|The unnamed heroine (Fontaine) and Mrs. Danvers (Anderson)|
REBECCA (1940). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
"[Rebecca's underwear] was made especially for her by the nuns at the Convent of St. Clair." -- a rhapsodic Mrs. Danvers
An unnamed young lady (Joan Fontaine) is in Monte Carlo as the companion to the horrible dowager Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates) when she meets the handsome Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), and the two are instantly attracted. The young lady agrees to become the second Mrs. de Winter -- Maxim's first wife, Rebecca, was drowned -- and they set off for his beautiful estate, Manderlay. There the nervous new wife sees evidence of the much more sophisticated Rebecca everywhere, and has to deal with a housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), who loved Rebecca and sees the new Mrs. de Winter as a usurper. Eventually a number of secrets about Rebecca and her death are uncovered ... If there's any problem with this smoothly made and entertaining romance it's that the heroine is a bit too mousy -- after one especially cruel trick played on the unsuspecting victim by Mrs. Danvers, most women would have insisted the termagant be fired, for instance, but Fontaine lets it slide [although she does confront the housekeeper]. However, Fontaine is perfect and lovely in the role, although Olivier's performance, while good, is probably not one of his most outstanding. It could be argued that Judith Anderson overplays a bit too much, bristling "evil" at the very first confrontation, and one suspects Cloris Leachman based her portrayal of Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein on Anderson in this. It has been suggested that Danvers was in love with Rebecca, but it's just as likely that, like a lot of old-school servants, she loved her mistress platonically and came to strongly, obsessively identify with her. In any case, Danvers' performance is basically good, which is also true of Florence Bates; George Sanders (as Rebecca's "cousin"); Gladys Cooper as a relative of Max's; Nigel Bruce as her husband; Reginald Denny as Max's associate, Frank; C. Aubrey Smith as a colonel; and Leo G. Carroll as Dr. Baker. The finale leaves you feeling somewhat sympathetic towards the unseen title character, and wondering if she was quite so "evil" and what she might have had to put up with as far as Maxim was concerned.
Verdict: Smooth, memorable picture from Hitchcock and producer David Selznick. ***1/2.