Alfred Hitchcock’s American debut Rebecca was a smashing success, and an intriguing change of pace after his British murder mysteries. Here, Hitchcock takes a subtler, psychologically-based approach to the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, more akin to William Wyler’s brooding “Wuthering Heights” (1939) than to the crime genre.
Laurence Olivier meets shy, retiring Joan Fontaine on vacation and soon marries her. When they settle at Olivier’s estate, Fontaine discovers that Olivier’s deceased first wife still rules the household through the servants (particularly a creepy housekeeper played by Judith Anderson) and a looming portrait.
Though Fontaine hears nothing but adulation for the dead woman, her true character is revealed when the remains of her boat wash to shore, making clear that the craft was intentionally sunk. Olivier then tells Fontaine of the torment his first wife made of his life, setting free his conscience as the housekeeper consumes the first wife’s memory in the flames of the burning estate.
As in the novel on which it is based, the name of the character played by Joan Fontaine is never revealed. She was given the name Daphne in the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s film, but the name is never heard in the film.
Academy Award Nominations: 11, including Best Director; Best Actor: Laurence Olivier; Best Actress: Joan Fontaine; Best Supporting Actress: Judith Anderson; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Editing; Best Score.
Cast: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Nigel Bruce, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: David O. Selznick
Original Story: Daphne du Maurier
Director of Photography: George Barnes
Editors: Hal C. Kern, James E. Newcom
Composer: Franz Waxman
Screenwriters: Joan Harrison, Robert E. Sherwood
Art Director: Lyle Wheeler
USA / United Artists / 130 minutes / 1940