Monday, July 17, 2017

Rebecca (1940)

The Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon is an event studying murder in movie marriages, hosted by Cinemaven's Essays From the Couch. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

Rebecca (1940)
from my DVD collection

As a movie about murdering spouses, Rebecca is a bit of a cheat, since the "murder" happens prior to the beginning. We know now that Hitchcock had to change the ending of Daphne du Maurier's book to appease the censors - Laurence Olivier only thought about killing Rebecca for having another man's baby; her death was an accident (yeah, right!) - but most people agree this is still a compelling movie.

According to the Criterion DVD liner notes, Du Maurier was less than thrilled with Hitchcock as the choice of director, because she didn't believe he'd stick with her original story, yet she turned down the opportunity to write the screenplay herself. Producer David O. Selznick was determined to keep the story as is, but the Production Code specifically stated murderers had to pay for their crime - hence the revision.

Hitch wasn't all that satisfied with the finished product, but for different reasons. He wanted Margaret Sullavan as the nameless protagonist; Selznick, after a long tryout, went with the relative newcomer Joan Fontaine. Hitch came to like her eventually, but he had to coach her a lot. Plus, members of the crew were snitching behind his back to Selznick. Hitch also was dissatisfied with what he felt was a lack of humor in the screenplay, although there's certainly a little bit, like in the early scenes with Fontaine's governess. As the director told Francois Truffaut years later,"[Rebecca] has held up quite well over the years. I don't know why."

The day I re-watched the movie was a full and slightly unusual one. I chose to watch it with Vija at her place, but before that, I had spent the day out in Long Island. I had a yen to spend the day someplace I had never been to before; I wanted to go upstate again, but I knew I wouldn't have had as much time. The seaside town of Long Beach was closer. They have a beautiful beach and boardwalk.

I went to a donut shop I had read about, but it was on the opposite end of town, a long walk from where I was. This might not have been so bad, except halfway there, it rained. Hard. I had to rush back to the train station in a downpour under my tiny umbrella, clutching the bag with my box of donuts, my feet soaked in my shoes from all the puddles.

Fast forward to Vija's place in the city. She had opened the occasion up to our movie-going group. Susan came, whom I hadn't seen in awhile. She enjoyed playing with Vija's cat. The DVD player was a second-hand gift from Franz, only he neglected to mention how second-hand it was. While it worked okay when we watched Lust for Life (despite the scratchy disc), here it chose to act up.

Vija had to fiddle with the wires and controls just to get the main menu. The disc played for awhile, but then the player stopped cold at the worst possible moment: right when Olivier was about to tell Fontaine the truth about how Rebecca died! This time, no amount of fiddling worked - and my DVD was stuck inside the player, unable to come out! If Franz had been there, I would've made him pay for my DVD! As for the movie, I had to tell Vija and Susan the ending by reading it off of Wikipedia.

But that's not all! We talked for awhile, and eventually Susan and I left. I walked to nearby Penn Station and bought a LIRR ticket home. Right after I did that, Vija called to tell me she got the player working again! I had about another forty minutes until my train departed, so I rushed back to her place to get my DVD. As I did, I got another call - from Sandi, back from her vacation. We talked for a little bit, made plans to get together on the Fourth, right as I arrived at Vija's place again.

She wanted to watch a little more of the movie, so we did. We got as far as the inquisition scene, in which Olivier is questioned about his marriage to Rebecca and Fontaine faints. Then I had to catch my train. At least I got my DVD back!

Other movies about homicidal spouses (an abbreviated list):
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Double Indemnity
Mildred Pierce


  1. Soggy donuts! Stuck DVDs! And the second Mrs. de Winter thinks she has problems.

    I think that the character of Jack Favell, with his overbearing and selfish personality, gives us a glimpse of what Rebecca was really like. Two peas in a pod.

  2. Probably. I admit I didn't pay as much attention to George Sanders this time around, but yeah, it wouldn't surprise me.

    The donuts came out fine! Weren't soggy at all.

  3. This is an embarrassing admission: I've only seen this film once, over 10 years ago. (I know, I know – how could a person let so much time pass between viewings?) However, you've put me in the mood to purchase soggy donuts and watch this film on our next rainy day.

  4. That's hardly embarrassing. That's probably more than a lot of people.

  5. Looking forward to seeing this one once it is re-released from Criterion! It's a Hitchcock blind spot. Thanks for the post, encouraging me again to get to it!

  6. My copy is the Criterion version. I bought it long ago. I wasn't aware it had been taken out of print, but I'm glad it's back.

  7. I really like your prose - the story of a stuck DVD is almost as compelling as the narrative of Rebecca! By the way, I had to read the ending of Some Came Running off Wikipedia once, when it started raining and the power went down.

  8. Before the new flatscreen TV and cable service, rain mucking with the channels was a semi-frequent problem around here too.

  9. Hi there Rich! Thanx for your contribution to my blogathon of this great Academy Award winning film. I wonder how it would have been received had the director filmed the book exactly as it had been written.

  10. Can't say. Would it have gotten as much Oscar love? That's what I would want to know.

    Thanks for having me.


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