Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 1940. Selznick International Pictures. Screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, adaptation by Philip MacDonald, Michael Hogan, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Cinematography by George Barnes. Produced by David O. Selznick. Music by Franz Waxman. Production Design by Lyle R. Wheeler. Costume Design by Eugene Joseff. Film Editing by W. Donn Hayes. Podcasts: My Criterions. Academy Awards 1940.
A young woman who remains nameless throughout the film (Joan Fontaine) falls in love with moody aristocrat Max deWinter (Laurence Olivier) while working as an old lady’s companion at a fashionable resort. She marries the gentleman, and upon going home to her new mansion abode discovers that her husband’s first wife Rebecca died under such mysterious circumstances that everyone in the house seems to be obsessed with her ghost. Her husband won’t help in the information department when it concerns the first Mrs. DeWinter, and the chilling housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) follows our heroine around like the plague to make sure that the memory of her beloved mistress is left undisturbed (the part where she shows Fontaine Rebecca’s lace underwear is a repressed lesbian dream delight). Alfred Hitchcock’s direction of his first Hollywood film couldn’t be better, and all the performances do extreme justice to Daphne du Maurier’s story (slightly altered by the censors but more or less intact). I still get chills every time I hear the opening line (‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’).