Rebecca (Blu-ray Review)

For his first American film, Alfred Hitchcock teamed up with producer David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind) to create a “spine-tingling” (LA Weekly) romantic thriller that Won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Based on Daphne Du Maurier’s timeless novel, this dark, atmospheric tale of fatal obsession features Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson, as well as a “haunting score by Franz Waxman” (Leonard Maltin).  After a whirlwind romance, mysterious widower Maxim de Winter (Olivier) brings his shy, young bride (Fontaine) home to his imposing estate, Manderley. But the new Mrs. de Winter finds her married life dominated by the sinister, almost spectral influence of Maxim’s late wife: the brilliant, ravishingly beautiful Rebecca, who, she suspects, still rules both Manderley and Maxim from beyond the grave!


Rebecca became Alfred Hitchcock’s first American produced movie when he teamed up with David O. Selznick to make five movies together over a period of seven years.  Hitchcock had wanted access to more money and bigger stars and all that came together for him starting with Rebecca.  Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, this Gothic tale of obsession and secrets was a perfect vehicle for Alfred Hitchcock’s talents.  His movie is full of dark and oppressive atmosphere that steadily builds suspense over the course of the movie.

When the movie opens, we see a man named Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter (Laurence Olivier) who may or may not be contemplating a suicidal jump from a cliff.  To a young woman (Joan Fontaine) who see him at the edge of the cliff, he looks like he’s ready to jump and she tries to intervene, much to his annoyance.  He runs her off only to later see  the young woman (who is never named) again in the lobby of the hotel.  He learns that she is the paid companion to the haughty Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates) who forces him to drink coffee with them.

It doesn’t take long before Maxim and the young woman start to see each other once Mrs. Van Hopper develops a cold and is bedridden.  For the young woman, Maxim is a handsome and dashing figure who belongs to a world that she can only dream of.  For Maxim, the young woman’s innocence and modesty is a welcome relief from his own personal demons that have haunted him since the death of his wife Rebecca de Winter.  By the time Mrs. Van Hopper is ready to return to New York with her companion, Maxim intervenes with a marriage proposal for the young woman which she readily accepts.

Now married, the couple returns to Maxim’s huge family mansion that’s known as Manderley.  Just seeing the house overwhelms the young woman and from that point forward she will continually feel out of place.  Upon entering the mansion she is met by an army of staff that are there to cater to her every whim.  On the surface, all of the staff are kind to the young woman, but they constantly make cutting remarks comparing her to the previous Mrs. de Winter. None of the servants are more bitter about Maxim’s new wife than the head housekeeper the creepy Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson).  Mrs. Danvers has an extremely unhealthy obsession about Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter and she barely is able to mask her disdain and fury from the young woman whom she considers to be common and unworthy.  Rebecca’s room is now kept as a shrine to her memory and maintained jealously by Mrs. Danvers .

Since all she has heard and seen since she arrived at Manderley is either Rebecca’s name or her possessions, the young woman becomes determined to discover the truth about Maxim’s late wife and to learn the details of her death.  That task isn’t easy since no one wants to talk about her other than Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca’s “cousin” Jack (George Sanders) who doesn’t seem all that trustworthy.  In fact, the obsequious Jack may now a lot more than he is letting on but she avoids him because Maxim has warned him to stay away.  Try as she might, the young woman is continually set up to fail by Mrs. Danvers whose acts of sabotage  keep getting her in trouble with Maxim.  At one point, Mrs. Danvers tries to convince the young woman to commit suicide and does everything she can to make it happen.  As you’d expect, eventually all of the secrets are made known, with every player trying to achieve their goals one last time.

Rebecca is a moody atmospheric mystery movie that many feel should be a thriller.  It has all of the makings of a thriller but that’s not the direction Hitchcock took it.  Instead, he focused on developing a forbidding, oppressive atmosphere once the couple arrives at Manderley.  This is a strange hybrid of a movie however, with the first part of the movie being presented as something of a romantic comedy (minus the whole possible suicide jump) but shifts gears once they reach Manderley.  Hitchcock slowly builds the suspense (a little too slowly for some) and the final reveal is effective but not as much as it should have been considering the talent behind and in front of the camera.

The cast is good in their roles but I wasn’t that crazy about Olivier’s portrayal of Maxim which I found to be uneven and overwrought.  His Maxim seemed to have two modes – imperious or bitchy and they could swing wildly back and forth in a moment’s notice.  On the other hand, the beautiful Joan Fontaine was excellent in her role as the young woman who is treated carelessly by her husband and has to endure the many comments that compare her to Rebecca.  I wasn’t too aware of Ms. Fontaine’s work, but I shouldn’t be surprised at her talent and beauty since she is Olivia de Havilland’s sister.  The real menace to the film belongs to Judith Anderson’s evil Mrs. Danvers who is a perfect Victorian era villain.  Determined to destroy the young woman any way possible, she resorts to insults, intimidation, threats, and subtle manipulation to do it.  By the end of the movie, you know the young woman is in danger just being near Mrs. Danvers which adds a lot of momentum towards the end.  While this may not be one of Hitchcock’s finest movies, it does have a great atmosphere and some excellent performances and I recommend it.


This 1080p (1.37:1) transfer looks pretty good, especially when compared to Spellbound which is another one of Hitchcock’s movies that has just come out on Blu-ray.  The film has impressive sharpness and clarity but still suffers from scratches and other age related issues.  I think they put more effort into restoring this film over the others, or perhaps this film just had a better source element, but in either case it looks pretty good notwithstanding.  Black levels are solid and the contrast is excellent.  The black and white cinematography looks great and this is an improvement over previous home releases.



I’m happy to report that Rebecca’s DTS-HD Master 2.0 mix doesn’t suffer from the same hissing that plagued Spellbound.  This track is quite an improvement in fact, with crisp clear dialogue and sound effects.  The score by Franz Waxman is also well balanced with the rest of the movie.  Unlike Spellbound, Rebecca doesn’t really suffer from the defects that occur on older movies.  The range may not be as impressive as today’s movies but it works pretty well for this movie.

Special Features  

Once again, another good collection of extras for a Hitchcock movie but this time there’s three radio plays and screen tests of other famous actresses who vied for the part made famous by Joan Fontaine.

  • Commentary by Richard Schickel – Time Magazine’s film critic Richard Schickel offers a knowledgeable and sometimes critical commentary of the movie.  He isn’t afraid to voice what he doesn’t like which is a refreshing change of pace from the usual practice.  He also tells some great stories and delivers a great commentary.
  • Isolated Music and Effects Track
  • The Making of Rebecca – A look at the making of the film and the struggles between Hitchcock and Selznick, the process of adapting Daphne DuMaurier’s novel, and more.  Fans of the movie will find this very interesting.
  • The Gothic World of Daphne DuMaurier– This is an almost twenty minute profile of Rebecca‘s author.
  • Screen Tests– A peek at what could have been since we see the screen tests of  Margaret Sullavan and Vivien Leigh (with her then boyfriend Laurence Olivier) if the part didn’t go to Joan Fontaine.
  • Radio Plays – In the other Hitchcock release, they’ve included a radio play for each movie, but this time they generously give you three choices:  the original 1938 version starring Orson Welles ; a 1941 Cecil B. DeMille production starring Ronald Colman, Ida Lupino and Judith Anderson; and finally a 1950 version with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh finally getting to perform it together.  Each of them last about an hour!
  • Hitchcock Audio Interviews – Another one of my favorite Hitchcock extras continues with another conversation between him and Peter Bogdanovich and François Truffaut.
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts  

The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Olivier, Fontaine and Anderson for their performances.  It ended up winning Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Cinematography and remains the only film to win Best Picture without being awarded anything for the acting, writing, or directing of the movie.  I can understand about the cinematography since it’s lush, moody, and captures the dark atmosphere of Manderley.  I also loved any scene that took place within Manderley as it was gorgeous to see.  If you are looking for a good movie to watch on a rainy day, then I recommend you give this one a chance.

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3 Responses to “Rebecca (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Glad to see all these Hitchcock reviews, as I’m a huge fan. Nice to see MGM delivering a lot of these titles. That said, with some huge exceptions, I think his work produced/distributed by Universal is where the majority of my favorites lie.

  2. Sean Ferguson

    Me too. My favorite is Rear Window but there’s a lot of other good ones like Vertigo.

  3. Gerard Iribe

    I loved the foreshadowing to Psycho, considering that film would not be released until 20 years later. Did you guys spot the scene? I won’t spoil it if you haven’t.