"I love it, but I'm not very good at it."
"Do you Rhumba?"
"I've never tried."
"You must teach me."
That particular exchange is part of a very nicely written dinner conversation that I rather enjoyed in Rebecca. It was the first thing that I really liked about the movie. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen until almost 45 minutes into the movie.
Rebecca is the first in a stretch of three movies that I really wasn't looking forward to when I started the project. I noticed that Gone With the Wind was right before them, and they looked like movies that would be in a similar to that. For me, at least GWTW has its history tie in. But all three felt very Wuthering Heights-like to me - classics, but definitely not meant for me.
I must admit that I knew very little other than the title. It's about a woman named Rebecca. OK. I also had seen the poster, which is shown above. Apparently this Rebecca woman is in love with Sir Laurence Olivier. So... boring?
Speaking of Olivier, I also wasn't too familiar with him. I have certainly heard of him. If I met him, I would know to ask him about a camera. I also knew he was well known for his legendary Shakespearean acting. In fact, I'll see his Hamlet as it was the 1949 Oscar winner. The only think I had actually seen of him was his role as Zeus in Clash of the Titans. I learned from him to find and fulfill my destiny. But it's a relatively small role.
There was one thing, however, that stood out about Rebecca. With overwhelming evidence pointing me toward not enjoying the movie, there was one hint that I could be wrong. There is another name on that poster that I recognize. The director. Alfred Hitchcock. That has to be worth something, right?
Right at the beginning of the movie, we get a could hints of Hitchcock. We walk through a spooky gate toward a spooky, dilapidated mansion. And in the next scene, Olivier is looking down a cliff in a shot that has an immediate sense of suspense. The shot also visually foreshadows Vertigo.
But then the movie slowed down. It felt mostly as simple as a whirlwind romance in the French Riviera can. Great for those involved, but not so exciting to watch. Since Gone with the Wind, was the previous movie on the list, I had just skimmed my write up that. It was bringing up memories of that. I'm not sure if I made it clear or not in that writeup, , but GWTW is SO DAMNED LONG. I was worried that this was going to feel like a repeat.
I did get to learn early on that the woman in the poster isn't Rebecca. Rebecca is the dead wife of Olivier's Maxim de Winter. So I guess that's actually her in the lower left. The woman played by Joan Fontaine is the new Mrs. de Winter. And I call her that because that's the only name given to her in the movie. This decision is clearly to emphasize that the movie is about the new Mrs. de Winter trying to live up to former and deceased Mrs. de Winter. Other than the exchange that I started with, I didn't love too much about that particular idea. Luckily for me, that's only what the first half of the movie is about.
In my write up of Grand Hotel, I noted that I wanted to avoid spoilers. It seems silly that I needed to do so for a movie that is 83 years old. With Rebecca now 75 years old, I wonder if I need to do the same. If so, if you're planning to watch it yourself, you should probably skip the rest of it. Just note that I really, really liked the rest of the movie, and it made everything about the first half work. Even though I'm not going to spoil exactly what happens, just know the basic idea of the second half ahead of time could make it less interesting.
That was your warning. Rebecca is actually a thriller. What really happened to Rebecca? How did she really die? Who was responsible? Who knew? What did they know? What did they think they knew? The costume ball scene looks like it's going to take you even further in the direction you thought you were going in. It looks like the comparison and competition between the new and old Mrs. de Winter will come to a head. It instead leads us to the heart of the mystery. You discover that the suspense has been building the whole time, but not to what you thought it would.
This is truly laying the foundation for later Hitchcock films. I already mentioned Vertigo, and you will also get a feel for Norman Bates in Psycho whenever the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is on the screen. And that goes double for her final scene. Watching Rebecca didn't just remind me to watch more Oscar winning movies. It reminded me to watch more Hitchcock.
If you want to appreciate the beauty of black and white movies, look at the interior scenes. The exterior scenes often look like bad green screen, as the backgrounds are not often lit as well as they could. But the interiors are great. I watched this in a rip from a DVD. I would like to watch the remastered Blu Ray version for my next viewing. I think more sharpness and clarity than what I already saw would be beautiful.
And yes, I'll watch it again. I would like to rewatch the first half with the second half in mind. I want to be able to pay more attention to the dialogue. I want to look more carefully at the early scenes to see what hints of the second half I can find. I have a feeling that many of them will be in the acting of Laurence Olivier. So if you kept reading this far and spoiled a bit of the movie for yourself, don't feel too bad.
NEXT WEEK: 1942 - How Green Was My Valley
Oscar Project Rankings:
- It Happened One Night (1935)
- All Quiet on the Western Front (1931)
- Rebecca (1941)
- Mutiny on the Bounty (1936)
- You Can't Take It With You (1939)
- Gone With the Wind (1940)
- The Life of Emile Zola (1938)
- Grand Hotel (1933)
- Cimarron (1932)
- The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
- Broadway Melody (1930)
- Wings (1929)
- Cavalcade (1934)