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Blu-ray Review: REBECCA (1940): An Exploration of Memories and Obsession

Rebecca Blu-ray Review

Rebecca (1940) Blu-Ray Review, a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, and Judith Anderson.

Release Date: April 12, 1940

Plot

“A self-conscious bride is tormented by the memory of her husband’s dead first wife.”

Disc Specifications

Run Time: 130 Minutes

Format: Blu-Ray

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Language: English (LCPM 1.0 Audio)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Rating: Not Rated

Video

Rebecca is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion with an MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer.  This new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director.  Criterion outdid themselves with this release.  There is absolutely no grain, debris, cuts, etc that one would normally see on a film shot over 70 years ago.  Gorgeous Black & White cinematography has never looked better, with amazing detail in both close-up and wide shots.

Audio

Rebecca is presented with only one audio track, English LPCM 1.0. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for the main feature.  This film is dialogue-heavy, and all of it is crisp and audible.  The sound effects of the ocean and the fire in the finale are captured well.

Blu-Ray Bonus Content

Commentary – this archival audio commentary features film scholar Leonard J. Leff, author of Hitchcock and Selznick.

The Making of Rebecca – A very informative look at the production of the film, including the combative relationship between producer David O. Selznik and Hitchcock.  Shot in 2008.

Molly Haskell and Patricia White – New conversation between film critic and author Molly Haskell and film scholar Patricia White.

Visual Effects – The best bonus content in this release, an in-depth look by visual effects Historian Craig Barron.  He analyzes all of the techniques employed by Hitchcock to recreate France in California, and looks at the extensive miniature work the director used to create the mansion at Manderley.

Daphne Du Maurier: In the Footsteps of “Rebecca” – A look at the life of the author of the source novel.

The Search for “I” – A gallery and assembly of the screen tests for all the actresses that auditioned for the leading role, including Vivien Leigh (Selznick’s preference), Joan Fontaine, Anne Baxter, and Margaret Sullivan.

Alfred Hitchcock – An interview from 1973 with the director.

Leaflet – Included with the Blu-ray is biographer David Thomson’s essay “Welcome to the Haunted House”.

Film Review

The master of suspense, director Alfred Hitchcock arrived stateside and made his Hollywood debut with the psychological Gothic-drama Rebecca.  The premise of the film is a young, wealthy widower whose wife recently died (the titular Rebecca) named Maxim de Winter (played by Laurence Olivier) travels to Monte Carlo and their meets a young, naive woman, who is never named in the story (Joan Fontaine).  They develop an instant attraction to one another.  He proposes, and she travels back with him to his mansion at Manderley.  Once at the estate, she meets the servants of the house, including the head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson).

The opening twenty minutes of the film are the slowest, but once the newlyweds arrive at Manderley the film takes off into classic Hitchcock territory.  Hitchcock loved to explore the psychological motivations of characters, and here we have three defined characters that all have deep psychological issues.  The new wife of Maxim is made immediately aware of all Rebecca’s influence at the estate, including stationary, clothing, and bed sheets that all have her signature affixed to them.  She begins to feel inadequate, thanks largely to Mrs. Danvers obsession with preserving the memory of the late Rebecca and believing Fontaine is trying to take her place.  Once particular scene (and the one that I believe solidified the Oscar nominations for Anderson and Fontaine) in which Mrs. Danvers shows the wife Rebecca’s old bedroom, and goads the wife into nearly committing suicide.

This film is all about the past, and how Rebecca influenced the lives of all those around her.  A truly female-driven film from Old Hollywood, Hitchcock eerily explores the depths of madness in not letting go of memories and moving on with life.  The performances from all the actors is astounding, and on the technical side the atmosphere and shadows employed add to the experience of uneasiness, as you never know what is around each corner of the mansion.  This was the beginning of a successful partnership between Hitchcock and O. Selznick, and even though the two were in constant conflict, it cannot be argued that the labor produced anything but one masterpiece after another.

Rating Rebecca: 8.5/10

Disc Acquisition

You can purchase Rebecca here.

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About the author

Kyle Steininger

Born and raised in Chicago, Kyle has loved movies ever since his father took him to the theater to watch Home Alone. Since then, he has developed a passion for films and everything about them from watching endless DVD extras, interviews with cast/crew, and attending screenings of older films when available. Some of his favorite directors include Kubrick, Fellini, Scorsese, Tarantino, Leone, and Nolan.

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