Nominations: Best Picture, Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Actress (Joan Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Art Direction, Special Effects, Editing, Score, ScreenplayWins/Snubs: This won Best Picture, in a year of 10 nominees, and Cinematography, but the acting awards went, deservedly, to Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, and Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle, and Director went to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath, one of few times director and picture split.
It was nice to check another Best Picture winner off my list (63/84 now) and a treat to do it with another Hitchcock film. I was surprised how much I liked this. I'd read the book as a kid (long car trips = books on tape, and this is one of my mom's favorite), but never really clung to it like Jane Eyre or Anne of Green Gables or Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. So I felt I knew the story, but I was missing how dramatic and a bit scandalous this movie can be.
The eponymous Rebecca never actually appears in the film - she is "the late Mrs. de Winter", and only introduces the film in voiceover. We follow a young orphaned woman (who never gets her own name, she's only known as Mrs. de Winter) who meets and quickly marries a wealthy British businessman, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier, handsome enough I'd marry him). They go back to his estate, Manderlay, in Cornwall, and she attempts to become the mistress overseeing the enormous place. Unfortunately, the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) is obsessed with the late Mrs. de Winter, and has kept the house and her room exactly as she left them - including showing the new Mrs. de Winter her preserved underwear. Mrs. Danvers attempts various schemes to come between the new husband and wife - lots of mystery and treachery abound. Ultimately, we find out that Rebecca was nothing that people thought and when her body is discovered (a stranger's body was put in the family crypt) and Maxim is accused of her murder. When her disreputable nature is exposed, he is freed, but it still makes it difficult for our new Mrs. de Winter to overcome Rebecca's ghost.
The film is fairly classic Hitchcock, if not yet mastered. The shadows and music make it clear something is afoot, and it's hard not to be drawn into Mrs. de Winter's paranoia that she can't live up to Rebecca. I really enjoyed the melodrama and for the first time in almost all of my classic film watching, I'd LOVE to see an updated version of this done well. Clive Owen and Rosamund Pike would make excellent de Winter's, and Helen Mirren or Imelda Staunton would make creepy Mrs. Danvers!