Thursday, February 25, 2021

“Rebecca” casts a long shadow over Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine

Rebecca (1940) is an American romantic thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock—in his American directorial debut—and starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. The screenplay was written by Robert E. Sherwood and long-time Hitchcock associate, Joan Harrison. The film score was written by Franz Waxman and the cinematography was by George Barnes who won an Academy Award for his work on this film.

The film was producer and filmmaker David O. Selznick‘s follow up to Gone with the Wind (1939). It would be impossible for Selznick to match that success in his long career, but Rebecca won Best Picture and a Best Actress Academy Award for Joan Fontaine. It was a critical and commercial success and one of the biggest hits of the year.

Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine

Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980) was an English film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. Hitchcock directed over 50 feature films, many are classics that have been honored and studied for years. Some of Hitchcock’s classic films include The 39 Steps (1939), Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960).

Laurence Olivier (1907 - 1989) was an English actor and director who was one of the most celebrated actors of the 20th century. Olivier attended drama school in London where he learned his craft. He made his West End debut in Noel Coward‘s Private Lives (1930). More successes followed and he eventually made his way to Hollywood. He had a huge success with his role as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939) and Rebecca the next year. Olivier‘s career in films also includes lead roles in Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), Richard III (1955), Spartacus (1960).

Joan Fontaine (1917 – 2013) was a British-American actress who starred in more than 45 films during Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” After secondary roles in Gunga Din (1939) and The Women (1939), her fortunes turned with her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, Rebecca (1940). She was nominated for Best Actress for her role in that film but lost to Ginger Rogers. The next year, she worked with Hitchcock again in Suspicion and this time won the Best Actress Oscar, beating out her older sister Olivia de Havilland. She received a third and final nomination for The Constant Nymph (1943). Other popular Fontaine films include This Above All (1942), From This Day Forward (1946), Ivy (1947), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Emperor Waltz (1948), and Ivanhoe (1952). After the late-1950s, she appeared less in films and more on stage and television. Fontaine and her sister are the only siblings to have won major acting Academy Awards.

Others in the cast include Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers and George Sanders as Jack Favell.

Rebecca trivia:

  • Loretta Young, Margaret Sullavan, Anne Baxter, and Vivien Leigh were among the over 20 actresses who screen-tested for the role of Mrs. de Winter.
  • Hitchcock instructed Judith Anderson to rarely blink her eyes.
  • This is the only film directed by Hitchcock to win Best Picture.
  • Olivier wanted his then girl-friend, Vivien Leigh, to costar in the film which made him treat Fontaine very badly during filming.
  • Hitchcock shot the film in black and white to keep with the dark atmosphere of the book.
  • The director and cinematographer, George Barnes shot the film in deep focus, one year before Citzen Kane (1941) which is often credited with inventing the technique.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To Join the discussion on March 2, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. click here. Once you RSVP, you will get an invitation and link to join the discussion on Zoom.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What genre do you think best describes this film?
  2. Joan Fontaine‘s character has no first name; what effect does it have on the film?
  3. How does the relationship between Max and his bride change after they arrive at Manderley?
  4. What role does Mrs. Danvers play in the film?
  5. What are some of the clues to Rebecca‘s true nature?

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