So I just finished the first Oscar movie of the 1940s, Rebecca (although in part I was writing this while watching so it’s really long – spoilers pretty much throughout the post – you’ve been warned). My first thought while the credits were rolling was that some of the scenery was reminiscent of Gone with the Wind. Then I discovered that it was produced by the same company, so that kind of made sense. The first, of many things, that surprised me about Rebecca was that it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Instantly my interest was piqued. Add to that Nigel Bruce, the guy who played Watson opposite Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock, was also in the movie. I buckled in for some surprises.
Rebecca starred Joan Fontaine as Mrs. De Winter (she has no other name besides that, ever, so I’ll refer to her as DW) and Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter. The movie began the same way the story begins with a voice over by DW saying “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley” she continues to talk about the ruined home and then enters into the story of her life at a younger point in time. They go into a memory of a vacation in Southern France where DW was a paid companion to Mrs. Van Hopper (played by Florence Bates). The first we actually see of DW is her yelling at a man to stop because she thinks he is going to jump off a cliff (I quite agree that that is how it looked). The man tells her to get lost and the next wee see of either character is when they are in the hotel with van Hopper. Hopper is an older lady and a bit of a busy body. She spots Maxim (cliff man) and beckons him to join them. More awkward interactions ensue between Maxim and DW while Hopper blathers before Maxim makes his hasty exit. The next day DW is at brunch alone and is invited/forced to join Maxim. They have an easy conversation and he offers to drive her somewhere to sketch (after insisting she eats more food).
While they are sketching DW brings up that she once saw a postcard of a fine old house by the sea and that she didn’t realize that it was his home, Manderley. Maxim says that he will never return and becomes rather introspective. Trying to cover the awkward silence she tries to change the subject to the water (since they are indeed by the sea) and how it takes so long for the water to warm up in England and how the water in southern France is so warm she could stay in all day. That is if it weren’t for the dangerous undertow. She then remarks on how a man drowned there last yer. Again Maxim decides to make a hasty retreat and brings them back to the hotel. There Joan walks in on Hopper being a gossip to her nurse (for she has fallen ill with a cold/flu) talking about how she knew Mr. and Mrs. de Winter. Then she adds that the Former Mrs. De Winter drowned in a sailing accident. This sets the bar for dear DW. She can’t quite seem to have an interaction with Maxim that doesn’t end pretty poorly.
This might be why she is so surprised when the next day he stops her in the lobby:
Maxim: Off duty?
DW: Well, yes. Mrs. Van Hopper’s cold turned into flu, so she’s got a trained nurse.
M: I’m sorry for the nurse. You keen on tennis?
D: Well, not particularly.
M: That’s good. We’ll go for a drive. (Takes the racquet and hides it in a bush).
That starts many outing for the two while Hopper is sick. However the romance is threatened when Hopper’s daughter gets engaged and they must leave at once. DW goes to Maxim and tells him goodbye. He then asks her if she would rather go with Hopper to New York or Manderley with him, as his bride. She chooses that later and is accepted by all the servants save for Mrs. Danvers who is quite put-offish and cold.
There is something weird about Maxim and DWs relationship. Maxim treats her a bit like a child. Telling her what/how much to eat, what articles to read, or takes her hand to wave to someone else. In one scene it might rain so he sends a servant to grab a coat. When he returns Maxim goes to put it on her instead of carrying it (since it’s a rain coat and it hasn’t started raining yet). DW asks if she must put it on and he replies, “Yes, certainly, certainly, certainly. You can’t be too careful with children.” That sums it up in a nutshell. DW is, herself, a bit awkward and clumsy. This apparently is a never dyeing theme – quite prominent right now (hello Twilight / Fifty Shades of Grey).
Poor DW, as she tries to get settled to a new life style there are constant reminders of the former ‘Mrs. De Winter’. Some are subtle, like the napkins that are monogrammed as R de W, while others are more overt like Mrs. Danvers constantly making reference to how things were done under the former de Winter. She is often served back handed compliments. (Such as Beatrice (Winter’s sister) comments about how Maxim acts: “I doubt he’ll fly off in a rage with you, you’re such a placid little thing”. The comments are always said kindly, but if you listen to the words and not the tone they are quite rude.
DW always walks on egg shells, fearing she’ll set off Maxim. One day she finally goes to the west wing (a part of the house that hasn’t been entered since The Former de Winter passed away). Danvers catches her and starts to show her evil side. She does all she can to push DW over the edge. Sinking so low as to tricking DW into dressing like Former de Winters for a fancy dress party. The night of the party Danvers opens a window for DW to ‘calm down’ and get fresh air. Then she tries to convince DW to just jump and end it since she’ll never make Maxim happy.
That same night (it was a big night) there is a shipwreck and we get into the Hitchcockian twists. The diving team finds the wreckage of the Former de Winter’s boat. This puts Maxim into a tailspin. DW searches for him, knowing the effect it will have on her husband. She finds him to apologize for the costume mishap and discovers the truth about Maxim’s freak outs whenever the Former de Winter is mentioned. Oddly enough telling the truth makes it possible for them to actually grow as a couple. So as not to truly spoil the twist I won’t divulge what the truth is. After DW somewhat stood up for herself (or at least stopped being the child Maxim was use to) I started rooting for the couple and in a weird way they had a happy ending. All in all I’d watch this Oscar winner again. It truly wasn’t what I was expecting, but perhaps that’s because I thought this Rebecca was the same as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Definitely not.
Until next time ~ Q