film as a whole.
Selznick insisted on personally supervising re-takes of the fire scene, which he thought had been indistinct as originally shot. The final shot of flames engulfing the title character's "R" monogram were redone because he thought the initial had not been as carefully framed as Mrs. Danvers would have placed it and the flames hadn't come up quickly enough or high enough.
Selznick borrowed Franz Waxman from MGM to score Rebecca, forcing the composer to work from the script and a rough cut rather than the final edit. When this posed problems later, Selznick had some of Max Steiner's music for A Star Is Born (1937) inserted where he felt Waxman's score wasn't working. This caused animosity between Selznick and both composers.
Rebecca's final cost was $1,288,000, approximately $500,000 over Selznick's original budget.
by Frank Miller
In 1938, producer David O. Selznick and director Alfred Hitchcock were kings of their respective worlds. Selznick had his own studio, and was in pre-production on his masterpiece, Gone With the Wind (1939). Hitchcock was England's leading film director, but little-known elsewhere. Hitchcock wanted to be the big fish in a bigger pond, and put out the word that he'd entertain offers from Hollywood. None came, except from Selznick. Hitchcock was intrigued with the notion of working for an independent, assuming that Selznick would allow Hitchcock his own independence. He would soon discover how wrong this assumption was.
Selznick had originally intended Hitchcock's first film for him to be about the Titanic. By the time Hitchcock arrived in America in early 1939, Selznick had a better project: the film version of Daphne Du Maurier's best-selling romantic-Gothic novel, Rebecca (1940). The title character is already dead when the story begins. She was the glamorous, universally-adored wife of Maxim de Winter, and she died tragically young. Her brooding widower meets a shy young woman in Monte Carlo, and after a whirlwind courtship, marries her and takes her to Manderley, his palatial estate in the English countryside. There, the second Mrs. de Winter must compete with the memory of Rebecca's perfection, and cope with the menacing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.
Selznick offered the part of Maxim to Ronald Colman, who refused. William Powell and David Niven were considered, but Powell was deemed too American, Niven "too shallow." Laurence Olivier was chosen. Fresh off the publicity bonanza of the search for Scarlett O'Hara, Selznick wanted a similar hoopla in the search for Mrs. de Winter. Among the candidates were Loretta Young, Anne Baxter, Margaret Sullavan, Joan Fontaine, and Fontaine's sister, Olivia de Havilland. After Olivier was cast, he pushed hard for his lover, Vivien Leigh. She made a test, which only proved that she was much too strong to play the shy, young bride. Selznick also found another actress far too vivid for the part. "Imagine Margaret Sullavan pushed around by Mrs. Danvers!" he remarked. In the end, he cast Fontaine, although no one else believed she was capable of playing the role - a bit of information that Hitchcock would later use to fuel Fontaine's performance.
Hitchcock was also writing the screenplay for Rebecca, and that's where the conflicts began. When Selznick bought a book, it was because he intended to make the book scene for scene. For Hitchcock, the source material was merely a jumping-off point for making a Hitchcock film. He wanted to make a suspense picture, and downplay the romantic angle, and his treatment reflected that. After reading it, Selznick sent Hitchcock a ten-page memo which began, "I am shocked and disappointed beyond words..." Hitchcock did as he was told, and reverted to the book. One of Hitchcock's departures from the novel did remain, though. His alteration to the circumstances of Rebecca's death was an acceptable solution to objections by the censors.
Although they maintained a civil front, the conflicts between producer and director escalated during production. Selznick was frustrated with Hitchcock's style of shooting. The director would have the entire sequence worked out beforehand, and would shoot only what he needed. Selznick asked him to shoot more angles, so he'd have some choices. But for Hitchcock, there were no other choices. What he shot fit together only in the way he intended, as intricately as a jigsaw puzzle. Selznick appeared often on the set, making suggestions which were more like demands, and Hitchcock usually found them absurd or vulgar. One story he never tired of telling was that at the end, as Manderley burned, Selznick wanted the smoke to form the letter "R."
There were also tensions between the stars. Because he was disappointed that Vivien Leigh wasn't playing Mrs. de Winter, Olivier was scornful and rude to Fontaine. When he heard she'd married Brian Aherne, he wondered aloud if she couldn't have done better. Hitchcock, in order to get the sophisticated Fontaine to act insecure, told her she was an outcast among the cliquey British actors, that nobody believed she could play the role. It worked. Fontaine received an Academy Award nomination for her performance.
While Hitchcock and Selznick might have been frustrated by working together, their conflicts produced a superior film. Film historians have noted that Rebecca has qualities that none of their other films contain: a moody visual stylishness that Selznick's films lacked; and an emotional depth and nuance to the characters that few of Hitchcock's later films could equal. For the rest of his life, Hitchcock dismissed Rebecca. It was not a "Hitchcock picture." Ironically, it was the only Hitchcock film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Selznick, as producer, accepted the award. Hitchcock, nominated as Best Director, went home empty-handed.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: David O. Selznick
Screenplay: Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited); adapted by Michael Hogan, Philip MacDonald, & Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited) from the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Editor: Hal C. Kern
Cinematography: George Barnes
Costume Design: Irene (uncredited)
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler
Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Laurence Olivier (Maxim de Winter), Joan Fontaine (Mrs. De Winter), George Sanders (Jack Favell), Judith Anderson (Mrs. Danvers), Nigel Bruce (Major Giles Lacy), Gladys Cooper (Beatrice Lacy), Florence Bates (Mrs. Van Hopper)
BW-131m. Closed captioning.
By Margarita Landazuri
AWARDS & HONORS
The National Board of Review placed Rebecca tenth on its ten-best list for 1940, with The Grapes of Wrath at number one. They also listed Joan Fontaine's as one of the year's best performances.
Rebecca won 11 Oscar® nominations -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Actress (Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects. Following 1939's Gone with the Wind, this was the second year in a row producer David O. Selznick had produced the film with the most nominations.
Rebecca's competition for Best Picture was formidable and included The Grapes of Wrath, The Philadelphia Story, The Great Dictator and Hitchcock's own Foreign Correspondent.
To improve his Oscar® chances, Selznick hosted a "re-premiere" of Rebecca at a second-run house in Los Angeles the day the nominations were announced. He even got the governor of California to re-name Hollywood Boulevard "Rebecca Boulevard" for the day.
Rebecca took Best Picture, the only such honor for a Hitchcock film, and Best Cinematography. Hitchcock lost the directing prize to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath. Olivier lost Best Actor to James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, while Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle beat Fontaine for Best Actress.
THE CRITICS' CORNER
"Rebecca is an artistic success whose b.o. lure will be limited...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....Alfred Hitchcock, English director, pilots his first American production with capable assurance and exceptional understanding of the motivation and story mood."
-- Walt., Variety.
"Miss Du Maurier never really convinced me any one could behave quite as the second Mrs. de Winter behaved and still be sweet, modest, attractive and alive. But Miss Fontaine does it not simply with her eyes, her mouth, her hands and her words, but with her spine. Possibly it's unethical to criticize performances anatomically. Still we insist Miss Fontaine has the most expressive spine -- and shoulders we've bothered to notice this season."
-- Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times.
"Magnificent, romantic-gothic corn, full of Alfred Hitchcock's humor and inventiveness. It features one of Laurence Olivier's rare poor performances; he seems pinched and too calculated -- but even when he's uncomfortable in his role he's more fascinating than most actors. Joan Fontaine gives one of her rare really fine performances -- she makes her character's shyness deeply charming."
-- Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies.
"There are too many conflicting levels of authorship--between Alfred Hitchcock, Daphne Du Maurier, and David O. Selznick--for this 1940 film to be a complete success, but through its first two-thirds it is as perfect a myth of adolescence as any of the Disney films, documenting the childlike, nameless heroine's initiation into the adult mysteries of sex, death, and identity, and the impossibility of reconciling these forces with family strictures."
-- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
"A splendid example of the cinema as a popular storyteller...Hitchcock fashioned an impeccable film, with the help of a clever screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison..."
- Leslie Halliwell, The Filmgoer's Companion
"Daphne Du Maurier's fairly lightweight bestseller...became a tale of fear and guilt, power and class. What makes the film doubly interesting is Hitchcock's fear of women, and the way it goes beyond the simple limits of narrative...A riveting and painful film."
- Helen MacKintosh, TimeOut Film Guide
"The sheer, swooning pleasure that this film affords - its melodrama, its romance, its extravagant menace - makes it a must-see... it really is a masterclass in craftsmanship. The novel is expertly opened out in visual and dramatic terms, and shows something rare in any film from any period: characters who change, and are satisfyingly seen to do so during the course of the story...A superb cast is rounded off by George Sanders, playing Rebecca's caddish cousin: again, a superb lightness and virility in the acting, and, again, some exquisite suitings. A gorgeous treat from one of cinema's masters. Not to be missed."
- Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
"Taking in Lyle Wheeler's magnificent interior sets (they dwarf Fontaine's timid character) and a wonderfully caddish turn from a blackmailing George Sanders, Rebecca sweeps the viewer along to an incendiary conclusion."
- Thomas Dawson, BBC
"Shot like a horror film and featuring Olivier as one of the least sympathetic heroes in the Hitchcock canon, Rebecca's smart extrapolation on themes inherited from gothic thrillers and Bront novels allows the director to begin with a suspenseful romance that barely keeps its subtext under the surface, and smuggle in a story of one woman's immersion into the sexual expectations of her era. Rebecca may not be a Hitchcock picture, but it's hard to imagine what we now think of as a Hitchcock picture without it."
- Keith Phipps, The Onion A. V. Club
Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford