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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

Gothic Suspense and Delicious Imagery: Rebecca (1940)

Because I am in my Sleep No More era, I have been rewatching many of my favorite Hitchcock films. Rebecca (1940) is based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca is incredibly successful at tricking its audience. We are first so relieved that Joan Fontaine’s character meets a man who can steal her away from her awful employer. But things take a turn, a few more times, until the history of what’s happened is fully revealed to us. 

two women look through a doorway

It is a Victorian Gothic story told in a more modern way, with intoxicating characters, cinematography and settings. There is a deliciousness to the visuals of Rebecca. The use of shadows and contrast is stunning.

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock is a master of suspense, but Rebecca perfectly exemplifies his prowess as a thriller director. The film stars Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter, Laurence Olivier as Maxim and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers in particular made her mark on the film community (and horror community.) She’s listed in AFI’s list of 100 Best Villains at number 31. 

a woman looks through a sheer curtain

The name of the film refers to Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca de Winter. Who despite not being in the film, embodies such a tangible role in the movie. This is entirely accomplished through the impression that this unseen character has left on the other characters in the film, and our impression of her changes as we uncover more vulnerable accounts. It’s a brilliant tactic for storytelling, and adds a layer of anxiety and mystery to the entirety of the film. 

Though be warned, that the ending of the book and the ending of the movie have an important difference. However, this was not a creative choice. The filmmakers were forced to change the ending because of the Motion Picture Production Code in place at the time. I won’t spoil it, I’d simply suggest reading the novel and watching the film to spot the change.

a woman looks towards a curtain

The screenplay was written by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison. Rebecca was nominated for eleven academy awards, and won two: Best Picture and Best Cinematography. It’s the only time one of Hitchcock’s films won Best Picture. 

I implore you to listen to the soundtrack, and the soundtrack for all of Hitchcock’s hits, if you haven’t already. I find myself constantly playing it around the apartment as background music. (Just to give you a sense of what it’s like to be at my place.) 

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