Today is July 6. As a heat wave strikes Southern California, my part of the country, we are continuing our celebration of #CleanMovieMonth! The temperatures may rise, but we are staying cool with Code movies from the greater Breen era (1934-1954). You can click here to learn more about #CleanMovieMonth and join the celebration of decent entertainment yourself!
Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting a two-day blogathon in honor of the masterful director of the suspense genre, Alfred Hitchcock. This is her second annual blogathon of this type. I wasn’t able to participate in last year’s celebration. However, this year, I have joined The Second Annual Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon. As usual, I am making my blogathon contribution part of my month-long series of Code film reviews.
When deciding which Hitchcock film to review, the decision wasn’t very hard. Since it is #CleanMovieMonth, I had to write about one of his movies made between 1934 and 1954. Out of the three Code Hitchcock films I have seen, I quickly chose Rebecca as my film choice. This 1940 David O. Selznick film appealed to me when I first saw it a couple months ago. This mystery with Joan Fontaine and Sir Laurence Olivier is quite a contrast to the sweet romantic musical I reviewed yesterday, The Chocolate Soldier. However, the Code era brought us classics of many different genres. It gave us historical dramas, light-hearted musicals, romantic comedies, patriotic musicals, and thrilling suspense stories like Rebecca from 1940.
A shy young lady is visiting Europe as a companion to the elderly, wealthy, slightly cantankerous Mrs. Van Hopper. When the older woman is taken ill, the bashful girl has a chance to explore on her own. She meets another guest of the hotel, Maxim de Winter, a gloomy Englishman whom her employer was eager to befriend. She and Maxim begin to enjoy each other’s company. While engaging in many activities, Mr. de Winter tells his new friend about the reason for his sorrow. He is a widower whose wife drowned a year before. The sympathetic young lady has compassion for him, but she scarcely dares to hope that the handsome, somewhat older man would care for her. However, on the day she is to depart with Mrs. Van Hopper, Maxim proposes to her. She accepts, and they leave for his estate in England on their honeymoon. When they arrive at Manderley, she is intimidated by the grandeur of his ancestral manor. As Mrs. de Winter, she is a lady of great position, and she must oversee a huge staff. Most of the servants are friendly and supportive to their new mistress. However, the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is immediately cold to the new Mrs. de Winter. She adored the late Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. Because of this, she hates to see a new woman in her place. However, as the young bride’s married life progresses, she is haunted by the presence of her husband’s first wife throughout the house. Soon, she realizes that it is more than just the memory of a beautiful woman. There is a deep, dark secret in the household, and it is woven around the legacy of Rebecca. Can the new wife discover the truth about the first Mrs. de Winter without breaking her husband’s heart? Can she ever escape the shadow of her predecessor? Will she be able to make her husband love her for herself? Watch the movie to see!
Mrs. de Winter is played by Joan Fontaine. Maxim de Winter is played by Laurence Olivier. Mrs. Danvers is played by Judith Anderson. Mrs. Van Hopper is played by Florence Bates. Maxim’s aunt, Beatrice Lacy, is played by Gladys Cooper. Her husband, Major Giles Lacy, is played by Nigel Bruce.
In usual Hitchcock style, this film is full of mystery and suspense. There is a lot of effect in the filming which was used to create tension. For instance, the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, was only seen from the nervous Mrs. de Winter’s point of view. Mrs. Danvers rarely blinks, giving her a harsh, eerie quality. She also rarely seems to walk; she always looks like she is floating. She appears suddenly, virtually popping out of nowhere. It is very effective.
This movie came from a very popular, highly questionable book. One of the main problems was the characterization of the late Rebecca as a perverted individual. Equally problematic was the fact that her husband murdered her in cold blood and got away with it. Unpunished crime was strictly forbidden, especially because Maxim is the sympathetic male lead. I think the solution in this film was brilliant. Without spoiling the story, I want to say that the treatment of everything in this film was excellent.
I consider Rebecca to be a perfect Code film. There is suspense, drama, and mystery, yet the mature subject matter is handled so well that the film is acceptable for all audiences. This is particularly remarkable when you consider the fact that this film was a collaboration between David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock, two filmmakers who were notorious for wanting to evade the Code. However, they both made brilliant films which were artistic and Code-compliant triumphs. Rebecca is one of the finest examples of this.
For the Blogathon
Since this article is for the Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon, I want to say a little bit about the famous director himself. Mr. Hitchcock made his American film debut when he worked on Rebecca in 1939. He also had his first opportunity of working with Joseph Breen. One would expect a filmmaker such as Mr. Hitchcock to dislike working with the strong self-regulator. However, Mr. Hitchcock’s feelings on the matter were very surprising. He said that he enjoyed his spirited confrontations with Mr. Breen, since it had the exciting quality of competitive horse racing.
As previously stated, he and Mr. Breen disagreed about the circumstances surrounding the first Mrs. de Winter’s death. Mr. Breen wanted Rebecca to die of cancer, while Mr. Hitchcock wanted her to have been shot by her husband. There is a quote about what he suggested to Mr. Breen as a compromise: “In the middle of the argument, I suggested that we get together on a hammer murder.” I think that shows the Englishman’s characteristic sarcasm and wit. When talking to a reporter, Alfred Hitchcock discussed his disagreement with Mr. Breen about the lack of punishment for the murder which Mr. de Winter committed in the book. The interviewer asked, “Would it be necessary to kill him?” Taking full advantage of the unclear pronoun, Hitchcock said, “You mean Breen? I don’t think so.”
In the end, I think that Mr. Hitchcock must have been fairly pleased with his decision to let Mr. Breen live. This picture was nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay Writing, plus four other categories. It won Best Black-and-White Cinematography and Best Picture. This was the only time that a Hitchcock film won Best Picture. I think that shows that his talent was able to flourish best when he had the restrictions of the PCA. Yes, he made some other fine films. This was not his only Breen era film, but it is the only perfect Code film of his that I have ever seen. With boundaries, plus the spirited give-and-take of breening, he was able to find the best depth and mystery in his stories. He wasn’t able to dwell on violence, gore, or amorous immorality, which was one of the frequent problems in his pictures. To me, Rebecca is an example of a properly self-regulated suspense film. It has all the nerve-wracking qualities a mystery should have, yet it contains nothing to offend sensibilities.
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