Rebecca – Alfred Hitchcock
The film embraces such notable Hitchcockian concerns as intimations of pervasive, faintly concealed evil, inescapable guilt, and the power that the dead can exercise over the living. Still, it remains a woman’s picture, the story of a wife’s nightmarish sojourn in the shadow of her predecessor, while its Brontelike atmosphere conveys the feeling of a costume drama.
Rebecca details the progressive victimization of a young woman whose sense of identity depends upon her pleasing others. At first she is dominated by Mrs. Van Hopper, then by de Winter, and finally by Mrs. Danvers. She serves Mrs. Van Hopper dutifully, although not enthusiastically, recognizing the absurdity of her mistress’ attempts to be accepted by fashionable Continental society. After her marriage to de Winter, he continues to act condescendingly toward her; moreover, he actually shuts her out. She fights for her husband against a rival both strong and invisible, under the misapprehension that the dead woman was devoted and gracious, as much renowned for her character as for her beauty. That picture of Rebecca is reinforced by de Winter’s unwitting brother-in-law (Nigel Bruce) and sister (Gladys Cooper), the Lacys, and, to be sure, by the reverent admiration of Mrs. Danvers. The new Mrs. de Winter understandably mistakes the guilty surliness and moodiness of her husband for sorrow. Mrs. Danvers first makes her feel unwelcome, like an intruder at a shrine; then she openly seeks to destroy her. An especially embarrassing and humiliating incident occurs at a large costume ball at Manderley, when, through Mrs. Danvers’ design, the new wife unknowingly appears in a dress identical to one worn by Rebecca at an earlier ball. Afterwards, Mrs. Danvers encourages her to jump from the window onto the rocks below, leaving de Winter alone with “her.”
The secret of Rebecca’s life, as well as of her death, underlies the young woman’s relationship with both her husband and Mrs. Danvers, directing it in ways that she, an outsider, cannot recognize. Mrs. Danvers obsessively protects her dead mistress, yet finally announces to the new Mrs. de Winter, with great pride, how clever and how manipulative Rebecca had been, how she had laughed at men because love was merely “a game” with her. But her death becomes a murder mystery that is never completely solved.
The high point of the film is de Winter’s eight-minute monologue in the old boat house on the night that her boat reappears, the camera following his reconstruction of the events. Beginning with “Rebecca has won,” he explains to his wife that he had come to hate the conniving, promiscuous Rebecca shortly after their marriage. One night in the boat house she was killed during one of their quarrels; and after putting her body in her boat, he sank it in the sea. It remains unclear whether he purposely killed her in his rage at her goading, thus making him guilty of murder and Rebecca, morally at least, guilty of suicide, or whether, regardless of his ultimate intentions, he in fact accidentally killed her in the tussle.