Rebecca (1940) - Illustrated Reference

Rebecca was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and it premiered on March 27, 1940. Starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Nigel Bruce, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Florence Bates, Melville Cooper and Leo G. Carroll. Screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Music by Franz Waxman. 130mins.

Wealthy Maxim de Winter falls in love with a shy young lady while staying at Monte Carlo. They marry and he takes her home to Manderley, his country estate in Cornwall, England. The new Mrs. de Winter discovers that Maxim is still troubled by the death of his first wife Rebecca, who still has a strange hold on everyone at Manderley.

Rebecca was written by English author Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) and was first published in 1938, du Maurier also wrote Jamaica Inn (1936) and The Birds (1952) both directed by Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) had directed a series of critically acclaimed thrillers in Britain in the thirties including The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). Attracting the attention of Hollywood he signed a seven year contract with American producer David Selznick and moved to America.

Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine
Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce and Joan Fontaine
Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce and Joan Fontaine
Laurence Olivier, Florence Bates and Joan Fontaine
Laurence Olivier, Florence Bates and Joan Fontaine
George Sanders, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson
George Sanders, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson
Judith Anderson
Judith Anderson
Laurence Olivier, George Sanders and Leo G. Carroll
Laurence Olivier, George Sanders and Leo G. Carroll
Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine

Maxim de Winter: You thought I loved Rebecca? You thought that? I hated her!

Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) / Maxim de Winter

Born in Surrey, England, one of the greatest actors of all time Laurence Olivier was Oscar nominated 12 times, winning twice, a special award for Henry V (1944) “For his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing 'Henry V' to the screen.” And won Best Actor for Hamlet (1948), he also received an Honorary Award in 1979 “For the full body of his work, for the unique achievements of his entire career and his lifetime of contribution to the art of film.”

Olivier’s other nominations were for – Wuthering Heights (1939 Best Actor), Rebecca (1940 Best Actor), Henry V (1944 Best Actor), Hamlet (1948 Best Director), Richard III (1955 Best Actor), The Entertainer (1960 Best Actor), Othello (1965 Best Actor), Sleuth (1972 Best Actor), Marathon Man (1976 Best Supporting Actor) and The Boys from Brazil (1978 Best Actor).

Joan Fontaine (1917-) / Mrs. De Winter

Born in Tokyo, Japan to English parents, Joan Fontaine won a Best Actress Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941) and was nominated for Rebecca (1940) and The Constant Nymph (1943). She is the sister of Olivia de Havilland.

Her films include – Gunga Din (1939), Jane Eyre (1943), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Emperor Waltz (1948), Born to be Bad (1950), Ivanhoe (1952), Casanova’s Big Night (1954), Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1958), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), and The Witches (1966).

George Sanders (1906-1972) / Jack Favell

Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia to English parents, George Sanders won a Best Actor Oscar for All About Eve (1950 as Addison DeWitt). His films include – Lloyds of London (1936), The Saint Strikes Back (1939 as Simon Templar), Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Black Swan (1942), The Lodger (1944), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Samson and Delilah (1949), Ivanhoe (1952 as De Boise-Guilbert), King Richard and the Crusaders (1954), Solomon and Sheba (1959), Village of the Damned (1960), A Shot in the Dark (1964), The Jungle Book (1967 voice of Shere Khan) and The Kremlin Letter (1970).

Mrs. Danvers: Why don't you go? Why don't you leave Manderley? He doesn't need you... he's got his memories. He doesn't love you, he wants to be alone again with her. You've nothing to stay for. You've nothing to live for really, have you? Look down there. It's easy, isn't it? Why don't you? Go on... Go on... Don't be afraid...

Judith Anderson (1897-1992) / Mrs. Danvers

Born in Adelaide, Australia, Judith Anderson was Oscar Nominated Best Supporting Actress for Rebecca (1940). Her films include – Kings Row (1942), Edge of Darkness (1943), Laura (1944), And Than There Were None (1945), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Salome (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956 as Memnet), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Cinderfella (1960), A Man Called Horse (1970) and Star Trek III The Search for Spock (1984 Vulcan High Priestess).

Nigel Bruce (1895-1953) / Major Giles Lacy

Gladys Cooper (1888-1971) / Beatrice Lacy

Reginald Denny (1891-1967) / Frank Crawley

C. Aubrey Smith (1863-1948) / Colonel Julyan

Florence Bates (1888-1954) / Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper

Melville Cooper (1896-1973) / Coroner

Leo G. Carroll (1886-1972) / Dr. Baker


[opening narration] "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."

Rebecca was Hitchcock’s first American movie and his only movie to win a Best Picture Oscar. Hitch was Oscar nominated 5 times for Best Director and never won, he received the Irving G Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968.

When Selznick bought the rights to the novel he had originally wanted Ronald Colman and Carole Lombard to play the leads. Olivier and William Powell were his second choices for Maxim. Robert Donat and Leslie Howard were also considered.

Maureen O’ Hara was up for the role of Mrs de Winter, Laurence Olivier wanted his lady love Vivien Leigh to play the part, but the studio and Hitchcock felt that she didn’t look convincingly innocent and shy enough for the role. Vivien might have been more suitable as the cold-hearted and beautiful “Rebecca” if they had considered making a prequel.

To make Joan Fontaine look more uneasy in the role Hitchcock whispered to her that everyone on the set hated her making the young actress feel more insecure and suspicious of everyone. And Olivier treated her badly because Vivien didn’t get the part.

Joan Fontaine’s character is not named in the book or the film, she is merely referred to as the new Mrs. de Winter. It’s funny, fascinating and a little maddening watching the film and seeing all the main characters including her husband finding various ways to avoid saying her name, and a little unrealistic too.

Maxim: I knew where Rebecca's body was, lying on that cabin floor on the bottom of the sea.
Mrs. de Winter: How did you know, Maxim?
Maxim: Because... I put it there.

One important difference between the book and the film is that in the novel Maxim shoots Rebecca dead in her boat after she taunts him about her numerous love affairs, but in the film she trips over and hits her head hard on the ship’s tackle, dying from her injuries, her death an accident.

The reason for the change is that the US censor insisted that “an unpunished murder cannot be approved” and the studio wanted the film to have a happy ending.

Manderley in long shot was a miniature surrounded by miniature trees, Selznick scoured America for a suitable gothic mansion for Manderley and couldn’t find one.

The film famously ends with a tracking shot to Rebecca’s burning bed and a close shot of her pillow embroidered with the letter ‘R’. The producer originally wanted the film to end with the smoke from the burning mansion spelling out the letter ‘R’ in the sky.

Hitchcock’s cameo is near the end of the film, outside a phone booth.

Mrs. Danvers: You thought you could be Mrs. de Winter, live in her house, walk in her steps, take the things that were hers! But she's too strong for you. You can't fight her - no one ever got the better of her. Never, never. She was beaten in the end, but it wasn't a man, it wasn't a woman. It was the sea!

The late Rebecca’s biggest fan was the head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers who worshipped the former Mrs. de Winter and loathed the new Mrs. de Winter, at one point urging her to jump to her death because she has “nothing to live for”.

Judith Anderson’s performance as the evil Mrs. Danvers was quietly menacing, she is rarely seen walking and sometimes seems to be gliding into shot like a spectre, her infatuation with Rebecca could be interpreted as sexual. Danvers is one of cinema’s great villains.

Rebecca was nominated for 11 Oscars – Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Actress (Joan Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Best Music (Franz Waxman), Best Writing, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects and winning for Best B/W Cinematography and Best Picture.

It is ironic that Hitchcock’s only big Oscar win wasn’t for one of his famous thrillers but for a brooding gothic melodrama. Nevertheless Rebecca is a Hollywood classic that stands tall as one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces.


The Critics Wrote –

"Rebecca' is an artistic success whose b.o. lure will be limited. Picture is noteworthy in its literal translation of Daphne du Maurier's novel to the screen, presenting all of the sombreness and dramatic tragedy of the book in its unfolding. More important, it commands attention in establishing Joan Fontaine as a potential screen personality of upper brackets." (Variety)

"An altogether brilliant film, haunting, suspenseful, handsome and handsomely played." (New York Times)

"The mood of haunting fear is magnificently contrived, aided of course by Olivier's intense performance and the really fine acting of Miss Fontaine." (Photoplay)

"Riveting and painful - a tale of fear and class and power." (Time Out, 1988)

"Magnificent romantic-gothic corn, full of Alfred Hitchcock's humor and inventiveness. It features one of Laurence Olivier's rare poor performances; he seems pinched and too calculated - but even when he's uncomfortable in his role he's more fascinating than most actors." (Pauline Kael)

"Admittedly this story belongs to an artificial world more akin to Victorian melodrama than to the present day, but it is nonetheless holding and interesting, with suspense, dramatic situations and an unexpected and effective climax. Hitchcock succeeds in creating an eerie atmosphere and the acting of a practically all-star cast is admirable." (MFB)

"It's not a Hitchcock picture; it's a novelette, really. The story is old-fashioned; there was a whole school of feminine literature at the period; and though I'm not against it, the fact is that the story is lacking in humour." (Alfred Hitchcock, 1966)

Alfred Hitchcock with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier
Alfred Hitchcock with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier

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Comments 21 comments

Flora Breen Robison 4 years ago

Hooray! I love Rebecca! I am starting out as the first person commenting, but by the time I am finished with my comment, others may have commented first.

I love this movie- everything about this movie. Yes, the ending was changed-it had to be changed to fit with the code of the 1940s or it would never have been able to be released in United States. Of course, I am not giving anything away to people who have not seen any film version or read the book that both the narrator and Max DeWinter are alive and married years later in the present as this is discussed in the beginning of both the book and film-that is known to the audience right away.

Hitch, Hitch, Hitch-all Hitch! My favourite director of all time.

Both Joan Fontaine and her sister-they are not on speaking terms-are alive. How wonderful that they are still with us. I love her other film with Hitch-the ending was changed in suspicion too to pass the code.

I've never seen the first poster before. It is lovely.

I know the third quite well.

I love the Hitchcock quote. what a bizarre poster right beside his quote through- a passionate kiss about to happen, and none of the actors looking like the models-I take it the woman about to be kissed is suppose dto be the character we never meet? Makes no sense.

I own this film, of course.

I would like to see the 1979 miniseries where Olivier's protégé in theatre-Jeremy Brett-plays Max. Brett's first wife-they were long divorced by then-and the mother of his son Anna Massey played Mrs. Danvers. It would make for an odd jealousy angle that wasn't intended.

Some people don't like Olivier's acting as they prefer actor's studio acting where, quite frankly, I think some people go overboard (read-Marlon Brando and Robert Deniro). Not everyone from the actor' sstudio does this in every performance(like Eli wallach for example is different in every role), but a lot of their biggest names I think lost their own personalities while they were working on films where their roles were troubled (Clift, for example-great actor, but very mixed up). I am a big Olivier fan.

I am also a big fan of George Sanders. I am thrilled he worked with Hitch. He also made some non-Hitch suspense films too that I love

My favourite Judith Anderson role outside of this film is as the Vulcan High Priestess. she often plays characters I love to hate, but The Search for Spock film was not one of them.

Nigel Bruce, like Fontaine, was also in Suspcion -interesting irony there.

I have also enjoyed the careers of both Coopers, Denny, Smith, and Carroll. I have never enjoyed the actress named Florence Bates outside of this film-perhaps I can't accept her as any other role?

I cannot decide what my favourite black and white photos are, except to say that I love still portraits, rather than action shots.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hello Flora, thanks for the epic comment, an enjoyable read as usual. I thought it was time for another Hitchcock hub and this was a favourite of mine, I knew you liked it too. More than me it looks like. :)

I didn't know there was a TV mini-series of Rebecca, thanks for the info.

The two sisters not talking? That is a shame, considering how old they are!

I picked that poster next to Hitch's quote because he says Rebecca is not a Hitchcock picture and that poster doesn't look like a Hitchcock poster, well that's my excuse anyway. :)

I think the only other film I've seen Florence Bates in is the Gene Kelly musical On the Town.

By coincidence the title of my next movie hub also ends in the letters 'ca' what could it be? [bites fist] :)


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

Steve, this is an almighty hub on all things Rebecca. I love the plethora of informatio nand all the delicious pics. Well done/awesome. I love Hitch's take on Daphne Du Maurier's classic. The script, the atmosphere, the character building and the black and white photography all add value to Hitch's genius. I read Jane Eyre at school and I find a lot of similarities between Charlotte Bronte's work and this work by DuMaurier. Olivier and Fontaine are dream casting!

BTW is your next hub ( chews nail) on a film that has a famous and often misquoted line' Play it once , Sam, for old times sake!' and then ' Play it Sam, Play 'As time goes by'... by any chance?


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hahaha thanks for commenting Docmo and yes that Moroccan city might just be my next port of call. :)

Rebecca was great, the first time I saw it was on a video rental back in the 80's and I thought I was going to be bored by it. Loved it. I have watched it many times since and even bought the Criterion DVD of Rebecca.

Thanks for posting.


Flora Breen Robison 4 years ago

I think I know what the next hub will be! :) If I am right it is another one of my favourites.

Yes, I have seen On The Town. I didn't like the charcter Bates played either-chiding VeraEllen!


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Flora, I thought I'd get the two B/W classics done in one week before getting into more modern films next week. And there are plenty more Hitchcock classics lined up for the rest of this year at least.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 4 years ago from Sunny Spain

This is one of my favourite films of all time I love the posters you included in this hub.

I have seen the film many times and I saw an open air Amateur Dramatics production of this when I was about 13 or 14 which was over 50 years ago and I can still remember how good it was.

Thanks for all the pleasant memories this hub has evoked :D

I am voting it up and hitting the interesting button too


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks maggs224, appreciate the kind words and vote. I had about 20 different posters from various countries prepared for the hub, I think I picked the most interesting. I like the lobby cards too, the colouring of B/W was very good. Luckily still photos are rarely coloured in.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Steve, Rebecca is one of my favourite movies though i haven't see it or a few ears now. It really does have strong gothic undertones and Joan Fontaine is a bit of a wimp all the way through, unusual for the main character, but she has to be seen to change to protect her man I s'pose. I always hated Danvers, she moved on casters? Hitchcock should have won Oscars for other movies, rather than this one but it can't be bettered for perfect pacing, tension and suspense. Du Maurier certainly knew how to tell a good story.

Voted up, great photos, loved the posters!


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thank you Jools, appreciate the comment and vote. I loved Joan Fontaine in this film, so cute and shy and frightened. She was a little wimpy in her next Hitchcock film too, Suspicion, where she was resigned to the fact her husband, Cary Grant, might be planning to kill her, she was cute and frightened though not so shy this time. She won an Oscar for that role.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 4 years ago from Sunny Spain

I must admit I was very surprised that the posters and Lobby cards were done in colour for a black and white film.

I thought at first some one had made a coloured version using today's technology I know that they have done that on some of the first world war footage.

Personally I think the dark mood of this film is ideally suited to the black and white format.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

maggs224, the studios used to colour lobby cards all the time in the old days, even for black and white B-westerns. I know because I own many of them here. Posters were always in colour even in the silent days. But photos of the stars taken for publicity were rarely coloured.


brianlokker profile image

brianlokker 4 years ago from Washington DC metro area

Steve, you've done a superb job of presenting this movie, and of course the poster selection is fabulous. I love Hitchcock and have seen almost all of his thrillers, but I've never seen Rebecca. Clearly it's time to add it to my list. Thanks for a very enjoyable read.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Brian, appreciate the comment and kind words amigo.

Rebecca is definitely worth a look, but remember there are no scenes of birds attacking, cross-dressing nutjobs or the hero fighting the villain on a famous monument. :)


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Very nicely done. Rebecca always seems out of place compared to the other Hitchcock movies....that being said...it is a classic. For some reason I lately have been watching and re-watching Hitchcock(could it be that you and Flora are such Hitchcock fans?) movies. I just re-watched Rebecca about two weeks ago. I think I enjoy Sir Larry's performance more and more as I get older.

I enjoyed reading the reviews you included in your hub....especially the ones that appear to be from way back when.....awesome posters and pictures as usual. You have done a fine tribute to one of the master's most successful films. Voted up and interesting...as always.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hello Bruce, we're missing you around here [Bruce wipes tear] thanks for commenting on my latest Hitchcock hub, it is mucho appreciated.

I think this is my 7th or 8th Hitchcock hub, so only about 45 Hitchcock films left to write about. :)

My second Michael Curtiz hub coming up next.

Thanks for posting amigo.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

Hi Steve; This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. What a great cast. It deserved the best picture award for the year. Hitchcock at his best.

You always find the best photos,

Well done hub.

Rob


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hi Rob, thank you for the kind words.

Rebecca's Best Picture win was a shock for John Ford fans who thought The Grapes of Wrath would easily clinch the big prize, though Ford did win Best Director. Ford's next film won Best Picture a year later.

A bit of trivia - there were two Hitchcock movies nominated for Best Picture of 1940, the other was Foreign Correspondent.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

Colman and Lombard would never have been as good as Olivier and Fontaine. They fit their parts perfectly! That being said, I loved this hub. You've stuffed it full of good information and fabulous photos!

I have to admit I loved "The 39 Steps" but then I love all Hitchock films, even "The Birds" which, by the way, was totally ridiculous but it was Hitchcock!

Thanks for this great hub and for pointing me here. I'm going to have to look for more of your Hitchock films and link this to my Academy Award hub for sure!

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. P.S. How sad Fontaine and DeHaviland still aren't talking! I wonder what started that?


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for commenting on my old Hitchcock hub Mary, much appreciated. I didn't know the two sisters weren't talking until Flora pointed it out in her comment, it is sad and considering how old they are now. Sibling rivalry?

I was planning to publish hubs to about 15 of my Hitchcock favourites but by then I was getting more views for multiple film hubs than single film hubs and dropped the idea.

Thanks for posting.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 23 months ago from Virginia

I was revisiting HubPages....and saw this page. Wow two years since I have been here....your hub is getting better with age. The wife actually wants to see this movie....and she is not much of a Hitch fan at all.

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