Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca is a 1940 American romantic psychological thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was Hitchcock's first American project, and his first film under contract with producer David O. Selznick. The screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison, and adaptation by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan, were based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier.

The film stars Laurence Olivier as the brooding, aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the young woman who becomes his second wife, with Judith Anderson, George Sanders and Gladys Cooper in supporting roles. The film is a gothic tale shot in black-and-white. Maxim de Winter's first wife Rebecca, who died before the events of the film, is never seen. Her reputation and recollections of her, however, are a constant presence in the lives of Maxim, his new wife and the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940 and it is the only film directed by Hitchcock to win that prestigious accolade. Rebecca won two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Cinematography, out of a total 11 nominations. Olivier, Fontaine and Anderson also were Oscar-nominated for their respective roles as were Hitchcock and the screenwriters.

An inexperienced young woman (Joan Fontaine) meets aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), and soon becomes the second Mrs. de Winter.

Maxim takes his new bride back to Manderley, his grand mansion by the sea, dominated by its housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), a chilly individual who had been a close confidante of the first Mrs. De Winter - Rebecca - with whom she is clearly still obsessed. She has even preserved Rebecca's bedroom suite unchanged, and continues to display various items that carry her monogram. Eventually her constant reminders of Rebecca's glamour and sophistication convince the new Mrs. de Winter that Maxim is still in love with his first wife, and that this could explain his irrational outbursts of anger. She tries to please her husband by holding a costume party, as he and Rebecca used to. Danvers advises her to copy the dress that one of Maxim's ancestors is seen wearing in a portrait. But when she appears in the costume, Maxim is appalled; Rebecca had worn an identical dress at her last ball, just before her death.

Mrs. de Winter confronts Danvers about this, but Danvers tells her she can never take Rebecca's place, and almost persuades her to jump to her death. At that moment, however, the alarm is raised because a sunken boat has been found with Rebecca's body in it.

Maxim now confesses to his wife that his first marriage had been a sham from the start, when Rebecca had declared that she had no intention of keeping to her vows, but would just pretend to be the perfect wife and hostess for the sake of appearances. When she claimed she was pregnant by another man, she taunted him that the estate might pass to someone not of Maxim's line. During a heated argument, she fell, struck her head and died. To conceal the truth, Maxim took the body out in a boat, which he then scuttled, and identified another body as Rebecca's.

The sudden crisis causes the second Mrs. de Winter to shed her naive ways, as they plan how to prove Maxim's innocence. When the police say it looks like suicide Jack Favell, Rebecca's lover, threatens to reveal that she had never been suicidal, unless Maxim pays blackmail. When Maxim goes to the police, they suspect him of murder but investigation shows that she was not pregnant but close to death from cancer, so the suicide verdict stands. In fact, Rebecca had been trying to goad Maxim into killing her - indirect suicide - so that Maxim would have been ruined, possibly hanged.

A free man, Maxim returns home to see Manderley on fire, set ablaze by the deranged Mrs. Danvers. All escape except Danvers, when the ceiling collapses on her. The film ends with an R-monogrammed nightdress-case consumed by flames.

Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter
Laurence Olivier as George Fortescue Maximilian "Maxim" de Winter, owner of Manderley
Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, housekeeper of Manderley
George Sanders as Jack Favell, Rebecca's first cousin and lover
Reginald Denny as Frank Crawley, Maxim's estate manager of Manderley and friend
Gladys Cooper as Beatrice Lacy, Maxim's sister
C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Julyan
Nigel Bruce as Major Giles Lacy, Beatrice's husband
Florence Bates as Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper, employer of the second Mrs. de Winter
Edward Fielding as Frith, oldest butler of Manderley
Melville Cooper as Coroner at trial
Leo G. Carroll as Dr. Baker, Rebecca's doctor
Leonard Carey as Ben, the beach hermit at Manderley
Lumsden Hare as Mr. Tabbs, boat builder
Forrester Harvey as Chalcroft the innkeeper
Philip Winter as Robert, a servant at Manderley

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