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Sight and Sound (1996) - Rebecca




Light comments on Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, which is a mournful film about jealousy. He says that Rebecca, coming back over and over again, unscathed through water and fire, has given her audiences and critics a good run for their money.


Hitchcock's mournful film about jealousy is a man's movie after all, argues Alison Light

It's not just that Hitchcock's Rebecca wasn't exactly Daphne du Maurier's; it wasn't entirely Hitchcock's either. Arriving in Hollywood in 1939, Hitchcock's first American feature was overshadowed by David O. Selznick, the producer who had bought him and who liked to run things his way. "Selznick's Rebecca" (as the publicity had it, relegating the director to the position of a "mentor" who had "collaborated" with Selznick) was to be "the most glamorous picture ever made". Made in 1940, it was heralded as the successor to Gone With the Wind, the film which in fact absorbed nearly all Selznick's energies during the actual shooting of Rebecca, though he reserved the last edit to himself and laid in the corny Franz Waxman score.

But it was the feminine angle of Rebecca that caused ructions. Or rather which Selznick defended in injured tones, rejecting as "distorted and vulgarised" Hitchcock's first treatment of the novel, and insisting that the picture respect "the little feminine things which are so recognisable and which make every woman say, 'I know just how she feels. I know just what she's going through.'" And this meant sticking to the story.

Selznick was renowned for his filming of literary classics (Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Prisoner of Zenda). He revered the capacity of film to bring books and their characters to life. The promotion of Rebecca concentrated on book tie-ins. From lending-library stands in cinema foyers to illustrated bookmarks, advance screening for "book experts" and "thorough school coverage", the literariness, and thereby the borrowed cultural cachet, of the film was enhanced. Tributes to "the importance of the du Maurier family in English letters and the stage" mingled with shameless exhortations to the English distributors to "cash in on the appeal of Your Famous Bestseller". A letter competition invited local girls to discuss such...

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