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Revisiting Rebecca (Pt 1) Off to Manderley

A 75th Anniversary Special
Alfred Hitchcock's Best Picture winner Rebecca (1940), based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, is 75 years old this month. To celebrate, Team Experience is experimenting with something entirely new: a baton pass viewing of sorts. We don't even know how it will turn out so we hope you'll stick with it and enjoy. Five of us will be watching Rebecca in shifts. So we each get about 26 minutes of it to write about. As your host, Nathaniel, it's my duty to start running when the gun goes off. In this case perhaps lighting an Olympic flame and starting to jog is a more fitting analogy?

Flames... Breathing.... on the side of Mrs Danvers face...

Part 1. By Nathaniel 

00:01 How I do love the MGM Lion roar. First some loud David O. Selznick fanfare in the form of a title card and then a Selznick pictures tag and later another Selznick credit. Guess who's paying the bills? And then a silhouette of trees, which hey, Isn't that how GWTW's title cards begin, too? Bragging much, Selznick?

Opening credits in old movies are always over so quickly. This one names only 35 people, and 5 of them are the writers. Can you imagine?

35 names wouldn't even cover the visual effects department credits on a remake of Rebecca from the fire sequence alone (this sentence was not intended to give Hollywood any ideas). Once Pandora's Box of Credits was unlocked, credits got longer and longer.

02:00 We begin on wrought-iron gates with one of the most famous of opening movie lines. 

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. 

(Something no one ever said about Lars von Trier's Manderlay.)

In her dream state opening monologue our protagonist (Joan Fontaine's Mrs de Winter) mentions the supernatural. She drifts like a spirit through those gates, winding through fog and trees until she conjures up a silhouette of Manderley, "secretive and silent," which is just as well because the lies begin immediately thereafter. She tells us that "Time could not mar the perfect symmetry of those walls" but that's the end of any notion of immortality. More...

You can never go back to Manderley but you can always return to "Rebecca"

03:21 She conjures the illusion of light pouring from its windows. The lights go out again, "like a dark hand on a face," and the camera edges us closer to Manderley until we're looking at ruins. So much for unmarred walls. Is Rebecca about death or merely the spectre of it? Fontaine sounds wistful but isn't this a nightmare rather than a dream, offering a rebirth of sorts before throwing us right back into the grave? She tells us we can never go back and then we go right back in flashback.

It seems like a cruel deceitful trick. But this way lies a Hitchcock movie.

3:53 Cut to: The South of France, some time before. Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) stands atop a cliff staring down at crashing waves below. He steps forward. Is he contemplating suicide or thinking ahead and auditioning for Vertigo (1958)? His future bride decides it's the former and urges him to stop.

Olivier and Fontaine are what one might call "wooden" at times in Rebecca. Check how smart Hitchcock is about overcompensating elsewhere in the frame. Look how baroque the trees and terrain are -- so dramatic, so many lines, so busy with wild curls and temperament and texture just like Manderley in comparison to these stiffs!

Despite their future marriage, this isn't a "meet cute" and he dismisses her rudely. She darts away like a scared bunny.

5:09 Princesse Hotel in Monte Carlo. Edythe Van Hopper, star-f***er, laments to her paid companion (our leading lady) that there are no "well known personalities" in town off season. Today we call them "celebrities" but she spots Maxim and her mood changes. Maxim joins them for coffee and keeps staring at his future wife, with more warmth this time and/or predatory wolfish instinct since she's still nervous as a rabbit. Edythe turns out to be a dullard, and doesn't even get Maxim's joke.

Edythe Van Hopper: Most girls would give their eyes for a chance to see Monte.
Maxim de Winter: Wouldn't that defeat the purpose?

When Maxim leaves suddenly Mrs. Van Hopper tells her companion the story of a young writer who used to dart out of rooms whenever she came in. "He must have been in love with me and unsure of himself." Yeah, that's it, Edie! Keep telling yourself. I'm totally stealing this convenient delusion next time I feel spurned by anyone at a party. 

Slut Shaming Round 1

She then blames Miss No Name (I love that we never know it) for Mr de Winter's sudden departure. Hilarious really since Miss No Personality couldn't be forward if she tried. In this scene we also learn that the gossip is that Max has had trouble recovering from his wife's death "...he absolutely adored her." 

8:46 Max demands No Name join him for lunch and she obeys. She tells him about her artist father who passed away and why he painted the same tree over and over.

He had a theory that if you should find one perfect thing, place, person --  you should stick to it. Do you think that's very silly?

The world should breathe a sigh of relief that Hitchcock surely DID think this silly and kept trying to top himself, creating more and more perfect things. Rebecca would've been many filmmakers peak. It's lovely but Hitchcock topped it frequently thereafter, don't you think? 

10:50 They go sketching together. Here is her sketch of Larry.

It is not a perfect thing. (But it is adorkable.)

The date turns sour when he starts thinking of his dead wife and she starts babbling to change the subject and tells the story of a man drowning. Smooth move, lady; his wife drowned!

13:00 ...which she soon realizes and feels terrible. JOY ALERT: THE BEST MRS VAN HOPPER SCENE. She is taking medicine from a nurse and then screams at her.

Wretched stuff. Get me a chocolate quick!"

LOL. I'm going to use this one next time I eat a vegetable. If she weren't such a bitch in the other scenes I'd be the president of her fanclub.

Cut to: Fontaine sleeping, dreaming of her faux pas on loop but she needn't have worried because we're whisked into the dating/falling in love portion of the picture as soon as she wakes up. Mrs Van H thinks her Paid Companion has eyes for the "desperately handsome" tennis instructor  (Slut Shaming Round 2) and that she'll soon be 'ready for Wimbledon' but nope. No Name is secretly running off with Max for some rear projection -- he rarely looks at the road while he's driving! There's also  a hilarious bit when they're dancing in which Fontaine falls into a dreamy crush trance and Olivier catches her in the act. On their second drive, Joan wears this hilariously awkward expression and suddenly proclaims:

I wish I were a woman of 36 dressed in black satin in a string of pearls!

... which won the Oscar for Best Non-Sequitor of 1940. Look it up. 

Maxim continues his wooing by insulting her / making her cry. Swoon [/sarcasm] He also makes her promise to never be a woman of 36 -- What an asshole! (FWIW, Olivier was a man of 33 in this movie) She agrees to never do this -- What a dope!

19:00 CONFLICT. Mrs Van H has to leave Monte Carlo suddenly and there's a lot of drama about whether or young rabbit will see Max before she leaves. He finally proposes to her nonchalantly from the bathroom --  four dates later. That's enough right? --  as she's trying to say her goodbye.

I'm asking you to marry me you little fool."

Because she is a little fool she literally can't keep her balance and sinks down into a chair, swooning.

Loving dreadfully but damn that's a smart travelling outfit.

She agrees to marry him because she loves him "quite dreadfully." No, no, second Mrs de Winter, he loves dreadfully. He's so dreadful at it that he's immediately all  "that's settled. Here's how I like my coffee --Don't fuck it up"

24:00 Mrs Van H finds out what's happening and engages in one final round of slut shaming (clearly Mrs Van H has a past --or wishes she did), insinuating that her Paid Companion has been doing things she ought'n't! She exits the picture with a harumph and a snide disbelieving "Mrs. de Winter".


And now I realize that I've been cheated of writing about Mrs. Danvers who hasn't shown up yet. Cheated I say. But here's Abstew with Part Two on Mrs de Winter 2 and Mrs Danvers introduction the lucky so-and-so. 



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Reader Comments (15)

Nice write-up, however I'm not sure from it if you liked the movie or not :-)

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

Mmm, my favorite Hitchcock movie. It's hard to decide which I love more, the book or the film.

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterprincesskaraoke

I really never got Joan Fontaine. Wooden with a capital W O O D.

I do, however, get this new idea, and wish for more. Perhaps "Peyton Place" or "Imitation of Life" or "A Summer Place". Something with MELOdrama!

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Great idea, a terrific way to gain a fresh perspective on an old classic.

I understand the need for the endless credits in the job to job, reputation building Hollywood of today but damn I love the brevity of old film credits when all the technicians worked steadily at one studio or another and moved from film to film so the matter of having their name on the film didn't matter in the same way.

Florence Bates was so brilliant at playing those total bitches like Mrs. Van Hopper.

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I won’t disagree that Miss Fontaine is wooden at times. But I think she is meant to be so….she is so awkward………….it sort of fits. And nobody plays a better scared rabbit.

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

A great film, a true classic.

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

The Only HItch's movie to score Best Picture Oscar, but Hitch, Fontaine and Anderson would be deserving winners as well...sorry Ford, Rogers and Ma Joad!

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

Adelutza -- i do like the movie but i think it's clunky in spots and that Hitchcock only got better as he went along.

Joel6 -- right? She's just A+ in this movie but irredeemable. Glad you like this concept. We'll see how it turns out.

PricnessKaraoke -- is the movie faithful? i haven't read the book.

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..." has to be one of the best opening lines of a movie.

love, love REBECCA and this recap, nathaniel! excited to continue tomorrow! can't wait to get into some of that crazy Mrs. Danvers action...

April 14, 2015 | Registered Commenterabstew

do her proud, Andy, do her proud.

April 14, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Love the introduction to this movie, those first lines are so evocative.
Great idea you guys - looking forward to the meaty stuff tomorrow.

April 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Nathaniel, the movie's fairly faithful to the book except for the ending (SPOILER: in the movie it turns out that Rebecca died accidentally, whereas in the book Max did in fact shoot her. Apparently Hitch or the studio didn't want the protagonist to get away with murder and a happy(ish) ending)

April 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

Also, the opening to Rebecca is probably one of my favorites ever. It does such a great job at setting the mood for Manderley as the main set for the rest of the story and also as the representation of Rebecca's "ghost".

April 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos


The movie is incredibly faithful in the book, other than the details of Rebecca's demise. In the book the "accident" was deliberate, but then by the Code, Max would also have to perish (or be punished).

Offhand, it's the most faithful adaptation of book I can recall! (The opening is word for word from the book.)

And, no. No spoiler alert. If the anyone in the audience of this blog hasn't seen this movie by now SHAME ON YOU!

April 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFrank McCormick

Great review. Just watched this again a few weeks ago (hadn't seen it in years) and it holds up really well. Yeah, Fontaine's character is pretty much a wuss and Max is rawhuh an abusive lout, but Judith Anderson just kills it as creepy Mrs. Danvers and Hitchcock gets the gothic mood & atmosphere just right. Looking forward to the next installment.

April 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRob

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