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Manderlay Reign - Ruminations on 'Rebecca'


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#1 of 11 OFFLINE   Allen Skurow

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Posted October 13 2002 - 03:21 PM

A must-see for Hitchcock adherents weaned on the likes of Psycho, North by Northwest, and The Birds. Less a cohesive whole than a triumvirate of diverse styles. An aggregate of noir, gothic, romance, mystery, and manor manners.

The first reel is fairly standard structure forties Hollywood. That is until a lineaged Laurence Olivier suddenly segues into Gloria Steinem's worst nightmare - snapping off directives to Joan Fontaine as if training a puppy to go on the newspaper. As a matter of fact, there so many of these acid tongue transmissions in the film that I frequently found my jaw dangling at the end of my face at the unmitigated galling hilarity coming from these privileged pie holes.

The middle third of the piece (happy couple arrives at Manderley Mansion) is no less than a masterpiece of mood and method. Here we have a director at the peak of his powers. The vast foreboding interiors of the estate loom as a sublime study of light and dark - an entity. You can almost imagine the maestro himself looming above this diorama - this shadowbox - maneuvering his minions like chess pieces on the board. Highlights include Fontaine's terrific turn as a pathological neurotic, the sinister staff popping up like wack-a-moles from a wax museum (especially Judith Anderson's 'Martha Stewart channeling Darth Vader's Mother-in-law'), and a devastating detour into Rebecca's resplendent you-moved-her-hair-brush-two-inches-to-the-left-you-unworthy-little-bitch 'shrine'. This is pure cinema - pure genius.

Alas, the final third is a bit too 'Postman Always Rings Twice', but it has a nifty twist to it. All in all, a sixty two year old marvel that simply refuses to be resigned to chestnut status. This is what it's all about Alfie...good show old chap!

#2 of 11 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted October 14 2002 - 09:06 AM

I agree with a lot of your assessment, but I beg to differ on the identity of the puppet master. No one was in control of a David O. Selznick production except David O. Selznick. The supplements on the Criterion disc will demonstrate this, as will reading the amazing tome of Memos from Selznick. He stuck his nose and fingers into every aspect of production, ordering reshoots constantly and changing things on a moment's notice. There are Hitchcockian touches, but the flavor of the film (and the adherence to the book--the excerpts of Hitch's screenplay are downright awful) is plainly attributable to Selznick, not Hitch.

#3 of 11 OFFLINE   BarryS

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Posted October 17 2002 - 10:00 PM

Quote:
All in all, a forty two year old marvel that simply refuses to be resigned to chestnut status.

Sixty-two, actually. Yes, Rebecca is a wonderful film, being Hitchcocks' first American film and only Best Picture winner. Hitchcock actually has the rare achievement of victory over himself as his Foreign Correspondent was also a Best Picture nominee in 1940. Strange, though, that one of Hitch's absolute finest films 1946's, Notorious, did not even recieve a nomination, except for original screenplay and supporting actor for Claude Rains. I would put Notorious slightly above Rebecca, as it contains more hints of Hitchcock's later stylistic flourishes. Both fabulous films though indeed.

And I do love to see George Sanders in anything. He was so wonderfully devilish in Rebecca.

#4 of 11 OFFLINE   David Dennison

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Posted October 18 2002 - 10:24 AM

Rebecca is probably my favorite of Hitch's movies. Sometimes my favorite changes if I have just watched Vertigo, Rear Window, or N by NW. I am always mesmerized by the journey into Manderlay and of course Judith Anderson's performance as Mrs. Danvers.

#5 of 11 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 19 2002 - 04:48 AM

This is not meant as critisism and should not be read as such, however I found the topic curious.

I wasn't certain what I was clicking into.

The mansion in Rebecca is Manderley.

I was wondering if there was a Rebecca connection somewhere in Bridge on the River Kwai, as what used to be Burma...

or The Road to Mandalay.

And to confirm, Rebecca was very little Hitchcock, aside from his great abilities with design and actors, and much, much more Selznick, with whom Hitchcock did not share a joyous production period.

So much so that even years later, when the chance arose, Hitch gave his killer in Rear Window a decidedly Selznickian appearance.

RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#6 of 11 OFFLINE   BarryS

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Posted October 19 2002 - 11:27 AM

Mr. Harris,

I must say that I am in awe of being on the same board with you. I saw you in the Vertigo documentary regarding your restoration of the film. Movie lovers the world over owe you and your team a great debt of gratitude for the painstaking restoration of such classics as Vertigo, Rear Window and Lawrence of Arabia. Vertigo, in particular, is a beautiful, beautiful film and now, thanks to you, we later generations can have a pretty good idea of what this masterpiece looked like upon first release. Your care and hard work are invaluable to the world of classic films. Film lovers thank you! I'm sure that Hitch would thank you too!

#7 of 11 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 20 2002 - 02:18 AM

BarryS...

Your kind words are appreciated. There are many people on that team who gave thousands of hours to the project, starting with Universal's Tom Pollock, who now appropriately heads up the AFI. If a list were to be created inclusive of each and every individual who helped move the restoration along in some way, there would be a couple of hundred names.

RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#8 of 11 OFFLINE   Allen Skurow

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Posted October 20 2002 - 08:03 AM

Quote:
Sixty-two, actually.


Yes sir - my bad. I have corrected this. Thanx.

Quote:
The mansion in Rebecca is Manderley.

Ah, again my mistake. I have changed this in the review, but apparently the forum doesn't allow one to change the topic.

Quote:
Rebecca was very little Hitchcock, aside from his great abilities with design and actors, and much, much more Selznick

A few people have mentioned this. I'm certainly no film historian, and from your responses you appear to be eminently more credentialed than I.

My take on this:

Selznick's micro management notwithstanding, Alfred's extensive experience in silent film as a title designer, sketch artist, art director, and then director on such movies as 'Number 13' (1922 - uncompleted), 'The Pleasure Garden' (1925), 'The Mountain Eagle' (aka 'Fear O' God'), 'The Lodger' (1926), 'Downhill', 'Easy Virtue', 'The Ring' (1927), 'The Farmer's Wife', 'Champagne' (1928), and 'The Manxman' (1929) where mood, composition, direction of photography, and manipulation of the greyscale were largely the determining factor in the ultimate quality of the product certainly lends credence to the argument that Hitch, rather than David 'O, deserves much of the credit for the studied, superlative sepia of the Manderley segment. With all due respect to the man's accomplishments, I doubt that Selznick could match the crafty old corpulent in this regard.

Also, this exchange from 'Hitchcock' by Francois Truffault on the key Danvers/de Winter dynamic:

Truffault

"...anyway her relationship with the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, was something new in your work. And it reappears time and time again later on, not only in the scenarios, but even visually: two faces, one dead still, as if petrified by fear of the other; the victim and the tormenter framed in the same image."

Hitchcock

"Precisely. In Rebecca I did that very deliberately. Mrs Danvers was almost never seen walking and was rarely shown in motion. If she entered a room in which the heroine was, what happened is that the girl suddenly heard a sound and there was the ever present Mrs. Danvers, standing perfectly still by her side. In this way the whole situation was projected from the heroine's point of view; she never knew when Mrs Danvers might turn up, and this, in itself, was terrifying. To have shown Mrs Danvers walking about would have been to humanize her."

#9 of 11 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted October 20 2002 - 03:39 PM

Just to keep things in perspective...

Mr. Selznick was about 38 years old when he produced Rebecca. Based upon his work in the prior decade and after, he was very much one of the kings of the high end novel to film.
Mr. Hitchcock, at the time he directed Rebecca had reached the wise old age of 40.

For a great deal of background on the subject see:

David O. Selznick's Hollywood by Ron Haver
Memo from David O. Selznick
Showman by David Thomson
Hitchcock and Selznick by Leff

This is where one finds one's "credentials" as well as an occasional letter of transit.

RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#10 of 11 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted October 20 2002 - 06:33 PM

Thanks, Allen. You've given me a few good chuckles here. Before you go too much further, if you have the remastered DVD of Vertigo, you may just want to look at the back cover to see if you recognize any names from this thread. I seem to remember there is a documentary on it's restoration you might want to check out as well. Pay close attention.



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#11 of 11 OFFLINE   Allen Skurow

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Posted October 21 2002 - 01:51 PM

Quote:
Mr. Hitchcock, at the time he directed Rebecca had reached the wise old age of 40.


My reference to "the crafty old corpulent" (which I meant affectionately, by the way, as the man's love of fine food was legendary and he even lampooned his own sizable silhouette weekly on the 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour') was meant from today's perspective. But, be that as it may, let's just say that by the time 'Rebecca' was filmed he had reached the wise old age of director of over twenty films.

Quote:
Mr. Selznick was about 38 years old when he produced Rebecca. Based upon his work in the prior decade and after, he was very much one of the kings of the high end novel to film.

Well, then according to this quote from the Internet Movie Database it would appear that even kings sometimes trip on their gilded capes and fall face first into the moat:

"Hitchcock's bridling under the heavy hand of producer David O. Selznick was exemplified by the final scene of Rebecca (1940). Selznick wanted his director to show smoke coming out of the burning house's chimney forming the letter 'R." Hitch thought the touch lacked any subtlety; instead, he showed flames licking at a pillow embroidered with the letter 'R."


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