I read Daphne du Maurier's classic novel Rebecca a month or so ago and thought it was just staggering- a profoundly disturbing anti-Jane Eyre gothic love story about obsession and murder. When I found out the film adaptation was directed by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, I borrowed the DVD immediately, and now I think I'm going to have to buy it.
So the story is about a young woman, nameless, who marries the wealthy and enigmatic Maxim de Winter in a whirlwind Monte Carlo romance. He brings her back to England and his palatial estate, Manderley. The estate is ruled by Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, devoted to Maxim's dead wife Rebecca; Rebecca was a legendary beauty and hostess, beloved, it seems, universally. The new Mrs. de Winter finds she must struggle to fit in and be the great lady Rebecca was. Most of the time, she feels woefully inferior, and, haunted by reminders of the magnificent Rebecca, fears that her new husband also finds her inadequate.
Some things were altered from the novel, most notably Maxim's role in Rebecca's death. But 99% of the time Rebecca the film is a nearly note-perfect adaptation of the novel, from the opening scene to the end. Hitchcock masterfully reproduces the air of dread and fear surrounding the mysterious Manderley; he preserves the eroticism and the creepiness and just the whole atmosphere of dread and suspicion. And the actors! Laurence Olivier is genuinely creepy as Maxim de Winter, but possessing just the right amount of greasy charm at the same time, and Joan Fontaine is perfectly mousy and scared, like a frightened rabbit more than a newly-wed bride as she learns ever so slowly that no one will ever take the place of the beautiful Rebecca, even in her watery grave.
The DVD I watched includes some fun bonus features, including footage of Vivien Leigh's screen test for the role of Mrs. de Winter. I love Vivien Leigh but Fontaine with her wide-eyed innocence was the right choice.
This is a movie that's going to stay with me for a long time, just as the book will. I strongly recommend both; I'll have a review on my book blog in a little while but in the mean time if you haven't seen Rebecca I can't recommend it highly enough.