As part of its new film series Shadow Play, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center screened Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Known for being Hitchcock’s first film (and his only film to win an Academy Award), Rebecca features Sir Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the main character. It is based off the book of the same name by Daphne du Maurier.
Rebecca is centered around the awkward main character’s sudden marriage to Maxim de Winter, a rich socialite. Initially shy in nature, the main character—whose name is never revealed—does not know how to fit in the world into which she married. Contrasted with her awkwardness is the ever-looming presence of de Winter’s late wife Rebecca. As the main character commits multiple faux pas, the reflection of de Winter’s socially capable dead wife begins to haunt her.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. As a huge fan of the book, I believe Hitchcock did a spectacular job bringing to life characters and scenes that closely reflect the book’s style. When adapting a book to movie, one runs the risk of not meeting up to the reader’s own visualization, but Hitchcock did very well in bringing the essence of the novel to the screen.
Unfortunately, since Rebecca was written from the point of view of the main character, major plot points and feelings which would have been easily read and understood in the novel were not so accessible to the viewer. For example, a majority of the movie’s conflict stems from an unspoken power play between the head maid, Mrs. Danvers, and the main character. Within the book, De Maurier was able to clearly describe the discomfort the main character felt around Danvers within a few words. However, Hitchcock was not afforded the luxury of speaking directly with audience members and therefore had to resort to the actors being able to aptly portray the correct emotion. This led to an extreme sense of overacting. Characters would often look longingly out of windows, or emit gasps and sighs that are unnatural in daily life. This dramaticism was not overlooked by the audience; instead of provoking any sense of horror or sympathy with the characters, the EMPAC audience was often laughing at the absurdity of an actor’s expression or bizarre action.
Also, the movie is quite old. Being Hitchcock’s first film, Rebecca was first aired in 1940, and some of the older film intricacies are quite difficult to overcome. There is a lot of error made from the voice dubbing over character’s dialogue, and some of the special effects were cheesy and easily detected. If one is not familiar with old film style, it may be quite difficult to fully appreciate Rebecca and its intricacies.
But don’t let my whining about dramatics or style of film deter you from seeing a great film! Rebecca’s story is exciting and thrilling. The characters are relatable, and the plot is interesting. Whilst the horror of the movie may be lost on audience members, it still has a haunting ring about it. Even through the dramatics, Rebecca is a great movie, and I would recommend watching it.