Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Mystery Girl - Rebecca..

A masterpiece of stylistic contrasts, Rebecca would likely have come apart at the seams but for the relentless intensity of producer Selznick. It is adapted from the reflective, dreamlike novel by Daphne Du Maurier, but directed by the claustrophobic “Master of Suspense” Alfred Hitchcock; it was subject to Selznick’s own uncompromising vision of sweeping grandeur and absolute fidelity to the novel. But somehow these conflicting elements fused as one, to create a first-rate epic romance with a unique, enigmatic texture of its very own.

It’s quite fitting that the central character of ‘Rebecca’ goes unnamed. Rebecca, the character, is the most talked about, admired and hated character in this film but you never see her. You guessed it, she is dead. Her presence/ghost still haunts the walls and rooms of her former home, Mandelay. Her widowed husband Maxim De Winter (Lawrence Olivier) has since remarried a younger, more na├»ve woman (Joan Fontaine) who goes without a name (“hey you”, ”Mrs. De Winter”). Maxim seems to be broken up over the death of Rebecca: he never seems happy, jumps into violent outrages, and almost jumps off a cliff. His young wife is constantly compared to her and constantly falls short. Rebecca was a woman of noble class, intelligent, strong, commanding, and most important breathlessly beautiful. The simple “second Mrs. De Winter” can’t even hold up her own against the brooding Mrs. Danvers, Mandelay’s chief maid. Mrs. Danver’s is a mean, spirited, and somewhat insulted that Maxim would marry under Rebecca’s standards. Her loyalty to Rebecca’s legacy creates a friction between her and the new wife.

Given that this is a Hitchcock movie, nothing is what it seems, obviously. It is a testament to the old master´s technique that the film plays like a supernatural thriller, but the film eventually evolves into a drama and a mystery.

Despite the many forces pulling “Rebecca” in all different directions, the film emerges as a coherent and intriguing whole. It manages to be both sentimental and unvarnished, both fairy tale and thriller, both faithful to the book and a compelling work in its own right. Hundreds of films fall into the “gothic” camp; this is one of the very best –an expansive, captivating classic.

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