Arguably one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films, his 1940 take on Daphne DuMarier's novel "Rebecca" doesn't find half as much mention as some of his later films. Undeservedly, it has always stood in the shadow of films like "Psycho", "Vertigo," "The Birds" or "Rear Window", easily overlooked and often forgotten altogether.
Fortunately for fans of great classic movies, MGM Home Entertainment has now prepared a Blu-Ray Disc version of this masterpiece, making it available in high definition for the first time. I could hardly wait to give this disc a spin, as "Rebecca" has always held a special place in my heart with its almost poetic beauty and its thrilling twists.
A naive and somewhat simple young woman (Joan Fontaine), is working as a hired travel companion for decadent, rich ladies. On one of her assignments she ends up in Monte Carlo at the French Riviera where she gets to meet the handsome Maxim DeWinter (Laurence Olivier), a wealthy and respectable widower. DeWinter is quickly attracted to the young and insecure woman and decides to marry her impromptu. The two return to DeWinter's residence, the fabled Manderley, a castle-like estate that seems to come right out of a gothic fairy-tale.
But upon arriving at the estate, a chilly wind is greeting the new Mrs. DeWinter in the form of Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), the housekeeper who never leaves a hint of a doubt about her dislike of the new Mrs. DeWinter and her adoration of Rebecca, Maxim's first wife. Utterly intimidated by Mrs. Danvers' attitude, the timid young wife, is completely overpowered by the shadow of the former lady of the house, and when Mrs. Danvers cleverly starts playing her cards, it seems even Maxim is starting to turn his back on her. Just when everything seems lost and she is about to crack, she makes an incredible discovery...
"Rebecca" is a romantic thriller that manages to build a chilling, eerie atmosphere that keeps viewers on edge all the way to the film's last seconds. What starts out as a light-hearted, somewhat snobby upper-class love story quickly turns into a nightmarish descent into the abyss of peoples' souls, where fanaticism and idolatrous worship create almost inhuman characters.
Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine are brilliant in their performances as both lovers, and individual personalities, each with their own knack. Olivier's outbreaks of anguish are remarkable and leave a lasting impression in viewers' minds, while Fontaine's innocent and fragile looks and portrayal are creating a perfectly intimidated and weak personality for her on-screen persona. Ultimately, it is Judith Anderson's remarkable figuration of the sinister character Mrs. Danvers however that will have chills running down your spine. Her looks, her stare, the way she moves and talks, it all adds up gradually to build the omnipresent evil aura surrounding this character. In the end, the entire story hinges upon her, and the way Mrs. Danvers is coming to life on the screen has made an unforgettable impact on this kind of character portrayal, creating an archetype throughout movie history.
"Rebecca" is a film that carries Alfred Hitchcock's signature all over and it is, as I mentioned before, one of his most atmospheric romantic thrillers. Certainly, it is one of his most unforgettable and haunting films.
The foreboding visuals, the smooth transitions, the constant use of the camera as an observing eye, and the atmospheric, soaring music, it all adds to the director's work and helps create this immensely tight tale of love and death. Combined with impressive landscape shots of the cliffed English coastal line, and a very gothic flair throughout, Hitchcock manages skillfully to create a film that is both gorgeous, and ominous. The highly effective lighting and camera angles, as well as the great production design that is evident especially throughout Manderley, enhance this feeling, sometimes turning even brightly lit rooms in daylight into almost brooding locations.
MGM Home Entertainment has released "Rebecca", a black and white film, in high definition in its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. The image is very clean for the most part, although some film artifacts are evident in a handful of scenes. I am saying "Film artifacts," because in today's world of digitally produced movies or digitally scrubbed transfers, it is easy to forget that there was a time when movies were actually shot on film, and film, by its very nature, has certain artifacts and changes as it ages. Unlike the previous DVD version released by Anchor Bay many years ago, the high definition transfer on display here is without major mars and the film looks solid and consistent throughout. However, it has a good deal of grain - a result of the film stock used to shoot the film in 1940. While the film has a good deal of definition, some shots do so more than others. Naturally, we expect great things from high definition transfers, but in cases such as this, the source material does not contain the level of pristine detail that would make for a stellar high definition presentation. What this Blu-Ray does, however, is to create a marvelous reproduction of the original film material, replete with its originals limitations, which includes a certain softness of the image, and the aforementioned grain. For real fans of the film, these elements go hand in hand with movies such as "Rebecca" and should never be seen as shortcomings of the high definition transfer.
The image offers the high level of contrast, which is typical for the era, but also renders nice gray fall-offs and stable highlights. It never feels washed out or blooming, making for a great looking transfer of the movie.
The Blu-Ray version contains the original mono audio track of the film in a DTS HD Master Audio presentation, which ensures maximum fidelity. Naturally, given the film's considerable age, once again there are certain limitations, and the film has a limited frequency response. The transfer is never distorted, however, and brings to life the original audio without problems.
among the extras on the disc you will find a commentary track by Richard Schickel, as well as an isolated track, featuring the film's haunting score and sound effects. Also included is a making-of featurette, along with screen tests, audio interviews and the movie's original theatrical trailer.
Since the first time I saw "Rebecca", some of the images have never escaped my mind's eye. There is a very strong visual quality about the film that makes it remarkable and memorable. It may in part be reason why it won two Academy Awards in 1940.
MGM's release of "Rebecca" in high definition is a welcome addition to a Blu-Ray catalog that is generally thin on classics. You can count the number of black and white films that have been released on Blu-Ray over the years on one hand, which makes this addition all the more welcome and precious.
The release looks and sounds great and conjures up the dreadful story about the mystery surrounding Manderley. For fans of Alfred Hitchcock's work, this Blu-Ray release is a must, but also for all other film lovers who want to see a classic thriller at its best, "Rebecca" is a disc that should not be missed.