Rebecca (DVD)

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Rebecca (DVD)

Well, it's not a Hitchcock picture," Alfred Hitchcock once told François Truffaut when asked about Rebecca, his first American film and the first in a series made for producer David O. Selznick (Gone With The Wind, A Star Is Born). Though Hitchcock explained that Rebecca's source material (Daphne Du Maurier's best-selling book) kept it outside the sphere of a typical Hitchcock movie, he could also have been referring to any number of factors. Most of them would have been tied to Selznick, whose insistence on being closely involved with the book and producing a faithful adaptation forced Hitchcock to deliver a film that broke the mold of his British thrillers. An excellent new two-disc DVD version unpacks Rebecca's tumultuous production history through an incisive commentary, a set of Selznick's legendary and unsparing memos, exit polls from a test screening, and other material. Though the final cut of the film often supports Hitchcock's statement, the compromise seems to have kick-started the director's development, forcing him to rely less on tricks perfected in his past work, and to immerse himself in the piece's tortured psychology. Rebecca stars Joan Fontaine as a never-named heroine of limited means who, while in Monte Carlo as a paid companion to gauche socialite Florence Bates, meets wealthy widower Laurence Olivier. After a whirlwind (if strangely dispassionate) courtship, Fontaine returns with Olivier to Manderly, a sprawling estate filled with reminders of Olivier's first wife, Rebecca, and mirthlessly overseen by Judith Anderson, a servant with a passionate, unwavering attachment to her late mistress. Making no attempt to hide her disapproval, Anderson provides the strongest suggestion that Fontaine will never escape comparison to her predecessor. As the film progresses and revelations about Rebecca mount, this comparison takes on new aspects, with Rebecca's history boldly outlining the boundaries of proper wifely behavior. Shot like a horror film and featuring Olivier as one of the least sympathetic heroes in the Hitchcock canon, Rebecca's smart extrapolation on themes inherited from gothic thrillers and Brontë novels allows the director to begin with a suspenseful romance that barely keeps its subtext under the surface, and smuggle in a story of one woman's immersion into the sexual expectations of her era. Rebecca may not be a Hitchcock picture, but it's hard to imagine what we now think of as a Hitchcock picture without it.