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Road Trip, day ten
Mar 15, 2012
Vertigo. Rear Window. Psycho. The Birds. North By Northwest. The 39 Steps. With such an impressive resume, itís shocking that Alfred Hitchcock only took home the big prize once. The best picture of 1940, Rebecca is the story of a woman who meets a rich widower named Maxim de Winter on vacation in Monte Carlo. The two fall in love and marry, then head back to his mansion in England. When they arrive she is introduced to the servants, all of whom preferred Maximís previous wife, Rebecca. The new Mrs. de Winter hears all about how lovely Rebecca was, how Rebecca would have done things, the great parties Rebecca went to. Maximís new wife struggles with trying to fit in. She has never been upper class before and simply having a staff is a new experience, and they fact that they all wish it were someone else in her place makes things all the more difficult. Then the Hitchcock touch takes over when questions arise surrounding the death of the former Mrs. de Winter with a pair of twists at the end.
Modern thrillers get to caught up in those major twists scattered throughout the plot that catch the audience off guard. The trouble is, many times once you know the twist nothing that happened up the that point makes any sense. Once you find out what side of things a character is on and find out his motivation, you realize he would not have acted in the way that he did. Hitchcock does not fall into that trap. Maximís actions still make sense after the reveal, we just see them in a different light and interpret them in a different way.
Laurence Olivier delivers a wonderful performance, as does Joan Fontaine who was still a relative newcomer at the time. Judith Anderson is wonderfully menacing as the creepy maid Mrs. Danvers, who was more devoted to Rebecca and thus more threatening to the new Mrs. de Winter than the rest of the staff.
Rebecca was one of two Hitchcock films up for the big prize that year. The other was Foreign Correspondent, which is also a well made, classic thriller about the lead up to the war. Other nominees included Charlie Chaplin ripping Hitler a new one in The Great Dictator, John Fordís film version of John Steinbeckís Grapes of Wrath, and the Cary Grant, James Stewert, Katherine Hepburn romantic comedy Philadelphia Story. They are all fairly good, and any other year any of them might have won, but Rebecca is slightly superior in every respect.