Rebecca (1940) starring Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine

INTRODUCTION

[1] The first thing that you notice is the outstanding cinematography. 

[2] …Joan Fontaine is just perfect as de Winter’s new bride. I can’t spot an unconvincing moment in her performance and can’t imagine any other actress in the role. 

[3] Her [Judith Anderson’s] presence is as dark and foreboding as that of the deceased Rebecca herself, and Fontaine is evidently cowed by her icy stare and unnervingly formal manner. The dynamics between the two actresses are wonderful. 

-Excerpts from various reviews on IMDB

Alfred Hitchcock often claimed that this film wasn’t his own. It belonged to Daphne Du Maurier because she had created such vivid characters and such a complex and exciting story. I disagree. You can’t deny his hallmark in all areas of this expertly crafted film. -Bette’s Classic Movie Blog

It is said that director Alfred Hitchcock encouraged the cast to shun Joan Fontaine (sister of Olivia de Havilland), even going as so far as to tell her “everyone here hates you” (in order to making her performance even more self-conscious and nervous in the lead role). Laurence Olivier was already upset w/ the fact that Vivien Leigh (his then-girlfriend) wasn’t chosen for the role. A gothic romance (inspired undoubtedly by Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), Rebecca is a suspenseful study in guilt and anxiety, exploring themes of love, obsession, and power. This is a moody (atmospheric) film which draws in the viewer w/ its music (by Franz Waxman), superb use of light and shadow, and (most importantly)- characters. The Grapes of Wrath was a fine film (and a great contender), but Rebecca won the Oscar. 

CHARACTERS

Narrator/Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine): A shy, self-deprecating young woman working as “a paid companion” (an assistant/friend). Her mother and father (who she said people didn’t understand) are deceased, so she (as a single woman) has to make a way for herself in the world. Sometimes you will relate to her; at other times, feel sorry for her predicament. 

It’s just that I, well I’m, not the person men marry.

Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier): A middle-aged, handsome, aristocratic widower from Cornwall, where he owns an estate- Manderley. He can be witty/charming one moment, then angry/brooding the next (like Mr. Rochester); he is trying to forget his past.

Happiness is something I know nothing about.

Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates): Rebecca’s wealthy/widowed/high-maintenance employer. The two ladies are vacationing in Monte Carlo at the start of the story. She is shocked when she discovers that her companion and Maxim are engaged; she asks:

Have you been doing anything you shouldn’t?

Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson): She seems to be as much a nanny-figure and a controlling mother figure, as a sinister housekeeper. She is creepily devoted to the memory of her former mistress, Rebecca; we are left to wonder just what sort of relationship they had. In the pivotal bedroom scene, she asks the second Mrs. de Winter:

Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?

Beatrice Lacy (Gladys Cooper): Maxim’s older sister who is surprised to meet the new Mrs. de Winter, but eventually warms up to her as a family member. She lives nearby w/ her somewhat comedic husband, Major Lacy (Nigel Bruce). Cooper is perhaps best known as the domineering mother to Bette Davis’ character in Now Voyager (1942); she also played Rex Harrison’s mother in My Fair Lady (1964). It’s nice to see her in a more lighthearted role here.

Jack Favell (George Sanders): A clever, charming cousin of Rebecca’s who we sense has a shady side. He shares secrets w/ Mrs. Danvers and feels contempt for Maxim. Jack acts like he feels sorry for the new Mrs. de Winter when he meets her by chance. Sanders has a pivotal role in All About Eve (1950), where I first noticed him and became a big fan. He was in another (gothic-inspired) film- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney. 

Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny): The manager of the Maderley estate; he is cordial to everyone in the household, including the new mistress. This is NOT the type of guy who makes (or likes) drama, unlike others in this tale.

Colonel Julyan (C. Aubrey Smith): He is a no-nonsense elderly aristocrat in charge of the court case (inquest). This actor played Mr. Laurence in Little Women (1949) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh (another of Hitch’s players).

Dr. Baker (Leo G. Carroll): He is a medical doctor in London. This prolific character actor appeared in several of Hitch’s films: Suspicion (1941), Spellbound (1945), Strangers on a Train (1951), and North by Northwest (1959).

THEMES

Food

Mrs. de Winter has trouble with eating. The long lonely dining room table separates her and her husband. Food is heaped up around characters: Jack tears into cold chicken, Mrs Van Hopper wolfs down chocolates, and “Oh! What a plateful!” exclaims Beatrice. 

Clothing & Hair

At the beginning, Fontaine’s character is dressed like she made terrible selections at a Macy’s basement sale. Later, as she tries to fill the role of the “great lady”… her clothes always appear too big and out of character. Note the black evening dress with the absurdly large flowers across the front and the overwhelming gown at the costume ball. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Mrs. de Winter is repeatedly subjected to adverse comments on her hair. When she tries for a new more sophisticated look, Maxim hates it. Hair (confined, unbound, luxurious, neglected) is mentioned several times in the film. We hear that Rebecca had long dark hair.  

Scent

Scent is as suspect and degenerate as all of Rebecca’s luxuries: a trap, a snare and a betrayal. -Les Senteurs blog

Mrs. de Winter talks of storing up her memories like perfume. Maxim comments that those little bottles “sometimes contain demons that have a way of popping out at you just as you’re trying most desperately to forget.” He prefers his new bride to smell natural. 

Innocence 

He had a theory that if you should find one perfect thing, or place or person, you should stick to it. Do you think that’s very silly? -The narrator says about her father to Maxim

The main thing that attracts Maxim to the narrator is her innocence (including her inexperience w/ men, unassuming manners, and youth). When she woefully wishes she were older and elegantly dressed, Maxim stops the car and solemnly replies: “Please promise me never to wear black satin or pearls… or to be 36 years old.” We can sense that Maxim has emotional baggage, but the second Mrs. de Winter doesn’t see the warning signs, or she overlooks them, being so much in love. 

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The Manchurian Candidate (1962) starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh & Angela Lansbury

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A poster for the film

…it feels as if it were made yesterday. Not a moment of “The Manchurian Candidate” lacks edge and tension and a cynical spin. And what’s even more surprising is how the film now plays as a political comedy, as well as a thriller.

-Roger Ebert

I love this movie & find it disturbing. It’s a thriller but at times it even seems a satire.

Sinatra is so great here, you hardly notice how good Laurence Harvey is.

#TCMParty (selected tweets)

I keep telling you not to think! You’re very, very good at a great many things, but thinking, hon’, just simply isn’t one of them. -Mrs. Iselin explains to her husband

There is something timeless, yet also eerily timely about this classic film (in Trump’s America). Though it was released in 1962, it is set in 1952 in New York and DC; the use of black and white makes it look older. I think the novelist (Richard Condon) was influenced by Hamlet; note Sgt. Raymond Shaw’s (Laurence Harvey) deep hatred for his stepfather, Senator John Iselin (James Greogory), who married his domineering mother, Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury). We are NOT told anything re: Raymond’s birth father; I imagine that he was a wealthy/intelligent/influential man. In the youthful romance of Raymond and Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), there is an echo of the feud between noble families as in Romeo & Juliet

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Maj. Bennett Marco and Rosie chat on the train in a mysterious manner.

Janet (Psycho) Leigh plays a shady, Robert Walker-like femme fatale whose cryptic language may or may not indicate she’s a member of the Communist Ring… The most celebrated (and widely discussed) meet-cute in film history occurs aboard a train, as Janet Leigh and Sinatra whisper sweet-somethings in the most roundabout, I’ve-never-heard-people-talk-like-this way imaginable. 

-Stanford Arts Review

Women are (in several scenes) depicted as capable, smart, and active agents in their romantic lives. Obviously, Mrs. Iselin is the power behind her loud-mouthed/dim-witted husband. A young Josie comes to Raymond’s rescue after he’s bitten by a snake. Rosie (Janet Leigh) approaches Maj. Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) during their train ride, shows him that she’s VERY interested, then tells him her address and phone number.

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Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) and Raymond (Laurence Harvey)

It’s a terrible thing to hate your mother. But I didn’t always hate her. When I was a child, I only kind of disliked her. -Raymond explains to Bennett Marco 

This is the type of film that you MUST pay attention to, or you’ll miss something! It showcases Sinatra’s acting range; many critics/classic movie fans consider this performance to be the best of his career. The Manchurian Candidate proves us just how scary Lansbury can be, if the script calls for it; I wished there was more of her performance. The way that she controlled Raymond’s life has contributed to how his life is like at that start of the story: humorless, friendless, and loveless. He attempts to get away by taking a job w/ a newspaper editor he admires, BUT alas, his life is NOT his own. 

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Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) faces off against Senator Tom Jordan (James McGiver).

There are people who think of Johnny as a clown and a buffoon, but I do not. I despise John Iselin and everything that Iselinism has come to stand for. I think, if John Iselin were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he’s doing now. -Senator Jordan says to Mrs. Iselin

Little details add to the richness of the story. There is a scene where an African-American soldier is having a nightmare/flashback (VERY similar to that of Marco), BUT we see that the ladies in the tea party are African-American. That’s b/c it’s happening w/in the context of his life, NOT that of a white man. There are two supporting East Asian characters, including Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh) and Korean translator-turned-cook, Chunjin (Henry Silva- of Puerto Rican heritage). In one exciting scene, Marco and Chunjin fight using karate. 

Spoiler-Free Review: Top of the Lake starring Elisabeth Moss

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Three of the ensemble cast: Thomas M. Wright, Elisabeth Moss, & David Wenham

I really wanted to like this show, but alas, it was not to be!  I read a BIT about it’s ardently feminist viewpoint (it was co-written by Jane Campion, the New Zealand-based director who gained much acclaim in Hollywood with The Piano).  I was interested in seeing David Wenham (also a New Zealander), who many of you know as Faramir in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Here, he plays a detective who somehow manages to dress well, live in fancy house, and sail on a boat. 

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A group of women set up a sanctuary (named Paradise) by the lake.

The premise is interesting- Tui Mitchell, a 12 y.o. pregnant girl, leaves home w/o a word or note for her family.  Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss from The West Wing and Mad Men), who is visiting her ailing mother from Australia, gets on board this case, having special training w/ youth.  Moss is simply miscast here- she’s the opposite of what I’d expect a cop to be, but she has a few nice scenes with Tui and her mother. 

Top of the Lake has been compared with The Fall and Happy Valley, but it falls short for several reasons. Though the remote New Zealand setting can be beautiful, mysterious, and captivating, it doesn’t make up for the one-dimensional supporting characters and dialogue that often seems removed from everyday life.  The presence of the guru-type figure, GJ (Holly Hunter), and her group of rag-tag followers doesn’t add much to the story.  

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GJ (Holly Hunter) is a willing ear for a group of diverse/troubled women.

As for those looking for romance, you’ll be disappointed, since Robin and her main love interest, Johnno (Thomas M. Wright, who is Australian), have very little chemistry together.  We learn that they dated in high school; he’s also one of Tui’s older half-brothers.  About 15 years ago, Robin and Johnno went to a dance together, shared a kiss, but then the night took on a horrible turn (especially for her).  Robin’s personal history w/ a few of the (not so straight-laced) inhabitants of this insular community cause complications during the investigation.

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Matt Mitchell (Peter Mullan) lives by his own rules… and gets away w/ it!

Tui’s father, Matt Mitchell (Peter Mullan), is probably the most troubled/complicated characters of the series.  You JUST don’t know what he’ll do next!  Is he a villain or simply a hothead?  Mullan (who is Scottish) is a talented actor, but I got the sinking feeling that he was TOO good for this show.  As a few critics have written, men are NOT heroes in this story, or even tolerable.  Almost every teen boy or man is a coward, violent domestic abuser, rapist, or potential rapist!  There is a sense of foreboding throughout the episodes that just gets boring after a while.  Worst of all, I just didn’t care about ANY of the characters!  I guess this is what happens when a writer’s/director’s “vision” gets in the way of the story.