Monday, August 1, 2011
Critic and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent (The Searchers, The Quiet Man) reviewed Rebecca for the New York Times on the film's release in March of 1940. He wonders if, in making his first American film, Hitchcock's "peculiarly British, yet peculiarly personal, style could survive Hollywood, the David O. Selznick of Gone with the Wind, the tropio palms, the minimum requirements of the Screen Writers Guild and the fact that a good steak is hard to come by in Hollywood." The answer is a resolute "yes" as he finds that Hitchcock and the system worked together perfectly to create "an altogether brilliant film, haunting, suspenseful, handsome and handsomely played." He also has high praise for Joan Fontaine's performance, and also her shoulders:
"Miss du Maurier never really convinced me any one could behave quite as the second Mrs. de Winter behaved and still be sweet, modest, attractive and alive. But Miss Fontaine does it—and does it not simply with her eyes, her mouth, her hands and her words, but with her spine. Possibly it's unethical to criticize performance anatomically. Still we insist Miss Fontaine has the most expressive spine—and shoulders!—we've bothered to notice this season."
I won't disagree with that, she has a great spine.
Writing 30ish years later, Dave Kehr in the Chicago Reader packs an impressive-even-for-him number of ideas into his capsule review. He auteuristically hints that the film isn't as great as could be because of Selznick's strong presence, that the film is an allegory of adolescence and its incompatibility with the family, and that it and Hitch's other Fontaine film Suspicion are female-centered versions of his later masterpieces Vertigo and Marnie.
Hooked on Houses focuses on the unbilled star of the film, the mansion Manderley, where Laurence Olivier whisks Joan Fontaine away and she encounters the homoerotic tyranny of Judith Anderson. There's dozen of great shots of the building (all shot in California and on soundstages, naturally) and a bunch of Rebecca trivia.