Last night I visited Manderley…not in a dream but by virtue of my DVR. I had recorded the Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca in anticipation of our bookclub this month and I’m so glad I did! Released in 1940, the movie garnered eleven Oscar nominations, winning two including Best Picture–a distinction well deserved.
For the most part, the movie remained true to du Maurier’s story. Joan Fontaine was perfectly cast as the uncertain, youthful second Mrs. De Winter. Laurence Olivier’s portrayal wasn’t exactly how I’d pictured Maxim but of course he was good as the troubled and distant master of Manderley. As far as casting, I was a little disappointed in Mrs. Danvers—Judith Anderson was far too young and not nearly as scary as the Mrs. Danvers of the novel. She was creepy, to be sure, yet her youth seemed to make her less believably so.
Alfred Hitchcock is a master, no doubt about it, and the film maintains the proper level of tension and mystery as befitting a Hitchcock classic. The circumstances surrounding Rebecca’s death are altered in the movie and I read the change was due to the Hollywood Production Code of the time that stipulated that any portrayal of the murder of one’s spouse had to include due punishment. Thus, in the movie Rebecca’s death is accidental.
Also, this film is over 60 years old and I oculdn’t help but wonder what sorts of lush, commanding vistas would comprise the Manderley estate if the film were made with current film technology. I assume Hitchcock’s Rebecca was filmed mostly on a set; it certainly had that feel, thus diminishing to some extent the beauty and presence of Manderley itself.
The most disappointing change, in my opinion, was the ending. Sure, we get some explanation and some closure that is lacking in the abrupt ending of the novel but, as much as I love neat, non-cliff hanger endings, I think I prefer the novel’s conclusion.
All in all, it is an excellent film and I highly recommend it, whether you’ve read the novel or not. Of course, the book is always (always!) better than the adaptation but Rebecca the movie is a faithful depiction of a fantastic story.
Wife and mother, Bible teacher and blogger, Lisa loves Jesus, coffee, dark chocolate and, of course, books. Read more of her reflections at Lisa writes….