There are seldom any directors that consistently manage to have an underlying aura of mystery to their films, which is never broken, flexed, or even bent. Alfred Hitchcock is one of them, commanding a solid filmography full of tales about different sorts of people, predicaments, and even animals. However, Rebecca is one of the oddest films; it stands out like a sore thumb within his filmography. Compared to the rest of his work, Rebecca is a fairly complex film from start to finish, and it has perhaps the darkest story in any Alfred Hitchcock film to date. So, did this darkness of the source story and complexity of characters help the movie? Or was it too much for the audience to bear? Let’s talk more in-depth.
How to Stream or Download Rebecca (1940)
At the time of writing, we couldn’t find a source of digital download for the movie, however, you can order it as a part of The Criterion Collection – click on the Download button to see your options. If you like black&white movies, check out also our reviews of Citizen Kane (1941), and Casablanca (1942).
The Movie Review
The story follows the rich aristocratic widower, Maxim De Winter, as he meets a young woman and marries her. Now, as a married couple; Mr. and Mrs. De Winter head to their grand mansion by the sea in South-West of England, the mansion is called Manderley. The housekeeper is Mrs. Danvers, a cold and distant woman who was so close with Maxim De Winter’s first wife, Rebecca.
Mrs. Danvers consistently speaks about how Rebecca was simply the perfect woman, constantly reminding Mrs. De Winter about her competitor to the point that she starts believing that Maxim is still in love with his Ex-Wife. Mrs. De Winter now tries to copy Rebecca’s styles and mannerisms, and throws a costume party just like Rebecca used to do however the party turns sour and it ends up with Danvers almost forcing Mrs. De Winter to jump off of the balcony.
However, a ship crash lands onshore, and during the rescue mission, they find a small sunken ship; which had the remains of Rebecca kept within it. This is the part where Maxim tells the entire story of how Rebecca was constantly manipulative; she hated Maxim yet pretended to be the perfect wife for appearances’ sake. Eventually, she got pregnant by her lover and Cousin Jack Favell and taunted Maxim that his property might go to someone other than his bloodline. However, during a heated argument, Rebecca falls and hits her head, dying in the process.
They figure out soon that Rebecca actually had terminal cancer, and would be living her life in pain and suffering; so she purposefully forced Maxim’s hand to kill her so that she doesn’t have to die painfully, and Maxim would be ruined after being convicted for murder. However, as soon as the cancer news comes forward; the judge proclaims it as suicide as Maxim’s lawyers win the case. Finally, they have won and Rebecca’s scheming bears no fruits. Now, as a free man, Maxim returns home and sees Manderley set ablaze by the deranged Mrs. Danvers. Everyone manages to escape, however, Danvers doesn’t. She dies when the ceiling collapses on her.
I usually don’t write the whole story of a film in a review, but in the case of Rebecca, you have to understand that this is a film about hatred. Rebecca was married to Maxim out of her parents’ choice; hence she always hated Maxim for her situation. Danvers’ hatred for the De Winters came from her friendship with Rebecca. Mrs. De Winters’ hatred for Rebecca was due to the fact she could never compare with a ghost.
It was a constant spinning wheel of hatred that Hitchcock’s beautiful filmmaking hid. The story is directed like an onion; opening layer by layer is what makes this such a suspenseful film. Even at the very end, when you think that the main characters have won, there is still more to it than meets the eye. Actors; Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine provide some of the best performances of their entire careers, breathing life into the characters of Mr. and Mrs. De Winters.
The film has a cinematic feel of anxiety, nervousness, and aura of chaos waiting to unfold. This is a film about decisions, and choices and each shot manage to reflect that with the heavy dark undertones and use of shadows within each frame. Sir Alfred Hitchcock was truly a master of his craft, and created some of the greatest films of all time; Rebecca is no exception.