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7. Rebecca (1940), dir. Alfred Hitchcock

I saw this nearly a fortnight ago now, with ms_siobhan and planet_andy at another of the Cottage Road cinema's classic film nights.

We started off with a couple of vintage adverts for local businesses, including an '80s one which first showed a woman in a lovely vintage kitchen, and then claimed she would be far happier surrounded by awful pine cupboards - ms_siobhan and I were unanimous in our total disagreement! Then we had a Pathé news-reel, which mainly went on about the entertainment tax of the 1950s, and how unfair it was, and how it was causing cinemas across the nation to close down. At first I watched with modern cynicism, laughing at the self-righteous tone of the voice-over, which was basically suggesting that it was every viewer's public duty to save the industry by coming and watching films, no matter how good or bad they were. But then they showed cinema owners having to close their businesses and say goodbye to all their staff, and a local councillor explaining how all the old people in his town had nothing to do any more because their cinema had closed down, and I realised that it was pretty sad after all. Anyway, the tax got repealed in 1960 - but my experience of British urban landscapes tells me that a lot of the cinemas which closed as a result have never gone back into service since.

So it was on to the main feature. Rebecca is the earliest film I've seen at the Cottage Road cinema, or indeed anywhere since I saw Freaks (1932) three years ago, so what struck me most about it was how much cinema changed as a medium after the second world war. 1960s cinema now looks stilted and static and unnatural to our modern eyes - but this film reminded me how much more that applied before the war, even outside obviously mannered genres like expressionism. There was a great deal of what we would see as chronic over-acting and unnecessarily crisp diction, to the extent that I commented to ms_siobhan in the intermission that I felt the best actor in the film so far had been the de Winter family dog, who thankfully wasn't capable of either. But either I acclimatised to it, or things got better in the second half. The scene in which Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) tells his wife (Joan Fontaine) the real truth about Rebecca's death (adapted to meet the requirements of the Hollywood Production Code) in the cottage by the beach was quite powerful.

The main point of comparison in my mind was the 1997 TV adaptation with Charles Dance and Emilia Fox, which to my modern taste felt like a better adaptation of the book because of its more naturalistic, intimate tone. But actually, given that the book was published in 1938 and this film came out in 1940, this has to be the more 'authentic' adaptation by the standards of the time. And it is good, once you've adapted to the style. The claustrophobic feel of Rebecca's constant presence in the house where she had once lived came across really beautifully; and the mad, triumphant look on the face of Mrs. Danvers in the middle of the house fire, just before the timbers crashed in and killed her, was absolutely awesome. So I guess I'd still recommend the '90s TV version to a modern viewer who'd just read the book and wanted to see the story more or less as they had imagined it on screen. But this is a very fine example of the cinema of its day, and worth seeing it its own right.

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 4th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
Whenever I hear 'Brief Encounter'-type accents in an old film I assume people of that class really spoke like that all the time, naturally.
May. 4th, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reviewing this. It's about to come out on DVD, I believe, and we're planning to rent it. Had you read the book? I've not seen any film adaptation, but I read the book a few years back, along with a bunch of other Du Maurier.
May. 5th, 2010 10:11 am (UTC)
Yes, I read the book after seeing the 1997 TV adaptation. This film changes the ending slightly, as apparently the Hollywood Production Code at the time said that you could not show someone killing their spouse and getting away with it, so Rebecca's death had to be an accident. But otherwise it's pretty faithful.
May. 5th, 2010 06:12 am (UTC)
It's a favourite of mine. I've never thought of it as particularly mannered, but then I'm used to films of that period; I usually find modern ones too rushed, and to me they often have a rather "sloppy" feel about them.
May. 5th, 2010 06:51 am (UTC)
You've put the nail on the head about why I don't like a lot of modern films - they jump about all over the place either in story or location and sometimes the jumpy camerawork makes me feel seasick plus ladies in modern film don't wear enough gowns and things just look better in black and white.
May. 5th, 2010 09:10 am (UTC)
Just to add that Dexter Dalwood, one of the contenders for the Turner Prize (for his exhibition at St Ives Tate) included some pictures of the story. No figures just views,one of the room with the staircase had that haunting quality. I do not suppose he will get it but I like his stuff really glad I saw it last week for real.
May. 5th, 2010 10:12 am (UTC)
Re: Rebecca
Ooh, that sounds really good. I will have a Google and see if I can see some of the pictures.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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