"You thought you could be Mrs. de Winter, live in her house, walk in her steps, take the things that were hers! But she's too strong for you. You can't fight her - no one ever got the better of her."
Without ever being physically present or having a line in the film, Rebecca's strange influence over everyone dominates the film in a way only Hitchcock could have pulled off. I still have a lot of Hitchcock films to catch up with, but so far I haven't seen one I disliked. Rebecca is a near masterpiece and Hitchcock once again proves his craft as a director by slowly building a psychological romantic thriller and then once we are hooked with the characters he pulls the rug under our feet and delivers some surprising twists we never expected. This may not be one of Hitchcock's most popular films, but it will always be regarded for being the only film of his that won him an Oscar. Rebecca isn't his best film (which in my opinion is Rear Window), but it deserves to be ranked amongst his best work thanks to a gripping screenplay, some wonderful performances, memorable characters, and above all its beautiful black and white cinematography. It is simply stunning and despite being made in 1940 it still manages to remain incredibly suspenseful and unique. Despite knowing that Hitchcock is going to come up with an interesting twist he completely catches me off guard every time and leaves me even more engaged with his work. My only complaint (a minor one) with his films is that despite being subtle throughout the story at the end he spells everything out for the audience trying to explain the twists (Psycho is the best example of this, but in Rebecca it's done again and it makes the film drag a bit near the end, but it's only a minor complaint considering we are talking about the Master of Suspense).
Rebecca is based on Daphne Du Maurier's celebrated novel (who also wrote The Birds which Hitchcock later went on to direct) and adapted by Robert E. Sherwood. The story centers on a shy unnamed woman (Joan Fontaine) who works as a paid companion to the wealthy Edythe Van Hooper (Florence Bates). While they are in Monte Carlo she meets a wealthy estate owner named Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Edythe mentions that Maxim's wife, Rebecca, passed away an year ago in a boating incident and he hasn't recovered from it. During their short stay in Monte Carlo however, Maxim falls in love with her and the two marry within weeks of having met. Maxim takes the new Mrs. de Winter to his beautiful country home known as Manderley and introduces her to the staff. Despite being in awe of the majestic home, she feels intimidated by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), who remains obsessed with Rebecca. As the days pass, Mrs. de Winter begins to feel overwhelmed by everyone's affection towards Rebecca and somehow she feels that Maxim is still very much in love with her. Rebecca's shadow seems to interfere with everything she does and she begins to feel her relationship is doomed.
Rebecca is not simply a psychological thriller centering on relationships, it is a film focusing on identity. Despite never being seen, Rebecca's presence dominates this film and she seems to have a strange effect over everyone. In contrast, the second Mrs. de Winter only gets her name once she marries Maxim and she never really has an identity of her own. She is continually threatened by Rebecca's presence no matter what she does and despite wanting to overcome it she can't because everyone seems to have adored her. Hitchcock builds the tension and suspense very subtly with memorable characters. Despite being extremely beautiful Joan Fontaine pulls off an incredibly natural and believable performance as this shy and insecure pet-girl. Laurence Oliver also plays his role as the loving but distant character very well. However the two most memorable performances for me came from the supporting cast. Judith Anderson and George Sanders play the villains to perfection. Sanders delivers some comedic relief, while Anderson's mysterious and cold face uneases us from the moment she appears on screen. The gothic mood underlying the film mixes perfectly with the haunting ghost story as Rebecca's presence can be felt everywhere once we step into Manderley. Hitchcock has done it again.