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While REBECCA ($25) smacks of being a British production, it was actually director Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, which the soon to be Master of Suspense made under contract to producer David O. Selznick. So, does the credit for the tremendous success of REBECCA, the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940, lie with producer David O. Selznick or with director Alfred Hitchcock? I find this to be a tough question to answer, since both men have left their mark on REBECCA. Selznick’s influence can be felt in the choice of subject matter, which has more in common with a gothic romance, than it does with the type of suspense movies that Hitchcock built his career upon. The meticulous attention to detail found in the film’s sets and costumes is another telltale sign that REBECCA is indeed a David O. Selznick production. And while the production design of REBECCA is trademark Selznick, it is the film’s visual style that is purely Hitchcock. Hitchcock maximizes the suspenseful elements of REBECCA, making the film far more mysterious and haunting than it would have been in the hands of any other director. Additionally, Hitchcock doesn't really linger on the film’s romantic elements; instead, he only uses them as a vehicle to deliver the audience to the mystery that lies at the heart of REBECCA.

Based upon the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, REBECCA tells the story of an unnamed heroine (Joan Fontaine), who is employed as the traveling companion to an overbearing dowager. While with her employer in Monte Carlo, Fontaine’s nameless heroine falls in love with the handsome, but brooding Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Maxim finds himself immediately taken with the simple, but awkward girl, who immediately lifts his spirits. When the girl's employer takes ill, the two spend considerable time together, in which they fall in love and quickly marry. However, the joy that Maxim and his second wife share in Monte Carlo proves to be short-lived, when the couple moves into to Manderley- de Winter’s ancestral British estate. Although Maxim’s first wife Rebecca has been dead for over a year, her presence continues to permeate Manderley because the estate’s housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) keeps every item in the home exactly the way the first Mrs. de Winter wanted them. Mrs. Danvers, who displays an obsession with the deceased Rebecca (one that seems to border on mania), does everything in her power to make Maxim's insecure new bride feel unwelcome in her new home. With Mrs. Danvers driving a wedge between her and Maxim, the second Mrs. de Winter is forced to confront the memory of Rebecca and the mysterious circumstances of her death.

While both Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine give superb performances, it is Judith Anderson’s work in REBECCA that almost everyone seems to remember. Anderson manages to walk a very fine line with Mrs. Danvers, making the character’s obsessive mania is quite evident, while restraining her performance just enough to keep Danvers totally credible and completely compelling. Additionally, Alfred Hitchcock heightens Anderson’s portrayal by filming the character of Mrs. Danvers as if she has a supernatural quality. Mrs. Danvers doesn’t walk as much as she seems to float across the screen. Additionally, her entrances and exits are always silent, as though she materialized from nothingness before appearing on the screen. In addition to Olivier, Fontaine and Anderson, the first rate cast of REBECCA also features George Sanders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Melville Cooper, Florence Bates, Leonard Carey and Leo G. Carroll.

MGM Home Entertainment through 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made REBECCA available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. REBECCA boasts a wonderfully film like black and white 1080p presentation that displays healthy doses of film grain that allow this motion picture to appear in high definition exactly how it should. Image sharpness and fine detail are generally quote impressive for a vintage film. George Barnes’ Academy Award winning cinematography is pure old school Hollywood glamour, so image sharpness shifts between sharper medium and log shots to close-ups that were shot through diffusion filters and appear ever so slightly hazy. Blacks are deep and inky, while the whites are crisp. Contrast and grayscale are generally quite excellent. The elements from which REBECCA has been transferred do display some sighs of age and minor print damage, but there is nothing significant to distract one from their overall enjoyment of this classic film.

REBECCA is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 2.0 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Most signs of background hiss and noise have been cleaned up in the mastering process, which leaves the soundtrack with a generally smooth sonic quality. As expected, fidelity has some limitations. However, Franz Waxman’s score comes across smoothly and in a reasonably full-bodied manner. Sound effects can be slightly canned, but remain effective. Dialogue is always completely understandable and the voices produce as much character as these vintage recordings will allow. No other language tracks have been included on the disc, but English subtitles are provided.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplements. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with film historian Richard Schickel. In addition there is also an Isolated Music And Effects Track. Featurettes and other programs include the following: The Making Of Rebecca (twenty eight minutes) and The Gothic World Of Daphne Dumaurier (nineteen minutes). Two Screen Tests are provided; one with Margaret Sullavan and the other is with Vivien Leigh (with Laurence Olivier). Next are Hitchcock Audio Interviews that includes discussions with fellow directors Peter Bogdanovich and François Truffaut. Three separate Radio Broadcast Versions of REBECCA are also provided on the disc. Totaling three hours, the productions stared Orson Welles in 1938, Ronald Coleman & Ida Lupino in 1941, and Laurence Olivier & Vivien Leigh in 1950.

Without question, REBECCA is a cinematic masterpiece that came into being by bringing together the individual talents of director Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick. The Blu-ray presentation is generally excellent. Absolutely recommended.


Rebecca [Blu-ray] (1940)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright © 2012 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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