Last night I dreamt of the Ocean, with it’s fierce waves splashing against the humongous rocks, in the coastal county of Cornwall (with apologies to Daphne du Maurier).
Rebecca is dead, and we never see her throughout the movie/book. Yet, the essence of her presence, is felt throughout.
A widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) meets a naïve, nameless, paid companion (Joan Fontaine), to a rich socialite, Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates), in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and the two get hitched.
Once their honeymoon comes to end, so does their stress free, romantic, happy life together, when they reach Manderley; de Winter’s ancestral home, in Cornwall. The spirit of his first/late wife is alive within every inch of the mansion, every brick and stone, and the household staff. Especially through the eerie Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), the housekeeper.
Plus Rebecca’s death is submerged with a mysterious undertone.
One of the most interesting thing to note, about this story, a novel written by Daphne du Maurier, and adapted to the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock, is the fact that, the character of Rebecca, is non-existent, and the existing character of the second Mrs. De Winter (played by Fontaine), has no first name, and no née name (prior to marrying Maxim de Winter).
The Beach, the Ocean and the vast Seascape
The beach in the movie, is showcased as, being both, beautiful and frightening. Aesthetic and ferocious. Soothing and haunting.
The film begins, as does the novel, with the famous du Maurier line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, which is now in ruins. And then the film flashes back, and we are in the French Riviera, with the sea waters beating up on the rocks, where a middle-aged man is standing on the edge of a cliff, staring, with lost look on his face, down at the ocean below, as if ready to jump. And a young woman, at once shouts, “Don’t!! Stop!!”. This is the first encounter of Mr. de Winter, and his future/second wife. So the couple’s first meeting itself is at a Beach resort, in Monaco. Soon the two start enjoying each other’s company, travelling around the beautiful costal stretch, of the Côte d’Azur. Yet, there are times he seems lost, especially when he speaks of Manderley. Once, she tries to change the subject, by speaking how warm and lovely the waters in the French Riviera are, and that in England it’s hard to imagine going for a swim, until June. Then, she mentions a man drowned once, unaware that Rebecca, Maxim de Winter’s first wife, supposedly was killed in a drowning accident, whilst sailing; which obviously only further agitates Mr. de Winter. In the beginning of the movie itself, we see how the sea is represented positively, as beautiful, breathtaking, scenic, warm and inviting; yet also in a negative light, associated with death, drowning and destruction.
After a quick civil marriage at the registrar’s office, we see them in Cornwall, post honeymoon, venturing towards Manderley. The young new Mrs. de Winter suddenly gets a chill, as if of impending doom. Once they enter the stone edifice/mansion, there is feeling of something very bleak and unpleasant within, and the entrance of the stoic housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, has the young bride’s nerves on edge.
The newly married couple’s room is on the East Wing, that has never been used before, and has no view of the ocean. Whilst Maxim & Rebecca’s room, use to be in West Wing, with a view of ocean, and which, with it’s massive windows and ornately carved doors, happens to be the most beautiful room in the house. From here onwards Manderley’s beach is represented in an eerie, foreboding, manner. Cold and damp. A stark contrast to the warmth and pleasantness of the sunshine stretch of the classy French Riviera. But we do see hints, of the statuesque, elegance and beauty, of what Manderley once stood for. And the second Mrs. De Winter, tries her best to bring back those glory days, back to, the life of the very respectable, Maxim de Winter, and his beloved Manderley.
The scene where the newly weds go for a walk in the estate of Manderley; just after the visit of Beatrice (Gladys Cooper), Maxim de Winter’s sister, and her husband, Major Giles Lacy (Nigel Bruce); a stairway to the beach below is shown, and we see that Mr. de Winter is afraid of something. He doesn’t want to descend downwards (not just literally, but also neither does he want to lose his status and honour; thus his attachment to Manderley, despite everything; nor bring back his haunting memories, associated with this particular beach). Their dog, Jasper, gets loose, and the new wife runs behind it, and comes across an isolated and neglected cottage, which has gone to wreck and ruin. She meets Ben (Leonard Carey) a crazy man who keeps repeating, “she ain’t comin’ back is she”. An obvious reference to the disappearance/death of Rebecca. Maxim de Winter’s reluctance to come to the beach, his new wife’s meeting with Ben, and de Winter’s angry reproach, afterwards, towards his young wife, for going into the cottage; all accounts to the fact, there is something mysterious and secretive, in relation to this private beach of theirs.
Almost soon after this incident, the scene involving the West Wing, is again in relation to the sea. The room in which once Rebecca slept, with an admiringly cruel undercurrent, is showcased by Mrs. Danvers, to the new Mrs. De Winter. As if in a trance, Mrs. Danvers tells the new bride, to just listen to the sea, and how soothing it is. Just then a ferocious wave splashes onto a rock, echoing a loud roar of pain and power. Yet, this manipulation on the vulnerable second Mrs. de Winter, backfires, and we see her gain strength momentarily, and get rid of all of Rebecca’s belongings, in the morning room, stating, “I’m Mrs. de Winter now.”
This is the first instance, we see, of her coming out of her shell of fear. Yet, the conniving Mrs. Danvers reciprocates, by conning her into dressing up in a mid-19th century ballroom dress, worn by an ancestor of de Winter, for the upcoming costume ball. Unfortunately, Rebecca had worn the exact same dress, for the costume ball held, the year before. Which only agitates Mr. de Winter, and shock some of the already present guests. We hear Beatrice gasp, uttering the words, “Rebecca”, in horror.
Now comes the most interesting sequence. The twist in the tale. The shocking climax. The foggy morning, the sea finally reveals, all the secrets of the de Winter household. The night of the costume ball, when second Mrs. de Winter, confronts Mrs. Danvers, about the outfit; and as Mrs. Danvers tries to, hypnotically, get the new bride to commit suicide, by jumping off the windowsill in Rebecca’s room, in the west wing; suddenly fireworks flare up, awakening them, as if from a trance. A diver had discovered the wreck of Rebecca’s sailboat, resting below on the ocean bed. But what’s worse is, Rebecca’s body too, was discovered inside the boat. Then who was the woman, Maxim de Winter identified as being Rebecca’s dead body, washed ashore, the night she went missing?
The day of revelation, the day of reckoning, is finally here. The day after the costume ball dilemma. It’s early in the morning, it’s still very dark. Through the fog blanketed strip of the private Manderley beach; that Maxim de Winter, early on feared to tread on; the new Mrs. de Winter, goes looking for her husband. She meets Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny); loyal friend of her husband’s, and her confidant; on the way. He let’s her know about the discovery of the boat. She ultimately finds the ever brooding, Maxim de Winter, in a state of despair, in the neglected cottage, where she first met Ben. Here he reveals to her what really happened the night Rebecca was killed.
This is one of the most interesting sequences, in the whole movie. As Maxim de Winter, sums up the happenings of the night Rebecca died, to his second wife; there is no flashback scenes, no ghostly figure hanging around, no windows/doors, shutting/opening abruptly, no glass breaking, nothing. The camera pans the room; from the sofa, and the coffee table, with an ash tray filled with cigarette butts, towards the door, where Mr. de Winter is standing, re-capping the events of that ill-fated night; and we, the audience, imagine Rebecca in the room. It must take a genius like Alfred Hitchcock to make that possible.
Here we, along with Joan Fontaine’s character, find out that Rebecca, wasn’t a nice person, as everyone believed she was. In fact, she flirted and seduced, everyone around her. She wasn’t a faithful wife. And this cottage was her hideout, where she brought her lovers. She fooled everyone. And that particular night, she had conned Maxim de Winter, into believing she was pregnant, with the child of her wayward cousin, Jack Favell (George Sanders).
Though mostly faithful to the novel, this is one of the major areas in plot, that the movie, Rebecca, differs to that of the book, Rebecca, due to silly censorship rules, Hays Code, of the time, under William H. Hays. But despite that setback, Hays couldn’t ruin the movie, and in fact, Hitchcock’s Rebecca ended up being a masterpiece. I want give away the main difference in plot here. Most of you film, and literature, buffs would already know. But those who don’t. Read the Book. Watch the Movie.
The movie, then lets us know, how Mr. de Winter, carried the dead body of Rebecca, placed it inside the boat, drilled holes, opened up the seacock’s, and sent it to sink in the middle of the ocean, never too be found. Until, unfortunately, a diver accidentally did. But the recovery of the boat and the body, weren’t exactly a bad thing. For the lead characters discover a whole lot of other truths. Like the fact that Rebecca wasn’t pregnant at all, it was something else altogether. The new wife, who’s been living under the shadow, of the dead wife, suddenly matures and finds strength, and is able to support her husband. Specially now that she knows, that Maxim never loved Rebecca, she’s not afraid anymore. When there are no more secrets between the couple, their bond strengthens. It’s still a very tragic movie. Mrs. Danvers can’t handle the truth, or rather what she is made to believe to be true, and takes it upon herself, to make sure, the newer couple could never lead a happy life in Manderley.
Just like the oceans ferocious waves, the roaring fires engulfing the beautiful mansion of Manderley; with the figure of Mrs. Danvers in the west wing, and the burning monogrammed ‘R’ (for Rebecca), on the silky satin négligée case; are beautifully captured. There is some excellent cinematography here, especially the way the beautiful interiors, of Manderley, are filmed. A masterwork of cinema, by a mastermind of aesthetics, suspense and intrigue.
Facts relating to Rebecca
Released in 1940, Rebecca was altogether nominated for 11 Oscars at the 13th Academy Awards held in February 1941, and won 2 Oscars. One for ‘Best Picture’ (back then known as ‘Outstanding Production’) and one for ‘Best Cinematography’ to George Barnes. This was the 1st and only win, for a Hitchcock film, and for American cinematographer, George Barnes. The Oscar ceremony of 1941, was the very first time, that the winners names remained a secret, until they were announced, just before they received the prestigious trophy. Filmed in Black & White, when Hollywood was going through a newly discovered obsession with colour, Rebecca, which was Alfred Hitchcock’s very first American film, is considered one of the Best Films, within the 120 year old history of Cinema. Plus, the character of ‘Mrs Danvers’ (played by Judith Anderson), is known as one of the best villainous roles ever. Rebecca is one of the rare movies, which has an interesting blend of varied genres, that explores, film noir, romance, mystery, psychological thriller, Gothic literary horror, incest, adultery, crime and drama. Yet, despite all those ingredients, it’s a movie, made in such a way, that’s it’s suitable for all ages.
Pure Excellence!!!!! Pure Cinema!!!!!
Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), considered the best adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s famed 1938 novel, happens to be my favourite movie adaptation of a novel, that I have read. Hitchcock is superb in creating atmospheric dread, and none the better, as he does here. Especially using the natural elements, such as the vast ocean. Rebecca is among my Top-5 all time favourite movies ever.
Beach Party Blogathon (June 2015)
Thank you Ruth and Kristina, for letting me be part of this interesting Blogathon. Thoroughly enjoyed it.