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Rebecca (United Artists 1940, Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine)



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.

production details
USA | United Artists | 130 minutes | 1940

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Script: Daphne Du Maurier, Philip MacDonald, Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Michael Hogan,

Laurence Olivier as ‘Maxim’ de Winter
Joan Fontaine as Mrs. de Winter (2nd)
Gladys Cooper as Beatrice Lacy
Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers
Nigel Bruce as Major Giles Lacy
Florence Bates as Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper
Reginald Denny as Frank Crawley
Billy Bevan as Policeman
George Sanders as Jack Favell
Leyland Hodgson as Mullen (uncredited)
William H. O’Brien as Hotel Waiter (uncredited)
C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Julyan
Leo G. Carroll as Dr. Baker
Alfred Hitchcock as Man outside phone booth
Leonard Carey as Ben
Lumsden Hare as Tabbs
Edward Fielding as Frith
Forrester Harvey as Chalcroft
Philip Winter as Robert
Gino Corrado as Manager, Princesse Hotel
Melville Cooper as Coroner
Egon Brecher as Hotel Desk Clerk (uncredited)
Alphonse Martell as Hotel Headwaiter (uncredited)
Ronald R. Rondell as Hotel Dining Room Guest (uncredited)
Phyllis Woodward as Little Girl