A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #135: Alfred Hitchcocks’s Rebec­ca.

Mrs. Danvers

There are, specif­i­cal­ly, two things I want to write about in regard to this film. The first one is the act­ing of Joan Fontaine. It was no sur­prise to me that she was nom­i­nat­ed for an Acad­e­my Award for her per­for­mance, as this was an extreme­ly dif­fi­cult part to play. She’s a name­less pro­tag­o­nist (seri­ous­ly, she is nev­er addressed by name in the film), a shrink­ing vio­let weight­ed down by the shad­ow cast by the film’s absent-due-to-death main char­ac­ter, Rebec­ca. The pres­sures on her char­ac­ter are man­i­fold, and all that she is not is reflect­ed in what oth­ers tell her Rebec­ca was. Fontaine does an amaz­ing job mold­ing her pos­ture, facial reac­tions and behav­ior to empha­size this dra­mat­ic ten­sion. At heart though, her char­ac­ter is hap­py and eager to please, and each blow to her self-esteem so obvi­ous­ly wears down this basic good­ness that the film becomes emo­tion­al­ly tor­tur­ous in the style of the goth­ic nov­el. She walks to the very precipice of mad­ness.

Sec­ond­ly, I want to talk about the ways that Hitch­cock thwarts the Hays Code; some­thing he was appar­ent­ly very fond of doing. The Hays Code (or Pro­duc­tion Code) were basi­cal­ly a set of cen­sor­ship rules about things you were allowed or not allowed to depict when mak­ing a movie. If you do show some­thing like a mur­der, the mur­der­ers must be pun­ished by the end of the film. Hitch­cock man­ages to use the nar­ra­tive struc­ture of the mys­tery to hint at things that he can’t actu­al­ly show. It’s an amaz­ing use of psy­chol­o­gy; view­ers will try to fig­ure out how the pieces fit togeth­er and reach con­clu­sions based on the cues Hitch­cock pro­vides that are both incor­rect and in vio­la­tion of the Hays Code. If you read between the lines, there are impli­ca­tions of mar­i­tal infi­deli­ty, sui­cide, homi­cide, homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and incest. They most­ly all evap­o­rate by the denoue­ment.

This, the first of Hitchcock’s Amer­i­can-made films, is a very good movie, It’s no sur­prise that it was nom­i­nat­ed for 11 Acad­e­my Awards and picked up two of ‘em, includ­ing Best Pic­ture. Like most Hitch­cock films, there are a lot of balls in the air, but he’s a mas­ter­ful jug­gler and ensure that each ball comes down at the right time, and in the right order.