BY LISA MARIE BRENNAN
Year released: 1940
How it fared back then: Extremely well. This sinister black-and-white film, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s thriller, won Best Picture and Best Cinematography for a Black-and-White film at the 1941 Academy Awards, and stole the show with nine Oscar nominations. It was also the inspiration behind two remakes and a 1979 TV series.
Why it has lasted: Its sinister plot and remarkable cast truly makes the film a success. Shrouded in mystery from start to finish, with suspense lurking around every corner, one can’t help but be drawn to the eeriness of the complex storyline. Actress Joan Fontaine is perfect in her role as a meek new bride, trying desperately to fill the shoes of the seemingly perfect former Mrs. de Winter. One almost doesn’t know what to make of Laurence Olivier’s character, who is charming one minute, and aggressive and angry the next. Watching this as a little girl, I found myself waiting until the very end of the film to discover Olivier’s true feelings for his new wife. That’s how hard his character is to read.
And of course, the creepy Mrs. Danvers, played by actress Judith Anderson, is the best addition to the cast in my opinion. Anderson is so often cast in the role of the sullen servant (see also: The Ten Commandments), but she is far more than sullen in this role. Mrs. Danvers is a jealous, bitter woman who has a ferocious loyalty to the former Mrs. de Winter and greatly resents the new one’s presence.
Classic moments: Mrs. Danvers’ attempt to drive Joan Fontaine’s character to suicide is a moment to be remembered. Her icy stare as she puts her arms around Fontaine, guiding her gently towards the window to gaze at the roaring ocean below, is truly haunting. I can’t say I was upset when Mrs. Danvers was engulfed in flames at the end of the film.
Another classic moment is when Fontaine happily skips down the grand stairway, anxious to show her husband her new ball gown, only to be met with his horrified expression. We can thank Mrs. Danvers again for that epic fail, who gave the unsuspecting Fontaine the former Mrs. de Winters’ dress to wear.
Does it hold up? The best part about this film, unlike films of today, is it didn’t need special effects to be a success. Rebecca could hold its own then, and could if it had to even in today’s world, without all the added fluff. The same creepy characters could be appreciated, and it wouldn’t have to be modernized to be a hit. With Halloween just around the corner, Rebecca is just as good a thriller as any, especially with Mrs. Danvers thrown in the mix.
Lisa Marie Brennan is an Ontario-based writer and editor, with a love for classic movies. Her favourite actress of all time is Marilyn Monroe and believes the misunderstood actress is not quite as ditzy as she was made out to be.