Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Rebecca (1940)

Anything would seem like small beans coming after Gone With the Wind. Anything. But 1939, the reputed greatest year in American cinema, inevitably had to give way to 1940. So here we are at the beginning of a new decade. Oscar is now thirteen years old and the winner is Rebecca, an Alfred Hitchcock helmed picture based on Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel of the same name.

Plot synopsis, like a boss: Joan Fontaine plays an innocent (and never named) young woman who is the paid companion of a wealthy old dowager (Florence Bates). While on vacation in Monte Carlo with said dowager, the young woman meets Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) a wealthy widower and the owner of the ancient and noble estate of Manderley. The pair marry after a whirlwind courtship and the "second Mrs. de Winter" finds running a large household far more difficult than she imagined. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), is devoted to Maxim's first wife, the titular and seemingly perfect Rebecca and makes the second Mrs. de Winter wrestle with her feelings of inadequacy.

I could probably write a very thoughtful and insightful analysis of this film, but not without spoiling it. I won't, despite the fact that Rebecca is, like totally, 72 years old. My review will suffer for it, surely. So here are some what I can mention: I like the film. Best Picture Winners based around females and especially feminine neurosis are exceptionally rare. Off the top of my head, there's Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, All About Eve, and Terms of Endearment, but let's not go down that rabbit hole.

Yes, yes, I liked it even though it had a little bit of a genre identity crises. The first act is sort of like a rom-com with an edge. The second act is full-on gothic romance, and the most interesting part of the movie for me. Overall, I would have preferred an 19th century setting vs. the 30's/40's, who wouldn't? And the last act treads into mystery/detective territory. After the twist is revealed (It's Hitchcock. There's a twist) I sort of lose interest. That isn't to say the twist is boring or unmerited, it just transforms the film from a emotionally/psychologically driven story to an externally conflicted one. And me no so much like external conflict.

Bitch, bitch, bitch. Rebecca is really, pretty good. Notice I said "pretty good" which basically means, good with a "but..." While reading other bloggers' reviews of this one, everyone pretty much likes it but... My "but" is, as stated above, the third act. Others are let down by...stuff? There just seems to be a vague disappointment surrounding Rebecca. Perhaps it's because people expect something more from a Hitchcock film. (Confession: I have only seen Vertigo and Psycho so I'm not sure what they want).

Um...what else?

Oh, yes. Mrs. Danvers.

Mrs. Danvers is an infamous character. One of the "greatest villains of all time" according to the hacks at the American Film Institute. It is strongly suggested that Mrs. Danvers is a lesbian and that she has a big ol' lesbian crush on Rebecca. Gay stereotypes in Hollywood have just as rich of a history as those of blacks and other minorities. Post Hays Code, gays were allowed on screen but usually as villains. It is not Mrs. Danvers' reputed homosexuality that directly makes her a villain, it is her obsessive nature. I feel that Mrs. Danvers would attempt to destroy anyone--man, woman, or child--who attempted to replace her fallen idol--man, woman, or child.*

Another thing: Mrs. Danvers seems strictly Rebecca-sexual and is never seen coming on to other women or our heroine. Food for thought.

Ultimately, Rebecca is probably just one of those middling Best Picture Winners. But it's one that I like and look forward to watching again when I inevitably re-rank these movies in the next decade. Having seen only one other BP nominee from this year, I am sort of surprised that Rebecca snagged the Oscar. I mean, it's just sort of girly and I don't understand how all of Hollywood (re: the Academy) could be that taken by it. (I also heard somewhere that the Oscar lobbying for this movie was insane.)

P.S. I want to watch Laurence Olivier act some more.

Impressions circa 2004
Positive. Love triangle with a dead woman? Yes, please.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Alfred Hitchcock 
  • Best Actor - Laurence Olivier 
  • Best Actress - Joan Fontaine 
  • Best Supporting Actress - Judith Anderson 
  • Best Adapted Screenplay 
  • Best Cinematography, Black and White 
  • Best Art Direction, Black and White 
  • Best Special Effects 
  • Best Film Editing 
  • Best Music, Original Score 
1940 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)
  • All This and Heaven, Too 
  • Foreign Correspondent 
  • The Grapes of Wrath - Boy, that Depression sure was depressing.
  • The Great Dictator 
  • Kitty Foyle 
  • The Letter 
  • The Long Voyage Home 
  • Our Town 
  • The Philadelphia Story 

What I Learned From...Rebecca
There's always someone before you--for better or worse.

1 comment:

Andrew Testerman said...

Oh man, The Philadelphia Story! It kinda turns into a cluster near the end, but Andrew likes screwball '40s comedies.