Having read the Daphne Du Maurier novel upon which Hitchcock’s film was based back when I was a freshman in high school, I’ve been meaning to see the movie for a long time. I finally caught it the other day on Turner Classic Movies as they honored the late star Joan Fontaine.
Rebecca is about (an apparently nameless) woman (Fontaine) as she goes on a whirlwind romance with Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), eventually marrying him and moving in with him to Manderley. It doesn’t take long for the new Mrs. de Winter to find there is a hidden secret in Manderley connected to Maxim’s past.
I tended to have fun with Rebecca because high school English teachers tended to give the novel more literary value than it really deserved. A favorite point of analysis was the reason as to why Daphne Du Maurier didn’t give her main character a name when in reality Du Maurier admitted herself that she simply was unable to come up with one. You can now thank me: I helped you deflate discussions in your English class.
Despite that, Rebecca was a decent enough book. Things always get lost in translation when you adapt a novel to film, but I was surprised how much it was the case in the case of Rebecca because the book seemed like it very readily translated to a movie.
My biggest issue was I detected a lack of chemistry between the two lead characters. In neither the novel nor in the movie did the de Winters appear to have a healthy relationship. It got to a point in the movie where I was ready to conclude that despite being married, Maxim and Mrs. de Winter’s relationship was not a sexual one. In the book, the main character, who also narrated, pondered her relationship, while it seemed dysfunctional in the movie for no apparent reason.
The movie’s pacing was all over the map. The first 2/3 of the movie dragged as the main character spent most of it exploring Manderley and hints of what happened to Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife. The movie then tried to fit its entire plot in the remainder. I remember the conflicts being much more drawn out in the novel. The movie also opened up a gaping plot hole as it changed a major plot point of the novel in order to abide by the Hays Code.
What Rebecca had going for it was beautiful set pieces. Manderley, by all standards, was an impressive movie mansion, and the cinematography was top-notch. Despite that, I’m happy knowing Alfred Hitchcock’s directing style matured in later years as he went on to make classics like North by Northwest.
Despite the fact that Rebecca was the winner of the 1940 Academy Award for Best Picture, I can say the movie honestly wasn’t really that good.