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Harrison's Reports (1940) - Rebecca




"Rebecca" with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine

(United Artists, April 12; time, 129 min.)

A powerful psychological drama for adults. David O. Selznick has given it a superb production, and Alfred Hitchcock has again displayed his directorial skill in building up situations that thrill and hold the spectator in tense suspense. Although it is a class picture, the popularity of the novel from which the plot was adapted should insure very good box-office results. Only one change was made in the adaptation ; instead of having the husband kill his wife, she dies accidentally. This was an intelligent alteration, for in that way, the audience's sympathy for the hero is unchanged. Joan Fontaine portrays the heroine with deep feeling and understanding. One pities her because of her inability to cope with certain problems, yet respects her for her courage :—

Joan Fontaine, a simple orphaned English girl, meets Laurence Olivier, a wealthy Englishman, owner of a famous estate. She learns that Olivier was brooding over the loss of his wife, who had drowned. When Olivier asks Miss Fontaine to marry him, she joyfully accepts. Once they arrive at his estate, she is unhappy, for she feels out of place. Every one, particularly the housekeeper (Judith Anderson), who had worshipped the dead woman, keeps reminding her about the first wife, how beautiful, worldly, and accomplished she had been. But one night, after great excitement caused by a shipwreck near the estate, Olivier tells Miss Fontaine everything—that, although every one had adored his first wife, he had despised her, for she had been unfaithful and vicious. She had taunted him by saying that she was going to have a baby that was not his. During a quarrel she had accidentally fallen and had struck her head on a bar ; she had died immediately. Fearing that he might be suspected of murder, Olivier had placed her body in a boat, bored holes in it, and had watched it sink. He had later identified the body of another woman as that of his wife's. But he felt that everything was over now, for the divers working on the shipwreck had come across the boat with the body in it. Miss Fontaine pleads with him to have courage. The fact that he had identified another body as that of his wife's is not considered important, but when the facts about the holes are brought out, the question of suicide is broached. C. Aubrey Smith, chief investigator, calls a recess to carry on further investigations. Olivier is approached by George Sanders, who had been one of his first wife's lovers, who demands blackmail, threatening otherwise to bring up murder charges against Olivier. Olivier tells Smith about the threats. When Sanders charges that the dead woman was going to have a baby, Smith decides to visit the doctor who had treated her. He learns from the doctor that the woman had had cancer, from which she would have died in a few months. Smith decides, therefore, that she had committed suicide. With the fear of discovery lifted from his mind, Olivier rushes to Miss Fontaine, who was waiting at the estate. He is heartbroken to find that it had been set on fire by Miss Anderson, who had gone crazy when she had learned the truth. But he is happy that his wife was safe.

The plot was adapted from the novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison wrote the screen play. Nigel Bruce, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Denny, and others are in the cast.

Class A as to production values but Class B as to suitability.