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American Cinematographer (1940) - Seeing Some Films: Rebecca



Seeing Some Films


Selznick International again has rung the bell with Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca." It is a grim picture, altogether, although it is not without its leavening influences. It is stern drama, running true to the book, gripping and not repelling; fascinating, intriguing.

For those who, as some may view it, fortunately have not read the book, the tragic disclosures at the end are entirely unsuspected. Altogether, the story closes with what used to be and still is sometimes described as an "O. Henry finish," a surprise ending of the first order.

Primarily it is a woman's story, that is, if the tale may be any stronger for one sex than for the other. On the woman's side there are two who are present — a good woman and a bad woman, the latter one of whom may be cordially hated by both man and woman. The one who plays the character of the good woman is a sure-enough blood sister of the one who played the lovable Melanie in "Gone with the Wind." And Joan Fontaine's portrayal of the second Mrs. de Winter is a rare performance. So, too, in her translation of wickedness or more truthfully meanness to the screen is Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers.

There is another woman, the first Mrs. de Winter, who has been dead a year when the second Mrs. de Winter enters the picture. She is never absent from the life of those who people the story; her hand is in and on everything. For those who may read this and later may see the picture it would be a shame to uncover the story of her married life.

The male lead is Laurence Olivier, a man who already has gone far on the stage and screen. His characterization of the de Winter who is the head of a great landed house, mostly unsmiling and often exceedingly serious, will carry him further, for his work is bound to enhance his fame.

It is an English tale and it is freely sprinkled with English actors as well as being guided by an English director, Alfred Hitchcock. Some of those players are George Sanders, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Florence Bates and Gladys Cooper.

George Barnes, A.S.C., directed the photography and in notable manner. Many of the sets were staged in the enormous castle or mansion of the de Winters, with interminable halls and great rooms presenting their problems of lighting. Jack Cosgrove was in charge of the special effects. One of the spectacular sequences was the burning and destruction of the homestead.