Movie Project #26: Rebecca [1940]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Rebecca [1940]

Rebecca [1940]
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Daphne Du Maurier (novel), Robert E. Sherwood (screen play), Joan Harrison (screen play), Philip MacDonald (adaptation), Michael Hogan (adaptation)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders
Running Time: 130 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is one of the most highly-regarded Hitchcock films that I still needed to see.

Accolades: Won two Oscars (Best Picture, Best B&W Cinematography) + 7 other nominations, #80 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills, #31 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains, #126 on IMDB Top 250

It still baffles me that out of Alfred Hitchcock’s distinguished reputation and extensive filmography, he never once won an Oscar for Best Director. In fact, Rebecca, his very first American film, is his only Best Picture winner. Despite its accolades, Rebecca always seems to somehow get lost in the shuffle. This certainly happened to me, as it is somewhere around the tenth Hitchcock film I have seen. Make no mistake — this is a fantastic film that deserves to be mentioned among his best.

Rebecca tells the story of a young woman (Joan Fontaine), never identified by name, who works as a paid companion of a wealthy businesswoman (Florence Bates). While accompanying her boss on vacation in Monte Carlo, the young woman meets a lonely aristocratic widow named Maximilian de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Despite obvious differences in class and social stigma, the two hit it off, and Maxim invites her to go back to his glorious mansion, Manderley. Within just a couple of weeks, the two are married.

Rebecca [1940]

The new Mrs. de Winter has seemed to reinvigorate Maxim with a new outlook on life, but she is constantly under pressure in Manderley. The presence of Maxim’s past wife, Rebecca, is everywhere. Her former bedroom is still sealed shut, left exactly as it was when she passed on in a mysterious boating accident. Pictures and memorabilia from the deceased are everywhere in the estate, and the servants frequently remark on how wonderful Rebecca was.

The worst offender is the lead housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson). She is seemingly still obsessed with Rebecca, and her unwelcoming demeanor consistently puts the new bride on edge. There’s something off-putting about this long-time resident, though exactly what it is doesn’t become apparent until the final act.

Now, as someone who has seen nearly a dozen Hitchcock films, I should have expected a twist. Yet ol’ Hitch managed to pull a fast one on me here. After what appears to be a fairly straightforward gothic melodrama about a blossoming (but struggling) relationship in the first act, the film goes in a completely different direction. Secrets are revealed, motivations are announced, and back stories told. This eventually culminates in a fiery conclusion that again feels strikingly different from the rest of the film.

Rebecca [1940]

Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson all received Oscar nominations for their performances. While Olivier is certainly memorable in this, it is the two ladies that truly impress. Fontaine is the typical Hitchcock leading blonde, but she perfectly displays the naivete of someone completely out of her element, yet one who also wants to make the best of her new situation. Anderson’s performance is ice cold, and her character’s evil nature earned inclusion in AFI’s 100 Villains list.

Rebecca is not the type of thriller that Hitchcock would later become known for, but it is a haunting mystery that effortlessly managed to keep me guessing throughout. While the director would perfect his craft in later years, this is still an excellent film that is more than deserving of its accolades.

9/10

Movie Project #11: All About Eve [1950]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

All About Eve [1950]

All About Eve [1950]
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Genre: Drama
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and George Sanders
Runtime: 138 minutes

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

A popular debate amongst cinephiles is what film should have won Best Picture in 1950. Two similarly themed movies were competing that year — Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve — with both showcasing the cruel side of show business. Both features are now considered absolute classics, and after watching Sunset Boulevard in last year’s project, I just had to check out its chief competitor this time around.

All About Eve stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, an extremely popular Broadway diva who is desperately trying to maintain her top star billing despite her increasing age. One night after a performance, her good friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) notices a young fan standing in the rain outside the theater. After a brief chat, Karen invites the fan, who we come to know as Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), backstage to meet her idol. After some initial reservations, Margo warms up to her starstruck follower and invites her into her home. Eve becomes something of a personal assistant for the actress, but it doesn’t take long for Margo to suspect that she has some ulterior motives at hand. It turns out that Margo is right — Eve is using the star for her own personal gain, with her ultimate goal being to become an even bigger name.

All About Eve [1950]

The plot opens itself up to all sorts of backhanded actions and sneaky powerplay tactics as Eve tries to undercut her idol. She puts the moves on both Margo’s lover and Karen’s husband, and attempts to manipulate the theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). This doesn’t go so well, as DeWitt knows what games Eve is playing, and he uses it to his advantage.

Essentially, the movie is a brazen tale of backstage politics that essentially lifts the curtain for all to see. The women are the ones very much in power here, and in fact, the writer DeWitt is the only male with any substance in this film. This gives way to classic dialogue delivered by the Broadway divas, as Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s screenplay oozes with sarcasm and catty banter. This is regarded as one of the greatest screenplays of all time, and it is the snarky backbone to what is a straightforward film, heavy on dialogue.

All About Eve [1950]

When critics discuss All About Eve, they are glowing in their remarks about Bette Davis. This has come to be her most renowned performance, and she really is on top of her game here. I wouldn’t doubt that Davis was able to channel some of her real life experiences into this role. Both her and Anne Baxter were nominated for Best Actress that year, though neither won. The common belief is that both of them ruined their chances by going up for the same award.

George Sanders was the only Oscar winner from the film, as he took home the gold for Best Supporting Actor. His role as the take-no-shit DeWitt is a good one indeed, as he is the only one able to best Eve at her own game. Special mention must also be made of a young Marilyn Monroe, who has a small role as a young up-and-coming actress (just like reality at the time). She is stunning in every scene she is in, and it’s hard not to focus on her, even when she is in the background.

All About Eve won Best Picture in 1950, as well as five other Oscars (including best screenplay). While I prefer Sunset Boulevard myself, I can see why so many were smitten with All About Eve during that time. Bette Davis is in prime form here, and the movie has the snarkiest screenplay I have ever seen. I’m not sure the film holds up as well today since the on screen antics are no longer as shocking, but there’s no denying this is a well-crafted film.

8/10