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Rebecca (1940 film)

File:Rebecca 1940 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by David O. Selznick
Screenplay by
Story by
Based on Rebecca 
by Daphne du Maurier
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography George Barnes
Edited by W. Donn Hayes
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • April 12, 1940 (1940-04-12) (USA)
Running time
130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,288,000[1]
Box office $6,000,000[1]

Rebecca is a 1940 American Film Noir psychological thriller-drama film. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it was his first American project, and his first film produced under contract with David O. Selznick. The film's screenplay was a version by Joan Harrison and Robert E. Sherwood based on Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel Rebecca. The film was produced by Selznick[2] and stars Laurence Olivier as the brooding aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as the young woman who becomes his second wife, and Judith Anderson as the stern housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.

The film is shot in black and white, and is a gothic tale. We never see Maxim de Winter's first wife, Rebecca, who died before the story starts, but her reputation, and recollections about her, are a constant presence to Maxim, his new young second wife, and the housekeeper Danvers.

The film won two Academy Awards, Outstanding Production and Cinematography, out of a total 11 nominations. Olivier, Fontaine and Anderson were all Oscar nominated for their respective roles. However, since 1936 (when awards for actors in supporting roles were first introduced), Rebecca is the only film that, despite winning Best Picture, received no Academy Award for acting, directing or writing.

Rebecca was the opening film at the 1st Berlin International Film Festival in 1951.[3]


A naïve young woman (Joan Fontaine), whose name is never mentioned, is in Monte Carlo working as a paid companion to Edythe Van Hopper (Florence Bates) when she meets the aristocratic but brooding widower Maximilian "Maxim" de Winter (Laurence Olivier). They fall in love, and within two weeks they are married.

She is now the second "Mrs. de Winter"; Maxim takes her back to Manderley, his country house in Cornwall. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), is domineering and cold, and is obsessed with the beauty, intelligence and sophistication of the first Mrs. de Winter, the eponymous Rebecca, preserving her former bedroom as a shrine. Rebecca's so-called "cousin", Jack Favell (George Sanders), visits the house while Maxim is away.

The new Mrs. de Winter is intimidated by her responsibilities and begins to doubt her relationship with her husband. The continuous reminders of Rebecca overwhelm her; she believes that Maxim is still deeply in love with his first wife. She also discovers that her husband sometimes becomes very angry at her for apparently insignificant actions.

Mrs. Danvers attempts to persuade Mrs. de Winter to leap to her death.

Trying to be the perfect wife, the young Mrs. de Winter convinces Maxim to hold a costume party, as he had done with Rebecca. The heroine wants to plan her own costume, but Mrs. Danvers suggests she copy the beautiful outfit in the ancestral portrait of Caroline de Winter. At the party, when the costume is revealed, Maxim is appalled; Rebecca wore the same outfit at the ball a year ago, shortly before her death.

The heroine confronts Danvers, who tells her she can never take Rebecca's place, and almost manages to convince her to jump to her death. An airborne flare reveals that a ship has hit the rocks. The heroine rushes outside, where she hears that during the rescue a sunken boat has been found with Rebecca's body in it.

Maxim admits to his new wife that he had earlier misidentified another body as Rebecca's, in order to conceal the truth. His first marriage, until now viewed by the world as ideal, was in fact a sham. At the very beginning of their marriage Rebecca had told Maxim she intended to continue the scandalous life she had previously lived. He hated her for this, but they agreed to an arrangement: in public she would pretend to be the perfect wife and hostess, and he would ignore Rebecca's promiscuity. However, Rebecca grew careless, including an ongoing affair with her "cousin" Jack Favell. One night, Rebecca told Maxim she was pregnant with Favell's child. During the ensuing heated argument she fell, hit her head and died. Maxim took the body out in her boat, which he then scuttled.

Shedding the remnants of her girlish innocence, Maxim's wife coaches her husband how to conceal the mode of Rebecca's death from the authorities. In the police investigation, deliberate damage to the boat points to suicide. However Favell shows Maxim a note from Rebecca which appears to prove she was not suicidal; Favell tries to blackmail Maxim. Maxim tells the police, and then falls under suspicion of murder. The investigation reveals Rebecca's secret visit to a London doctor (Leo G. Carroll), which Favell assumes was due to her illicit pregnancy. However, the police interview with the doctor establishes that Rebecca was not actually pregnant; the doctor had told her she was suffering from a late-stage cancer instead.

The coroner renders a finding of suicide. Only Frank Crawley (Maxim's best friend and manager of the estate), Maxim, and his wife know the full story: that Rebecca told Maxim she was pregnant with another man's child in order to try to goad him into killing her, an indirect means of suicide that would also have ensured her husband's ruination and possible execution.

As Maxim returns home from London to Manderley, he sees that the manor is on fire, set alight by the deranged Mrs. Danvers. The second Mrs. de Winter and the staff escape the blaze, but Danvers is killed when a floor collapses. Finally a silk nightdress case on Rebecca's bed, with a beautifully embroidered "R", is consumed by flames.


At Selznick's insistence, the film adapts the plot of du Maurier's novel Rebecca faithfully.[4] However, at least one plot detail was altered to comply with the Hollywood Production Code, which said that the murder of a spouse had to be punished.[4] In the novel, Maxim shoots Rebecca, while in the film, he only thinks of killing her as she taunted him into believing that she was pregnant with another man's child, and her subsequent death is accidental. However, Rebecca was not pregnant but had incurable cancer and had a motive to commit suicide, that of punishing Maxim from beyond the grave. Therefore her death is declared a suicide, not murder.

According to the book It's Only a Movie, Selznick wanted the smoke from the burning Manderley to spell out a huge "R". Hitchcock thought the touch lacked subtlety. While Selznick was preoccupied by Gone with the Wind (1939), Hitchcock was able to replace the smoky "R" with the burning of a monogrammed négligée case lying atop a bed pillow. According to Leonard Luff's book Hitchcock and Selznick, Selznick took control of the film once Hitchcock had completed filming, reshooting many sequences and rerecording many performances.[5] Some sources say this experience led Hitchcock to edit future pictures in camera—shooting only what he wanted to see in the final film—a method of filmmaking that restricts a producer's power to reedit the picture.

Although Selznick insisted that the film be faithful to the novel, Hitchcock did make some other changes, especially with the character of Mrs. Danvers, though not as many as he had made in a previous rejected screenplay, in which he altered virtually the entire story. In the novel, Mrs. Danvers is something of a jealous mother figure, and her past is mentioned in the book. But in the film, Mrs. Danvers is a much younger character (the actress, Judith Anderson, would have been about 42 at the time of shooting) and her past is not revealed at all. The only thing we know about her is that she came to Manderley when Rebecca was a bride.

The Hollywood Reporter reported in 1944 that Edwina Levin MacDonald sued Selznick, Daphne du Maurier, United Artists and Doubleday for plagiarism. MacDonald claimed that the film Rebecca was stolen from her novel Blind Windows, and sought an undisclosed amount of accounting and damages.[6] The complaint was dismissed on 14 January 1948[7] and the judgment can be read online.[8]


Hitchcock's cameo appearance, a signature feature of his films, takes place near the end; he is seen walking, back turned to the audience, outside a phone box just after Jack Favell completes a call.


Rebecca won two Academy Awards and was nominated for nine more:[9]

Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
Academy Awards Art Direction, Black and White Lyle R. Wheeler Nominated
Academy Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Laurence Olivier Nominated
Academy Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Joan Fontaine Nominated
Academy Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Judith Anderson Nominated
Academy Awards Best Cinematography, Black and White George Barnes[10] Won
Academy Awards Best Director Alfred Hitchcock Nominated
Academy Awards Best Film Editing Hal C. Kern Nominated
Academy Awards Best Music, Original Score Franz Waxman Nominated
Academy Awards Outstanding Production Selznick International Pictures and David O. Selznick Won
Academy Awards Best Writing, Screenplay Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison Nominated
Academy Awards Special Effects Jack Cosgrove and Arthur Johns Nominated

Rebecca was twice honored by the AFI in their AFI 100 Years... series

Radio and TV adaptations

[clarification needed] Rebecca was adapted as a radio play on numerous occasions, including 31 May 1943, as an episode of Screen Guild Theater starring Joan Fontaine, her husband Brian Aherne and Agnes Moorehead; again on Screen Guild Theater on 18 November 1948, with Loretta Young, John Lund, and Agnes Moorehead; on Lux Radio Theatre on 3 February 1941, broadcast with Ronald Colman and Ida Lupino; and again on Lux on 6 November 1950, with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.

Rebecca has been remade by Bollywood twice. The first remake was Kohra (1964), starring Waheeda Rehman and Biswajit Chatterjee; the second was Anamika (2008), starring Dino Morea, Minissha Lamba and Koena Mitra.

There was also a 1962 television adaptation on NBC, starring James Mason as Maxim, Joan Hackett as the second Mrs. de Winter, and Nina Foch as Mrs. Danvers.[11]

There was a take-off of the film on The Carol Burnett Show in 1972 called "Rebecky".[12]

There is also a BBC adaptation, first screened in 1979 and shown on PBS in the US, starring Jeremy Brett as Maxim, Joanna David as the second Mrs. de Winter, and Brett's former wife Anna Massey as Mrs. Danvers.[13]

Rebecca was used as the basis of a sketch on the BBC comedy sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look. In the skit, the plot is changed, at the insistence of the producer, to a prequel, set while the first Mrs. de Winter is still alive and has just begun living with Maxim. The humour is derived from references to the then-unknown second Mrs. de Winter scattered throughout the mansion, such as a dress "reserved for the second Mrs. de Winter" and a painting of a woman with her face covered and the letters "TBA" written.[14]

Rebecca serves as inspiration and as part of an interwoven subplot in the Interactive-theatre experience Sleep No More put on by the London-based theatre group Punchdrunk.

See also


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for Rebecca. The Numbers. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  2. ^ Rebecca at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ "1st Berlin International Film Festival". Berlin International Film Festival. 
  4. ^ a b Spoto, Donald (1999). The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Da Capo Press. pp. 213–214. ISBN 978-0-306-80932-3. 
  5. ^ Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood, Leonard J. Leff, University of California Press 1999 - see e.g. here
  6. ^ The Hollywood Reporter, January 13, 1944
  7. ^ The Fresno Bee Republican, January 17, 1948 - see e.g. here
  8. ^ the judgment can be read online MacDONALD v. DU MAURIER judgement
  9. ^ "The 13th Academy Awards (1941) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  10. ^ "Critic's Pick: Rebecca". The New York Times. Retrieved December 13, 2008. 
  11. ^ Rebecca (1962) (TV), IMDb. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  12. ^ The Carol Burnett Show: Episode No. 6.3 (27 September 1972), IMDb. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  13. ^ "Rebecca" (1979), IMDb. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  14. ^ Video on YouTube

External links

Streaming audio

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