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With: Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Leo G. Carroll
Written by: Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 130
Date: 03/27/1940

Rebecca (1940)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Remembering Manderley

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) remains one of the Master's most overrated and underrated movies at the same time. It's based on a gothic romance rather than a traditional suspense story, and, at 130 minutes, it's one of Hitch's longest pictures. It was the director's first American picture and was heavily controlled by producer David O. Selznick. It won an Oscar for Best Picture, which Selznick collected, but not one for its director (John Ford won for The Grapes of Wrath).

Despite all this, it remains an extraordinary film, and it's one of Hitchcock's sturdiest and most enchanting works.

During a stay at a ritzy seaside getaway, a humble girl (Joan Fontaine) meets the noble, elegant Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) and is swept off her feet. They marry and wind up at Maxim's gothic castle of a home, Manderley, where the girl begins to find her happiness at risk by the unseen, haunting presence of Maxim's former wife, Rebecca.

Rebecca is a rare subdued work from Hitchcock, aided by the lovely, soft presence of Joan Fontaine, who perfectly fit the role of the shy, meek Second Mrs. de Winter (her character has no name of her own). Olivier perfectly matches her, always keeping just a bit hidden and distant so that we're never quite sure we can trust him.

Whether or not Hitchcock counted Rebecca as a good experience, he considered du Maurier a good source for films. He had previously adapted Jamaica Inn in 1939 and went on to great success with The Birds (1963).

DVD Details: The film is newly available in a crystal-clear DVD from the Criterion Collection, which replaces Anchor Bay's previous no-frills edition. This double-disc set contains a commentary track by Hitchcock scholar Leonard J. Leff, an isolated music and effects track, optional English subtitles, screen tests for Fontaine and other actresses, excerpts from Hitchcock's great interview with Francois Truffaut, cast interviews, stills, correspondence and notes, script excerpts, footage from the Oscar ceremony, a trailer, three hours of radio adaptations (starring Orson Welles and others), and a 22-page booklet. (Note: In 2009, the Criterion edition went out of print, replaced by a new MGM DVD.)

In 2012, Fox/MGM issued a Blu-Ray edition. It features lots of good extras, some of which carry over from the Criterion edition, and some of which were new to the 2009 MGM edition (such as a Richard Schickel commentary track). Unfortunately, it's not comprehensive, so completists will want to keep everything. However, the high-def transfer is truly spectacular, highlighting the grain of a beautiful black-and-white film print. Fox/MGM also released Spellbound and Notorious on Blu-Ray.

In 2017, the Criterion Collection gave us a glorious new Blu-ray edition, but with almost entirely different extras from the MGM release. It includes a commentary from 1990 with film scholar Leonard J. Leff, an isolated music and effects track, a conversation between film critic and author Molly Haskell and scholar Patricia White, an interview with film historian Craig Barron on the visual effects, a 2016 French TV documentary, Daphne du Maurier: In the Footsteps of 'Rebecca', a making-of documentary from 2007, and footage of screen, hair, makeup, and costume tests for actors Joan Fontaine, Anne Baxter, Vivien Leigh, Margaret Sullavan, and Loretta Young.

We also get a casting gallery with notes by Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick, an interview with Hitchcock by Tom Snyder from 1973, an interview with Fontaine from 1980, audio interviews from 1986 with actor Judith Anderson and Fontaine, three radio versions of Rebecca, from 1938, 1941, and 1950, including Orson Welles's adaptation of the novel for the Mercury Theatre, and a trailer. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by critic and Selznick biographer David Thomson and selected Selznick production correspondence, including with Hitchcock.

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