Fontaine stars as the unnamed narrator and shy, young, second wife of the urbane and handsome Maxim de Winter (Olivier). They meet and fall in love while vacationing on the Riviera. Following their quick marriage, they return to Maxim's vast English estate, Manderley. His wife is introduced to an
army of servants who immediately, though subtly, display hostility toward her, as they all adored Rebecca, Maxim's first wife, whose death is shrouded in secrecy. As the servants become more hostile, the second wife grows more fearful, until she finally learns what happened to Rebecca. REBECCA was
a prestige project for producer David O. Selznick, who was still coming down off the high of GONE WITH THE WIND. As with that 1939 classic, Selznick surrounded REBECCA with publicity including a massive talent hunt for this film's leads. Loretta Young, Margaret Sullavan, Olivia de Havilland,
Vivien Leigh (Olivier's intended bride and GONE WITH THE WIND star), and Anne Baxter were all mentioned, but it was the 22-year-old Fontaine who was ultimately selected for the part.
Depending on your own feelings, you will find Fontaine either endearing or totally maddening. Whichever, she's right in the part; and Hitchcock's relentless camera seems to luxuriate in her emotional masochism. Olivier seems oddly out of command here--perhaps he and Welles should have switched off
acting chores on REBECCA and JANE EYRE. The supporting roles are rendered quite well indeed. Anderson, Sanders, and Florence Bates all reveled in nasty roles; they look delighted sharpening their talons on Fontaine's little brown wren. leave a comment
A landmark: Hitchcock's Oscar, his first Hollywood film and his second Daphne du Maurier adaptation in a row (JAMAICA INN preceded). REBECCA is women's gothic melo-romance, but Hitchcock makes it a film about his distrust and dislike for women. He must have enjoyed a private chuckle over
the women he knew would flood theaters to see it.