Rebecca (United Artists). From beyond the grave dead Rebecca de Winter dominates the lives of her husband and his second wife as Manderley, the de Winters' rambling Tudor stronghold, dominates the misty Cornish coast. Beyond there is always the sea to which Manderley's weird housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, once listens as if to a sound nobody else can hear.
Nobody else can. For Alfred Hitchcock directed Rebecca, and the 17-stone British melo-maestro knows that nothing is more mysterious in a film than extra sensory perceptions. He knows too that of all mysterious things the most mysterious can be the ordinary human face.
The picture is full of watchful faces.
Rebecca is Director Hitchcock's second try at filming a Daphne du Maurier novel.
The first, Jamaica Inn, did not quite come off, due to friction between the bulgy Hitchcock and the bulky Charles Laughton egos. This time Hitchcock does it all his way, does a splendid job and has a splendid cast to do it with.
Laurence Olivier is surly, taciturn, Byronic Maxim de Winter, the master of Manderley. Surprise of the picture is Joan Fontaine, who plays the second Mrs. de Winter with a shy, overeager, childlike charm suggestive of Selznick's Swedish star, Ingrid Bergman. Judith Anderson is the housekeeper who worshiped the first Mrs. de Winter, hates the second. She stalks about as impassive and implacable as a Cornwall druidess.
Producer David O. Selznick has seen to it that Rebecca follows Daphne du Maurier's novel as faithfully as Gone With the Wind followed Margaret Mitchell's. So Director Hitchcock faced the usual problem of filming a wordy book how to convey long-winded off-stage narrative background without slowing up the fast-moving camera. Out of this handicap Director Hitchcock makes his most exciting scenes. Touching are Joan Fontaine's half-apologetic, half-reluctant reminiscences about her artist father.
Olivier's eight-minute monologue in the abandoned boathouse, as he tells Joan Fontaine about his last night with Rebecca, is the picture's real climax.
Hitchcock uses every directorial device to orchestrate the monologue the contrasting emotional tones (now expletive, now subdued, now casual) of Olivier's beautifully controlled voice, the dramatic pantomime of his gestures (now hopeless, now resentful, now resigned). Every angle of the fatal room is probed as the camera follows Olivier while he walks about aimlessly or leans restlessly against a wall, a chair, a window.
As his voice describes Rebecca's death, the actors disappear from the picture.
The camera reveals in the still life of the roomRebecca's ash tray still heaped with cigarette stubs, the over-plump cushions of her flowered couchthe real life of the woman which her husband is revealing for the first time to another person. As Olivier pauses, the cobwebbed telephone shrills like a police siren in the silence; scene and story reach their star-shell denouement.
Joan Fontaine has played bit parts in half-a-dozen pictures. She raised critics' eyebrows as Fred Astaire's leading lady (A Damsel in Distress), then made critics sit up with a small part in The Women.