So I know that I said last week that I was going to watch a couple of versions of Rebecca and then compare and contrast and blah, blah, blah. Let me confess that I did indeed watch (and was thoroughly enthralled with) Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 version. And then I tried to watch the 1979 miniseries version and I just couldn't do it. I am certain that parts of the later version would have been truer to the book; however, it just wasn't worth the pain of watching the actors feign emotion and a style other than poorly coiffed sideburns. Needless to say this will not be a comparison but an outpouring of admiration for Hitchcock's genius and Laurence Olivier's jawline and piercing stare.
It was REALLY REALLY good. I must offer up a heartfelt "congratulations" to the director and crew for this film. I have to hand it to them in 1940, there may not have been computer effects and CGI, but no one has mastered the artful light-beam-across-the-face and the creepy-shadow-and-dry-ice technique better than these classic filmmakers like Hitchcock. I was delightfully surprised with the quality of the production. That being said, it definitely helps that the movie was made in roughly the same era as the story it was portraying (the novel was published in 1938). The film had a definite authenticity about it that I think all other versions will undoubtedly lack.
For me, it is always a question of the actors. They are the ones who can make or break a film. A terrible actor can ruin a golden story line (ahem, Twilight, ahem) and a wonderful actor can rescue the sorry-est of plots. And sometimes, when you combine a brilliant actor with a delicious story, it is simply silver screen perfection. I LOVED Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine as Maxim and Mrs. de Winter. They were nearly just as I had pictured the characters (the 1979 version doesn't even come CLOSE). He was dark and tormented and yet remarkably handsome (smelling salts were required every time he lit his cigarette). She was slight and almost plain and possessed the necessary innocence for the role. My only complaint/observation is that Kristen Stewart must have watched a ton of Joan Fontaine while prepping for the role of Bella because she certainly copied many of the extremely awkward and misplaced facial expressions that Ms. Fontaine was prone to.
|(Kristen Stewart, eat your awkward heart out)|
As for Mrs. Danver's, the character was extremely well acted; although, I pictured her much differently. I thought she should have been older and a bit more shriveled. But she managed to be quite menacing. I loved the liberty that the filmmakers took in imagining out her demise even though it is never fully explained in the book.
Basically, I don't think there is a version out there (and there are several) that can come close to beating Hitchcock's Rebecca. It is a dark and slightly twisted story and the book really lends itself to the style of noir filmmaking that Hitchcock was so terribly good at. That being said, my one and only complaint
*SPOILER ALERT* *SPOILER ALERT*
is that they turned Maxim's murder of Rebecca into an accident for the film. In the book, Max is so overcome with anxiety that Rebecca might actually be pregnant and he will be forced to raise a bastard child under the de Winter name that he pulls out a gun and shoots her. Now, she really did want him to - after all, for a woman like Rebecca cancer certainly isn't attractive. I did a little research on this and it turns out that in 1940, according to the Hollywood Production Code, you weren't allowed to depict a situation if a criminal gets away with a serious crime. So they had to turn the murder into an accident. I found this annoying but fascinating, nonetheless. I really enjoyed the fact that the book has you coming out rooting for the murderer in the end. The fact that it is Mr. Olivier does not hurt.
Things To Come
Rebecca is not exactly a new project. Hitchcock won an Oscar for his version and since then at least 6 others have adapted the book including an Italian feature film and a couple of Bollywood adaptations (I must admit I am tempted . . .). But the most exciting news is was rumored just this past month that DreamWorks is working on another remake! I will be following the casting with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of red wine for consolation when they inevitably screw it up. Just for fun, who would you like to see playing Maxim, the new Mrs. de Winter, Mrs. Danvers, and even the Rebecca we will most likely be treated to in cheesy flashbacks?
For now, I'm going to stick with this classic and wait with bated breath for the newest adaptation. Victorian Swag Film-Noir screening party anyone?