Thanks to Ruth of Silver Screenings. Kristine from Speakeasy and Karen of Shadows and Satin!
Men are simpler than you imagine my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone. –Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
First off, while I cover a good deal of the film, I take it only as far as I can before giving anything away about the great Rebecca. My focus is on the mystery surrounding the first mistress of Manderley’s devoted servant Mrs. Danvers. So I will not be referencing any departures from du Maurier’s novel, nor Rebecca herself or Olivier and Fontaine’s marital outcome. I believe there are still fans of Hitchcock who have not seen the picture, and I want to leave them something to enjoy!
One of the most enduring classic thrillers, psychological thriller, suspenseful and intriguing in the realm of romantic Gothic mysteries. Considered a ‘woman’s picture.’ Brooding atmosphere, perfect pacing, and acting composition from the score to the set design to the cinematography. Manderley is a ‘castle of the mind.’ It is too shadowy too remote too unreal because it IS in the mind. It exists now only in the heroine’s mind. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” As these words are visualized on the screen, we don’t see a real Manderley, but a Manderley of the mind, a nightmare, a ghost. So imperceptible and subtle, Manderley is one of the vital characters of the story.
As the archetype of the woman-in-peril, Joan Fontaine conjures up the timid young woman who marries the moody and brooding Maxim de Winter, though all actors are overshadowed by Anderson’s on-fire performance.
As scholar Mary Ann Doane points out that Rebecca is “initiating the ‘paranoia’ strand of the woman’s picture, a sub-genre in which gullible women discover that the men they married possess strange and sinister intents. The cycle continued through the 1940s-Suspicion (1941) Gaslight (George Cukor 1944) and Secret Beyond the Door… (Fritz Lang, 1948).”
Rebecca was adapted from author Daphne du Maurier and brought to the Gothic paroxysm on screen not only by master Alfred Hitchcock but by the exquisitely low burning maniacal machinations of Dame Judith Anderson (Lady Scarface 1941, All Through the Night 1942, Kings Row 1942, Laura 1944, And Then There Were None 1945, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946, The Red House 1947, The Furies 1950, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958, Inn of the Damned 1975) as Miss Danvers — the epitome of the word villainess.
Mrs. Danvers– That austere cold stare, the measured calculating rhythm of each syllable spoken like serpent-toothed silk cutting like finely sharpened knives to cut the jugular — a harridan — no, a harpy — no, a carefully slithering serpent of a woman in the vein of Angela Lansbury’s sinister housekeeper Nancy who helped the poor bedevil Ingrid Bergman feel gaslighted in Gaslight 1944 or the menacing Gale Sandaagard as Mrs. Hammond that same year in The Letter (1940), but Anderson has the benefit of du Maurier’s dialogue and Hitchcock’s direction at her command.
Interestingly enough, in reading the tensions that had developed over the autonomy in making du Maurier’s story on screen between two headstrong filmmakers, I imagined what the film might have been like in the hands of Val Lewton. Here is an excerpt from Leonard Leff’s book- “For Selznick who read a synopsis of the manuscript in late spring 1938, the story of the novel’s awkward and shy heroine seemed ideal. Selznick’s most impressive discoveries tended to be young women, including Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Fontaine; furthermore, had had long been associated with the industry’s premier “women’s director” George Cukor. In certain respects a “woman’s producer,” attuned to the sensibilities and psychology of the American female (at least as purveyed by the era’s mass-circulation magazines), Selznick agreed with story editor Val Lewton that the second Mrs. de Winter “probably exemplifies the feeling that most young women have about themselves.”
From Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick-by Leonard J. Leff- Among the hundred of manuscripts, galley proofs, ad publish novels that poured into the East Coast offices of Selznick International every month, Kay Brown read only a few that she could enthusiastically recommend. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca became one of them. Rebecca is “the most fascinating story I have read in ages,” Born wired Hollywood, a certain best-seller. In the novel, a plain and innocent young women (the first-person narrator, whose name du Maurier never reveals) serves as paid companion to a crass American dowager visiting the Riviera. Gossip has it that the aristocratic Maxim de Winter has fled England to Monte Carlo in order to elude painful memories of his recently deceased, much-beloved wife, the fabulously beautiful Rebecca; yet almost inexplicably he proposes marriage to the unglamourous paid companion. Following a honeymoon in Venice, the newlyweds return to Manderley, de Winter’s mansion. Here, the young bride confronts not only the memory of Rebecca-which seems to permeate the estate and to preoccupy and torment its owner-but also her morose husband and the forbidding Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s devoted housekeeper.”
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock with a screenplay by Robert Sherwood and Joan Harrison (who produced Alfred Hitchcock’s anthology suspense crime television show.) Adapted by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan from the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier. Music composed by Franz Waxman (Suspicion 1941, Sunset Boulevard 1950, A Place in the Sun 1951.) whose score at times sounds like a classic B horror film by RKO with its eerie organ tremolos.
Cinematography by George Barnes. (That Uncertain Feeling 1941, Ladies in Retirement 1941, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, The File on Thelma Jordon 1950, War of the Worlds 1953). Art Department/Interior Design -Howard Bristol, Joseph B. Platt, and Eric Stacey. Art director Lyle Wheeler. Film editor James Newcom. Supervising film editor Hal C. Kern. Interiors designed by Joseph B Platt. Fashions by Irene.
The lighting for Rebecca creates a forbidden sense of place. The shadows distinguish where the secrets lurk, with the Gothic architecture and repressed desire.
“She” is in the innocence of white and Mrs. Danvers is always advancing in black…
Rebecca (1940) is auteur Hitchcock’s Gothic style thriller that often delves into the realm of classical horror, ‘old dark house’ or haunting ghost story triggered by the remnants of a beautiful dead woman’s hold on an ancestral manor house and the new marriage brought home to thrive in its shadow. As scholar Tania Modleski writes Rebecca is a ‘presence’ which is never actually present. The character of Rebecca is symbolic of a subversive female desire, and Maxim de Winter who represents the patriarchal rule is terrorized and bound by her presence though she cannot be seen, her power remains intact within the walls of Manderley.
There was tension and discord between director Hitchcock who wanted control over the project and producer David O. Selznick. Though Hitchcock is one of the directors who manages to shake off any solid labels on his work, Rebecca is considered his first film noir. It was Hitchcock’s first American/Hollywood film, although it exudes that distinctly British style from his earlier mysteries. The melancholy tone of Robert E. Sherwood and Hitchcock regular Joan Harrison’s screenplay captures Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 disquieting Gothic novel perfectly.
Behind the scenes of Rebecca 1940 Alfred Hitchcock and Judith Anderson photo by Fred Parrish
Rebecca stars Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as Mrs. de Winter, George Sanders as Jack Favell, Judith Anderson as the sinister chatelaine Mrs. Danvers Nigel Bruce as Major Giles Lacy, C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Julyan Reginald Deny as Frank Crawley, Gladys Cooper as Beatrice Lacy, Philip Winter as Robert, Edward Fielding as Frith, Florence Bates (The Moon and Sixpence 1942, Whistle Stop 1946, Portrait of Jennie 1948, A Letter to Three Wives 1949, Les Miserables 1952) as Mrs. Van Hopper, Leo G. Carroll as Dr. Baker
The master Hitchcock and cinematographer George Barnes know how to create a moody, atmospheric landscape of suspense. In Rebecca, Joan Fontaine is given the role of an innocent and painfully shy young heroine who remains nameless throughout the film, as she is in du Maurier’s novel. I read that there were early drafts of the original script where the heroine’s name was Daphne as in the writer, but obviously, the decision to keep her without a given name. She meets the brooding aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter played almost too effortlessly by Laurence Olivier who is the master of Manderley. They marry and Maxim brings his new bride back to his ancestral home. At first, she is clumsy and awkward trying to find her way around as mistress of the house. The second Mrs. de Winter is bewildered and haunted by the unseen presence of the first Mrs. de Winter, the uncanny and beautiful Rebecca, who has died in a boating accident a year before. Mrs. de Winter is psychically tortured by the sinister Mrs. Danvers who was Rebecca’s faithful and adoring servant played by the always imposing Judith Anderson, who bombards Joan Fontaine with memories and tactile possessions of the dead woman, whom we never see. She is truly a phantom that haunts the film, the narrative, and our heroine.
Considered for the leading role in Rebecca was Loretta Young, Margaret Sullivan, Anne Baxter, and Vivien Leigh who was restricted by her role in Gone With the Wind 1939. Director Alfred Hitchcock won the Oscar for Best Picture his first and only Best Picture Oscar. George Barnes also won the Academy Award for his Cinematography. Judith Anderson was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as the menacing Mrs. Danvers, the only time in her career she was ever nominated.
Let’s not forget the other outstanding performance by Judith Anderson, as Ann Treadwell in director Otto Preminger’s noir masterpiece Laura (1944) a ruthless woman who recognizes her weakness is wanting to possess through her wealth, the younger womanizer Shelby Carpenter played by urbane Vincent Price. Anderson turns out a poignant performance of a woman you love to hate yet she makes you understand the dynamic behind her loneliness.
Rebecca begins using the noir mechanism of flashback. As Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton write in A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941-1953, though Hitchcock’s film predates their scope by one year, it shows the director’s understanding of his craft. “Hitchcock demonstrates that the use of the flashback is often an easy way out in the rhetoric of cinema. The theme is not without echoes of Notorious and Rebecca, and Ingrid Bergman embodies a sort of martyr to the cause of secrecy, slowly poisoned by a demoniacal housekeeper.” Though it can be said that Joan Fontaine suffers the indignities at the hands of the most demoniacal of all treacherous housekeepers. The two French historians also make a point about Rebecca’s relevant traces of film noir in this way, “The noir atmosphere and style reclaim their rights, on condition that they find a cover, insinuate themselves in a different genre. For this reason, a twin current takes shape in the years 1944-45: a “noirified” criminal psychology centered on a particularly neurotic or corrupt individual, and the noirified period film in which murder cloaks itself in nostalgia for a remote era. By means of these often unexpected, sometimes contradictory, experiments directors like Siodmak, Bernhardt, Preminger, Brahm, and Dmytryk cut their teeth. They will create a style that will later influence all forms of national output. Finally, following his arrival in Hollywood in 1940, Alfred Hitchcock gets into his stride with Rebecca, in which the theme of the tormented young woman is already present.”
The Gothic ghostly thriller Rebecca opens with the prologue with the heroine’s memorable voice-over “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, set against a landscape of ruined countryside of a time when there once was the glorious lifestyle that existed at the fairy tale Manderley. The camera pauses at the gates of Manderley, winding up through the road that is overgrown and undisturbed for years. Once upon Manderley, we see the estate in ruin, burned out and covered in dream-like fog with a haunting moonlight overhead.
“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it has always done. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon it. Nature had come into her own again, and little by little had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers, on and on while the poor thread that had once been our drive. And finally, there was Manderley – Manderley – secretive and silent. Time could not mar the perfect symmetry of those walls. Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly it seemed to me that light came from the windows. And then a cloud came upon the moon and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it. I looked upon a desolate shell, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls. We can never go back to Manderley again. That much is certain. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back to the strange days of my life which began for me in the south of France…”
Told in flashback, our heroine begins to tell us the odd story of “the strange days” of her life. We see a rocky coastline and waves crashing against the cliffs. A handsome and sophisticated man in a dark suit standing at the cliff’s edge, his foot flirting in the sand, as he stares out at the sea. As he gets closer to the edge, a young blonde woman shouts at him, believing he is about to commit suicide by jumping to his death.
Woman: “No! Stop!”
Man: “What the devil are you shouting about? Who are you? What are you staring at? ”
Woman: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare, but I, I only thought… ”
Man: “Oh, you did, did you? Well, what are you doing here? ”
Woman: “I was only walking. ”
Man: Well, get on with your walking and don’t hang about here screaming.”
What is odd from the beginning of the story is our shy heroine (Joan Fontaine) is not given a first name. Not even in du Maurier’s novel is she given a name, except eventually the second Mrs. de Winter. Think about that for a while…
Joan Fontaine’s character though beautiful is plain, modest, and unworldly. After her artist father passed away, she has taken a job journeying to the French Riviera as a paid traveling “companion” to the overbearing Edythe Van Hopper played with a disagreeable flourish by Florence Bates who belittles the meek and unassuming nameless young woman at every turn. Mrs. Van Hopper, who is also a rude American treats her companion dreadfully all the while complaining and finding fault with everything under the sun. While in the lobby of the hotel, she remarks on the lack of “well-known personalities” to be seen.
Suddenly Van Hopper catches sight of the aristocratic Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), the thoroughly elegant gentleman from England’s Manderley estate. He’s also the man, her companion tries to rescue from jumping off the cliff earlier. Mrs. Van Hopper invites him as one of her “old friends” to sit and have coffee with them. Van Hopper a devoted gossip sees a chance to get her claws into him.
Being gracious, de Winter sits with Van Hopper and her young sheepish companion, while the preposterous busybody tries to ingratiate herself with the gentleman all the while remaining as an outsider from refined social circles. Maxim de Winter is clearly more interested in aiming his attention at the young lady who is dominated by her employer. He asks her what she thinks of Monte Carlo, to which she responds, “Oh well, well I think it’s rather artificial.” de Winter gets up from the table and departs their company “I’m afraid I cling to the old motto: ‘He travels fastest who travels alone.”
Mrs. Van Hopper is a crass bully who turns on her companion with a harsh tone and accuses her of being too bold with Mr. de Winter. She also suggests that perhaps his solitary and moody nature is due to his devotion to his dead wife.
Mrs Van Hopper-“By the way, my dear, don’t think that I mean to be unkind, but you were just a teeny, weeny bit forward with Mr. de Winter. Your effort to enter the conversation quite embarrassed me and I’m sure it did him. Men loathe that sort of thing. Oh come, don’t sulk. After all, I am responsible for your behavior here. Perhaps he didn’t notice it. Poor thing. I suppose he just can’t get over his wife’s death. They say he simply adored her.”
Mrs. Van Hopper has taken ill to her bed with a bad cold, so the young woman takes lunch by herself in the dining room of the Princess Hotel. Clumsy and awkward she knocks over a vase of flowers and is invited over to Mr. de Winter’s table. She explains to him the reason for taking the job with Van Hopper, how her father who was a painter had died a year earlier. de Winter – “How rotten for you.” A young woman- “He painted trees, at least it was one tree…You see, he had a theory that if you should find one perfect thing or place or person, you should stick to it.” He asks her to join him for a drive by the sea and solemnly relates to her about his home, Manderley. de Winter –“To me, it’s just the place where I was born and I’ve lived in all my life. But now, I don’t suppose I shall ever see it again. ”
Young Woman –“Well, we’re lucky not to, uh, be home during the bad weather, aren’t we? I-I can’t ever remember enjoying swimming in England till June, can you? The water’s so warm here that I could stay in all day. There’s a dangerous undertow and there’s a man who drowned here last year.”
de Winter answers her calmly- “I never have any fear of drowning. Have you? He turns from her and begins to walk away. de Winter: Come, I’ll take you home.”
The next day, the young woman overhears Mrs. Van Hopper gossiping to her nurse about Rebecca, the late Mrs. de Winter. How she was killed in a boating accident.
Van Hopper to the nurse… “Wretched stuff, give me a chocolate!”
Mrs. Van Hopper-“Oh yes, I know Mr. de Winter well. I knew his wife too. Before she married him, she was the beautiful Rebecca Hindreth, you know. She was drowned, poor dear, when she was sailing near Manderley. He never talks about it, of course, but he’s a broken man.”
That night the idea of the late Rebecca and the tragic and haunted Maxim de Winter playing like a record, the young woman has disturbing fevered thoughts hearing Mrs. Van Hopper’s words going through her head over and over
“She was the beautiful Rebecca Hindreth, you know…They say he simply adored her…I suppose he just can’t get over his wife’s death…But he’s a broken man.”
Maxim de Winter continues to woo the young woman, as they go on more drives along the gorgeous coast, while the irritable Mrs. Van Hopper indulging herself in chocolates is bewildered as to why de Winter doesn’t return her phone calls or answer her notes. A particular frame that showcases her crassness is when she puts out one of her cigarettes in a jar of cold cream, Van Hopper may be wealthy but she is a lethargic stultified bore with no tact and no class, and the camera accentuates her vulgarity in this one stomach-turning moment.
Out on one of their daily drives, the young woman tells Maxim how happy she is, but as usual, he treats her like a child and is condescending in tone.
Young woman: “You know, I wish there could be an invention that bottled up the memory like perfume and it never faded never got stale. Then whenever I wanted to, I could uncork the bottle and live the memory all over again.
de Winter: And what particular moment in your young life would you want to keep?
Young woman: Oh, all of them. All these last few days. I feel as though I’ve collected a whole shelf full of bottles.
de Winter: Sometimes, you know, those little bottles contain demons. They have a way of popping out at you, just as you’re trying most desperately to forget.
Maxim’s sharp and gruff manner make the young woman so nervous, that she starts biting her nails. He snaps at her Stop biting your nails!
Young woman: Oh, I wish I were a woman of thirty-six, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.
de Winter: (He laughs) You wouldn’t be here with me if you were.
Young woman: Would you please tell me, Mr. de Winter, why you ask me to come out with you? Oh, it’s obvious that you want to be kind, but why do you choose me for your charity?
de Winter: (abruptly stops the car) I asked you to come out with me because I wanted your company. You’ve blotted out the past for me, more than all the bright lights of Monte Carlo. But if you think I just asked you out of kindness or charity, you can leave the car now and find your way home. Go on, open up the door and get out. Care to blow your nose?
Young woman: (crying) Thank you.
de Winter: Please don’t call me Mr. de Winter. I’ve a very impressive array of first names, George Fortescu Maximilian, but you needn’t bother with them all at once. My family called me Maxim. And another thing, please promise me never to wear black satin or pearls, or to be thirty-six years old.
Young woman: Yes, Maxim.
The young woman is elated until she goes back to her hotel room and finds Mrs. Van Hopper who informs her that her daughter is getting married and they must leave immediately for New York. Dejected, she tries to get in touch with Maxim to let him know she is leaving for America, and just before it seems like she will have to depart without saying goodbye, she manages to find him back in his room. While washing up in his bathroom, Maxim asks her to make a choice between the two locations. Being as naive as she is, she doesn’t understand that he is proposing marriage to her, she just assumes he wants her as a secretary or a servant.
Young woman: I don’t want to go. I shall hate it. I shall be miserable.
de Winter: …Which would you prefer? New York or Manderley?
Young woman: Oh, please don’t joke about it. Mrs. Van Hopper’s waiting, and I better say goodbye now.
de Winter: I repeat what I said. Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.
Young woman: You mean you want a secretary or something?
de Winter: I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool. My suggestion didn’t seem to go at all well. Sorry.
Young woman: Oh, but you don’t understand. It’s that I, well, I’m not the sort of person men marry.
de Winter: I don’t know what you mean.
Young woman: I don’t belong in your sort of world, for, for one thing.
de Winter: Well, what is ‘my sort of world?’
Young woman: Oh well, Manderley, you know what I mean.
de Winter: Well, I’m the best judge of whether you belong there or not. Of course, if you don’t love me, that’s a different matter. A fine blow to my conceit, that’s all.
Young woman: Oh, I do love you. I love you most dreadfully. I’ve been crying all morning because I thought I’d never see you again.
de Winter: Bless you for that. I’ll remind you of this one day. You won’t believe me. It’s a pity you have to grow up.
Once again, he refers to her as a child. It creates the atmosphere once again of a fairy tale journey of a young woman in a strange world who has met a mysterious aristocrat who inhabits a dark and dangerous world with secrets and an evil that lurks around each corner. At the heart of the story is the ghost of Rebecca but left in her place to keep the fire and ceremony lit in her honor as her devoted servant Mrs. Danvers who is a sinister, menacing wicked fiend protecting her mistress’ realm.
The young woman accepts Maxim’s proposal, then he sends for Mrs. Van Hopper who is told the news of their engagement. The disagreeable vulgarian turns to her young traveling companion and tries to drive a railway spike through her new dream as if it were merely an illusion she could shatter with one cruel statement. Mrs. Van Hopper is one of three heartless women in Rebecca who demean and assail the young woman’s tenuous self-esteem. Next, it will be Beatrice Lacy (Gladys Cooper) and ultimately the treacherous Mrs. Danvers. Of course, the fourth and most uncanny of all the women is the most remarkable because she remains unseen throughout the picture, yet she is the most powerful of all.
Mrs Van Hopper –“So this is what’s been happening during my illness! Tennis lessons my foot! I suppose I have to hand it to you for a fast worker. How did you manage it? Still waters certainly run deep. Tell me, have you been doing anything you shouldn’t?…But you certainly have your work cut out as Mrs. Sir Manderley. To be perfectly frank with you, my dear, I can’t see you doing it. You haven’t the experience, you haven’t the faintest idea of what it means to be a great lady. Of course, you know why he’s marrying you, don’t you? You haven’t flattered yourself that he’s in love with you. The fact is – that empty house got on his nerves to such an extent, he nearly went off his head. He just couldn’t go on living alone…(Her last words filled with scorn and skepticism)...Hmmph, Mrs. de Winter! Goodbye, my dear and Good Luck.”
“I suppose I have to hand it to you for a fast worker.”
“Hmmph… Mrs. de Winter! Goodbye, my dear, and Good Luck.”
Maxim literally rescues her from this horrific life of indentured service to Van Hopper. The two are married within two weeks of their odd impulsive romance.
Maxim brings the new Mrs. de Winter to his ancestral home Manderley, the storybook estate in Cornwall England.
Maxim reassures her: There’s no need to be frightened, now. Just be yourself and they’ll all adore you. You don’t have to worry about the house at all. Mrs. Danvers is the housekeeper – just leave it to her.
Little does the sweet young woman/child know that the austere Judith Anderson carves Mrs. Danvers out of unmovable black marble and is as cold as such. I am reminded of Rosalie Crutchley as Mrs. Dudley in Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) with her inflexible posture and calling out of the manor house rules.
They finally arrive at de Winter’s enormous ancestral English estate – when we look upon the glorious estate from outside the enormous iron gates, the sun is shining which is in direct contrast to the opening of the film with its dark and murky vision of the same iron gates.
Symbolically, when the couple arrives at the front of the Manderley, clouds collect in the sky and an ominous thunderstorm lies menacing in wait. The rain begins to fall, and Maxim shields his new bride from the storm with his overcoat. They enter the great hall, where a regiment of servants is poised to greet their new mistress.
The cowering young Mrs. de Winter greets the intense and unwelcoming Mrs. Danvers in her black dress and severe hair pulled back so tightly she has the appearance of a spider woman. The new bride drops her gloves and bends down to pick them up while the venomous Mrs. Danvers does the same. Mrs. Danvers sees her vulnerability, her weakness, and knows now that she does not command her place as mistress of the house, she behaves more like an upstairs maid.“How do you do? I have everything in readiness for you.” Says Mrs. Danvers as she stoops to pick up the glove.
Later on in the new Mrs. de Winter’s bedroom, the sinister Mrs. Danvers dressed in black like a harbinger of doom suddenly emerges and in a very expository moment looks the young woman up and down comparing her to her one true mistress Rebecca.
The moment flows with hostility and menace, the new Mrs. de Winter caught in this invisible web of mystery, if Danvers were a spider woman it would be this particular moment that she would strike! Mrs. Danvers sternly informs her that she must have a “personal maid” and that her grand bedroom will be in the East Wing, which is part of the home not used before. She goes on to leave a breadcrumb of a clue about her predecessor. “Of course, there’s no view of the sea from here. The only good view of the sea is from the West Wing.” Mrs. Danvers tells her that she started as a maid at Manderley when the first Mrs. de Winter was a new bride.
Like a menacing wraith in black, or a spider woman Danver’s voice is cold and springs from a clandestine well, as she describes her mistress’ room she sounds almost orgasmic.
WHENEVER DANVERS IS NEAR OR THERE IS ANYTHING CONNECTED TO REBECCA OR THE UNCANNINESS OF HER GHOSTLY PRESENCE — FRANZ WAXMAN UNDERSCORES THE MOMENT WITH AN EERIE ORGAN MOTIF…
Mrs. Danvers and Mrs. de Winter walk the long dark hallway past the West Wing. Danvers tells the young woman that before Rebecca’s death, the de Winter lived in the West Wing overlooking the sea, “It’s not used now. It’s the most beautiful room in the house. The only one that looks down across the lawns to the sea. It was Mrs. de Winter’s room.”
There’s is in every bit, in the essence of Mrs. Danvers’s tone and soliloquies about her dead mistress that relates a type of trance-like devotion and obsessive worship of Rebecca.
The young woman finds it hard to inhabit the role of mistress of the house. Overwhelmed by her surroundings and unaware of all the social graces that the first Mrs. de Winter possessed she is already starting out living in the shadow of Rebecca, a ghost that is haunting her at marriage and Manderley itself. With Rebecca’s monogrammed pillowcases where she laid her beautiful head, stationary, towels, address books, and a shawl with RdeW. Rebecca’s things were like religious relics.
George Barnes’s camera work shows her swallowed up inside the great banquet hall. Joan Fontaine is often overshadowed by the size of the rooms and the camera work and Mise-en-scène conveys the heroine as inferior and insignificant. As she wanders like a fairy tale princess lost in an unwelcoming world. She is clumsy, painfully shy, and awkward around the servants who try to fuss over her. The phone rings, and it’s the gardener asking for Mrs. de Winter, not realizing that he is asking for her she answers him and then hangs up the phone, “Mrs. de Winter? Oh, I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake. Mrs. de Winter’s been dead for over a year. Oh, I mean…”
As much as the ghost of Rebecca is central to the story as the character yet unseen, whom the tantalizing part of the narrative revolves around, beyond the tragic romantic aspects of the story, there is the one prevailing spirit that roams the screen and draws us toward it, and that is the pathological and psycho-sexual all-consuming devotion of Mrs. Danvers to her beloved dead mistress. She is always framed in shadow or doorways obscured by flowing curtains and she materializes like a baleful phantom of some dark lore, walking the halls, stroking her mistress’ furs and undergarments, forgetting to blink nor take a breath except to spit out house protocol or venomous asides at the innocent Mrs. de Winter.
I’m not sure if this is an accident, but if you look at the curtain next to Judith Anderson, it sure does look like a tornado. If that doesn’t speak to her sexual frustration nothing does.
Mrs. Danvers appears once again and requests her new mistress’ approval of the lunch menu, especially about which sauces as the other Mrs. de Winter was very particular about her sauces. The young Mrs. de Winter intimidated by the imposing housekeeper sinks back in her chair while Danvers looms over her like a prison matron more than her servant, Mrs. de Winter is completely lost about such things as menus and is deferential to whatever the other Mrs. de Winter would have chosen.
The interaction with Mrs. Danvers shakes Mrs. de Winter up and through her clumsiness she accidentally breaks a treasured china cupid that sits on the desk. Fearing that she will make matters worse for herself she hides the broken pieces of the statue in the back of Rebecca’s desk behind some stationery.
Enter Gladys Cooper as Maxim’s sister Beatrice Lacy and Nigel Bruce as brother-in-law- Major Giles Lacy. Gladys Cooper is the third intimidating woman in the story to come along and make the new Mrs. de Winter feel inadequate.
Before meeting them, the young heroine is disturbed when she overhears Major Lacy speculating that the new Mrs. de Winter may be an “ex-chorus girl…He picked her up in the south of France, didn’t he?”
Beatrice tells the new Mrs. de Winter that Maxim adored Rebecca. They ask “How do you get along with Mrs. Danvers?… She scares you, doesn’t she? She isn’t exactly an oil painting is she?” Even the Lacys are aware of Mrs. Danvers’ unnatural devotion to the first Mrs. de Winter.
After Beatrice asks how she is getting along with Mrs. Danvers she assures her:
Oh, there’s no need for you to be frightened of her. But you shouldn’t have any more to do with her than you can help…You see, she’s bound to be insanely jealous at first, and she must resent you bitterly…Don’t you know? Why I should have thought Maxim would have told you. She simply adored Rebecca.
While having lunch the Lacys ask Mrs. de Winter all sorts of questions about her talents and if she has any of the qualities the first Mrs. de Winter possessed. But they learn that she cannot hunt nor ride a horse, not even dance the Rumba. She only “sketches a little.” Then the conversation becomes uncomfortable when the subject turns to her not being able to sail and Major Lacy says “Thank goodness for that.” Of course, Rebecca had died in a boating accident. Then Beatrice turns her sights on the way the young woman looks, ridiculing her hair and her style of clothes not being adequate as mistress of Manderley. “Oh well, don’t go by me. I can see by the way you dress you don’t care a hoot how you look.”
Mrs. de Winter tells Maxim about her conversation with Beatrice “I was quite different from what she expected…Oh, someone smarter and more sophisticated I’m afraid.” She feels like she will never live up to Rebecca.
Mrs. de Winter and Maxim go for a walk, but he still treats her like a child, insisting that she wear her raincoat. “You can’t be too careful with children.” She follows their dog Jasper down to a beach house though Maxim is against it. There she finds a derelict Barmy Ben (Leonard Cary) hiding in the beach house who recognizes Jasper. Inside she finds more remnants of Rebecca, her monogrammed towels R de W. The essence of Rebecca is ever pervasive. Ben pleads with her not to tell about his hiding place, “You won’t tell anyone you saw me in there, will you?” half mad he remembers and rambles on, “She’s gone in the sea, ain’t she? She’ll never come back no more.”
Mrs. de Winter finally catches up with Maxim who is in a rage that she went against his wishes after he expressly told her not to go to the beach house. Then he begins to regret coming home to Manderley.
de Winter- You know I didn’t want you to go there, but you deliberately went…Don’t go there again, you hear!…Because I hate the place and if you had my memories, you wouldn’t go there or talk about it or even think about it…We should have stayed away. We should never have come back to Manderley. Oh, what a fool I was.
After she wipes away her tears she realizes that the handkerchief Maxim has given her is monogrammed with the letter “R”. Curious about the secrecy surrounding Rebecca’s death, she decides to talk to Maxim’s good friend Frank Crawley.
Mrs. de Winter: What did she use the cottage for?
Crawley: The boat used to be moored near there.
Mrs. de Winter: What boat? What happened to it? Was that the boat she was sailing in, when she was drowned?
Crawley: Yes. It capsized and sank. She was washed overboard.
Mrs. de Winter: Wasn’t she afraid to go out like that alone?
Crawley: She wasn’t afraid of anything.
Mrs. de Winter: Where did they find her?
Crawley: Near Edgecoombe, about 40 miles up channel about two months afterwards. Maxim went up to identify her. It was horrible for him.
Mrs. de Winter: Yes, it must have been. Mr. Crawley, please don’t think me morbidly curious. It isn’t that. It’s just that I feel at such a disadvantage. All the time, whenever I meet anyone, Maxim’s sister or even the servants, I know they’re all thinking the same thing. They’re all comparing me with her – with Rebecca.
Crawley: You mustn’t think that. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you married Maxim. It’s going to make all the difference to his life. And from my point of view, it’s very refreshing to find someone like yourself, who is not entirely in tune, shall we say, with Manderley.
Mrs. de Winter: That’s very sweet of you. I dare say, I, I’ve been stupid, but every day, I, I realize the things that she had that I lack – beauty and wit and intelligence and all the things that are so important.
Crawley: Oh, you have qualities that are just as important, more important if I may say so – kindliness and sincerity, and if you’ll forgive me, modesty mean more to a husband than all the wit and beauty in the world. We, none of us, want to live in the past, Maxim least of all. It’s up to you, you know, to lead us away from it.
Mrs. de Winter: I promise you I won’t bring this up again, but before we end this conversation, would you answer just one more question?
Crawley: If it’s something I’m able to answer, I’ll do my best Mrs.
Mrs. de Winter: Tell me, what was Rebecca really like?
Crawley: I suppose, I suppose she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw.
Maxim and his new bride begin to watch home movies of their honeymoon, when he notices that she has changed her hairstyle and is wearing a more sophisticated dress, she learned by reading BEAUTY magazine. She is so anxious to be accepted into quaint English society and as a proper mistress of Manderley. She also has a very imperceptible identity given that I must write Mrs. de Winter or our heroine or young woman. She has been depersonalized since the opening of the story. The two seem like lost souls themselves trying to recapture that small trapping of happiness they felt on the Riviera, as in the title of this piece they are the dead who are watching the living.
During the viewing, the film breaks, and Fritz the butler enters the room to inform Maxim that Mrs. Danvers has accused Robert of stealing one of the china ornaments. In front of Fritz and the austere Mrs. Danvers, she immediately admits to breaking the statue in the morning room and hiding the pieces in the back of the desk drawer. “I was afraid he’d take me a fool.”
Mrs. de Winter is already so self-conscious about doing even small tasks right while being degraded and belittled by everyone around her, does act like a child for example when she accidentally breaks the valuable figurine, instead of telling Mrs. Danvers who terrifies her, and shoves the pieces in a desk drawer hiding it until the servant Robert is blamed. This is a childish act and Joan Fontaine is marvelous at conveying an enchanting vulnerability.
The new Mrs. de Winter not only is shown as the archetypal heroine in distress but her power is equally taken away by not giving her a name as an identity, further restraining her authority. She is intimidated by the responsibilities of running such a large ancestral manor house and taking on the role of mistress of Manderley something the first Mrs. de Winter apparently did perfectly.
She feels dull and not even worthy of gossip which actually infuriates Maxim when she mentions this to him. The naive young woman is constantly reminded of Rebecca, her monograms are everywhere, Mrs. Danvers taunts her with the dead woman’s monograms or embroidered letter “R”s and it’s easy to see why she would believe that Maxim is still madly in love with her. Maxim seems to have a short temper about things and is disenchanted since he’s been back at Manderley.
From the beginning he has managed to infantilize her, calling her a child, and treating her as if she needs to be reminded to behave like a good girl, about the simplest things like wearing a raincoat. Only serving to take away her power as a woman. This is a dynamic in the psychological woman-in-peril genre which has always struck me as creepy. It further serves to drive more of a wedge between them as a romantic couple.
The brooding Maxim doesn’t understand how dreadfully lonely and intimidated his wife is not only of her new place as mistress of the house but how she is living in the shadow of his first wife, reminded at every turn, by Mrs. Danvers her loss of pride at the mercy of this malicious enemy.
Mr. de Winter: Oh hang Mrs. Danvers. Why on earth should you be frightened of her? You behave more like an upstairs maid or something, not like the mistress of the house at all.
Mrs. de Winter: Yes, I know I do. But I feel so uncomfortable. I try my best every day, but it’s very difficult, with people looking me up and down as if I were a prize cow.
Mr. de Winter: Well, what does it matter if they do? You must remember that life at Manderley is the only thing that interests anybody down here.
Mrs. de Winter: What a slap in the eye I must have been to them then. I suppose that’s why you married me, cause you knew I was dull and gauche and inexperienced. There would never be any gossip about me.
Mr. de Winter : Gossip? What do you mean?
Mrs. de Winter : I don’t know. I just said it for something to say. Don’t look at me like that. Maxim. What’s the matter? What have I said?
Mr. de Winter: It wasn’t a very attractive thing to say, was it?
Mrs. de Winter: No. It was rude, hateful.
Mr. de Winter: I wonder if I did a very selfish thing in marrying you.
Mrs. de Winter: What do you mean?
Mr. de Winter: I’m not much of a companion to you, am I? You don’t get much fun, do you? You ought to have married a boy, someone of your own age.
Mrs. de Winter: Maxim, why do you say this? Of course we’re companions.
Mr. de Winter: Are we? I don’t know. I’m very difficult to live with.
Mrs. de Winter: No, you’re not difficult, you’re easy, very easy. Our marriage is a success, isn’t it? A great success? We’re happy, aren’t we? Terribly happy? (He walks away.) If you don’t think we are happy, it would be much better if you didn’t pretend. I’ll go away. Why don’t you answer me?
Mr. de Winter: How can I answer you when I don’t know the answer myself? If you say we’re happy, let’s leave it at that. Happiness is something I know nothing about.
George Barnes and Hitchcock set this scene using the fluttering noir lighting from the projector as a way to convey the duplicity and secrecy of the world that this poor lonely awkward girl now inhabits. The home movies play out in the dark of the room and she is framed in close-up, with emphasis on her eyes and the hopelessness she feels.
Maxim has left for London and his young bride is lost in that vast loneliness of Manderley. He has written her a note that reads, “This brief holiday from me should be welcome.” She notices something moving in the window of the West Wing and goes to explore what it might be. She overhears Jack Favell (George Sanders) dapper, witty, and unsavory around the edges, secretly being led out by Mrs. Danvers whom he refers to as Danny. He warns Mrs. Danvers not to alert the new “little bride” Yes, and we must be careful not to shock Cinderella, mustn’t we?” Before he leaves so Maxim doesn’t catch him, he pops his head in the window of the study to meet Cinderella, and introduces himself as Mr. Favell, asking that his visit be kept a secret from her “revered husband” “He doesn’t exactly approve of me”. Favell explains that he is just “a lonely old bachelor” and “Rebecca’s favorite cousin.”
Part of what makes Rebecca a grand Gothic horror hybrid are scenes that blend almost the fantastical emergence of Mrs. Danvers like any great classical monster or fiend, like Dracula or Frankenstein. Though both are more sympathetic while Danvers is pure insensate evil driven by a lust to worship at the altar of her equally aberrant mistress, though we don’t find this out until it is revealed toward the end that Rebecca is a callous and conniving woman who only serves herself and her beauty bellies what is inside her soul which is dark. A dark deity as it were that Danvers worships.
Danvers leaves the door to Rebecca’s room unlocked on purpose knowing that Mrs. de Winter would enter and look around. Mrs. de Winter explores Rebecca’s room as if it were a secret forbidden enchanted world. Franz Waxman’s otherworldly music underscores the sense of fairy tale quality to the furtive atmosphere.
Mrs. de Winter explores Rebecca’s room as if it were a secret forbidden enchanted world. Composer Franz Waxman’s eerie music underscores the sense of fairy tale quality to the atmosphere. So when Danvers invades the young woman’s quiet wandering it is as if a treacherous monster has entered her quiet perilous journey.
Mrs. Danvers-“Do you wish anything, Madam?” “You always wanted to see the room.”
Mrs. Danvers thrusts the room into the light to reveal the palace of her adoration, Rebecca’s sleeping chambers, her most intimate room, filled with her precious things. She picks up a fur and rubs it along Mrs. de Winter’s cheek so perversely, like a sexual advance or violation she relates Rebecca’s identity fancifully as if she were a Fairy Queen. She urges the young woman to sit at her dressing table. And begins to mock brush her old mistress’ hair, just behind Mrs. de Winter recalling conversations of old she used to carry on with Rebecca. The scene is perversely erotic as she shares items from Rebecca’s personal garments. “Have you ever seen anything so delicate?”
From reading Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood – In the scene when she touches Rebecca’s hairbrush then recoils after she sees the photograph of her husband and feels ashamed. Mrs. Danvers holds out Rebecca’s black nightgown and asks if she’s ever seen anything ‘so delicate’. Joan Fontaine is framed to the left of the camera with her face distracted by some cut flowers, blocking her face in clear view. Cinematographer George Barnes lit the scene to evoke a mixture of wonder and Gothic horror; Hitchcock staged the scene alternating widening and narrowing the spaces between the characters in the large open room, which mirrored the attraction-repulsion that tortures the young heroine not just in this scene but throughout the film.
Danvers is obsessed with Rebecca, she also objectifies her. It all centers around her great beauty, her intellect, and her sophistication and breeding. Danvers preserves Rebecca’s room like a museum and her things like a shrine to a deity to the goddess of beauty and perfection.
“Oh, You’ve moved her brush, haven’t you? There, that’s better” Mrs. Danvers has so much contempt for this poor young soul that she can’t even stand the thought of her touching her beloved mistress’ “things” Though Anderson’s movements are controlled and rigid, her scorn for this young woman meddling is palpable even though she stands like a stone statue.
And like in any good horror story, the heroine goes curiously into the night in search of the answers to the secrets of the castle, in this case, Manderley. She climbs the dark and shadowy stairs and enters through the doors of the West Wing that lead to Rebecca’s bed chambers. She opens the drapery and a window. And suddenly like a dark entity in her black dress Danvers appears and like a sorceress, thrusts the room into the light! “Everything is kept just as Mrs. de Winter liked it. Nothing has been altered since that last night.” Mrs. Danvers begins another soliloquy, and when she reflects on her lost mistress it is almost orgasmic, suggestive of a lesbian relationship.
“This is where I keep all her clothes… “knew everyone that mattered. Everyone loved her.”
This is elaborated on in a very provocative choreography with Rebecca’s possessions, her finery, her furs, and her lingerie which Danvers runs her hands sensually underneath the sheerness. When Mrs. Danvers caresses Rebecca’s garments it is not only suggestive of a sexual rite, she is literally making love to Rebecca as if she were there in the flesh. She is not only trying to shock the young woman but she is letting her know that she will never be as desirable as the first Mrs. de Winter.
As the macabre dance continues she encourages the young woman to sit at Rebecca’s dressing table while she reminisces about her routine. Danvers mimics brushing her hair and relives conversations she had with her beloved mistress. Then she shows her a beautifully embroidered pillowcase with another monogrammed “R” on it. Rebecca must have been a narcissist who needed to leave her mark on all her possessions. She definitely left her mark on Mrs. Danvers. I’m surprised Danny doesn’t have an “R” tattooed on her forehead.
She shows Rebecca’s transparent lace black nightgown, a very sexy intimate garment. “Did you ever see anything so delicate? Look, you can see my hand through it.”
The ghost of Rebecca is not only haunting Manderley she is now terrorizing this poor young woman through Mrs. Danvers who is summoning her spirit to torment her. Trying to convince her that she still inhabits the house. “I wonder if she doesn’t come back here to Manderley and watch you and Mr. de Winter together.”
Judith Anderson is one of THE most imposing actresses you will ever find. Along with Agnes Moorehead, there probably isn’t anyone else who could portray with veracity and cool viciousness of Mrs. Danvers. Hitchcock brings the close-up of her face, the light expressly on her piercing eyes.
Mrs. Danvers: You wouldn’t think she’d been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me, like a quick light step. I couldn’t mistake it anywhere, not only in this room, but in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now. Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?
Mrs. de Winter: I don’t believe it.
Mrs. Danvers: Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn’t come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don’t you stay here and rest, and listen to the sea? It’s so soothing. Listen to it. Listen.
At the window, with the waves crashing against the rocks in the background, Danvers tells the poor bedeviled young woman to “listen to the sea” Hoping that she will just end it all and jump from the window.
Mrs. de Winter sees an “R” monogrammed address book. She is now alone in Rebecca’s room, and she searches through stacks of love letters finding a “costume ball” invitation to Jack Favell with his handwritten note that suggests he and Rebecca were lovers.
Somehow, Mrs. de Winter finds some strength inside and orders Mrs. Danvers to get rid of all of Rebecca’s monogrammed stationary and personal belongings. “I want you to get rid of all these things.” Mrs. Danvers tries to object but finally, Mrs. de Winter acts as the new mistress of Manderley. “I am Mrs. de Winter now.” Mrs. Danvers “Very well, I’ll give the instructions.”
Mrs. de Winter also tells her: “Mrs. Danvers, I intend to say nothing to Mr. de Winter about Mr. Favell’s visit. In fact, I prefer to forget everything that happened this afternoon.”
Maxim returns home and she is so happy to see her husband, with her newfound assertiveness she tells him that she wants to host a costume ball the way they used to.“We ought to do something to make people feel that Manderley is just the same as it always was…Oh yes, but I want to, oh please! I’ve never been to a large party, but I could learn what to do, and I promise you, you wouldn’t be ashamed of me…I’ll design a costume all by myself and give you the surprise of your life.”
Mrs. de Winter is busy sketching ideas for her costume when Mrs. Danvers suggests that she look at the portrait of Lady Caroline de Winter. The portrait shows her wearing an elegant white dress. And so she has the exact gown made up for the ball to surprise Maxim.
Mrs. Danvers misleads Mrs. de Winter into thinking that Maxim will be pleased when in fact this is the same dress that Rebecca wore the year before. “I heard Mr. de Winter say that this is his favorite of all the paintings.”
Filled with joy and ready to surprise her husband, she begins to glide down the grand staircase in her secret gown inspired by the portrait suggested by Mrs. Danvers. Once she reaches the bottom of the stairs, she is glowing with anticipation awaiting Maxim’s response. “Good evening, Mr. de Winter.” Maxim turns around but is suddenly enraged by what he sees. He orders her to “take it off!… What the devil do you think you’re doing?… Go and take it off. It doesn’t matter what you put on. Anything will do. What are you standing there for? Didn’t you hear what I said?”
Maxim is a tormented soul who has no compassion and is indifferent to his young wife’s sense of alienation and isolation.
Giles Lacy says “No one ever fought the devil” It’s a telling sign that whatever dark malaise that lingers and haunts Manderley won’t be vanquished as long as Rebecca’s memory is allowed to prevail.
What was supposed to be a glorious triumph in Mrs. de Winter’s new life, bringing back the festive days at Manderley has turned to distress and humiliation, just as Mrs. Danvers had intended. She flees from her self-conscious blunder sweeping upstairs but first catches a glimpse of Mrs. Danvers going into Rebecca’s room.
When she confronts Mrs. Danvers, the harpy of Manderley tells her that she will never take Rebecca’s place.
Mrs. de Winter asks Danvers “Why do you hate me?” Danvers tells her “Because you’re trying to take her place”
Mrs. Danvers: I watched you go down just as I watched her a year ago. Even in the same dress you couldn’t compare.
Mrs. de Winter: You knew it. You knew that she wore it. And yet you deliberately stressed that I wear it. Why do you hate me? What have I done to you that you should ever hate me so?
Mrs. Danvers: You tried to take her place. You let him marry you. I’ve seen his face, his eyes. They’re the same as those first weeks after she died. I used to listen to him, walking up and down, up and down, all night long, night after night, thinking of her. Suffering torture because he lost her.
Mrs. de Winter: I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know.
Mrs. Danvers: You thought you could be
Mrs. de Winter. Live in her house. Walk in her steps. Take the things that were hers. But she’s too strong for you. You can’t fight her. No one ever got the better of her. Never. Never. She was beaten in the end, but it wasn’t a man. It wasn’t a woman. It was the sea.
Mrs. de Winter Oh, stop it! Stop it! Oh, stop it!
Mrs. de Winter is slowly being driven mad by the memory of Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers slowly, methodically opens up the bedroom window for the hysterical young woman who is on the brink of committing suicide. Mrs. Danvers at her most diabolical urges Mrs. de Winter to jump out the window. Reminding her once again that she will never be the mistress of Manderley or be able to take Rebecca’s place. The two women are set up in one of the most iconic frames of the suspense genre in classic films, as the camera almost encourages the young woman whose poor bedeviled stare is matched by the crazed fixed stare in Danvers cold eyes. Danvers has an almost hypnotic hold over her for a moment. Judith Anderson’s restrained and serious voice floats into the air like tiny menacing clouds.
Mrs. Danvers Why don’t you go? Why don’t you leave Manderley? He doesn’t need you. He’s got his memories. He doesn’t love you – he wants to be alone again with her. You’ve nothing to stay for. You’ve nothing to live for really, have you? Look down there. It’s easy, isn’t it? Why don’t you? Why don’t you? Go on. Go on. Don’t be afraid!
NOTE: I am not giving away the secret of Rebecca by bringing Mrs. Danver’s character to its ultimate conclusion. I felt it necessary for the plot line to show her crazed devotion driven to its fullest climax. It is vital to explore Mrs. Danver’s madness, setting Manderley on fire along with the remnants of her lover’s things and herself which shows an element of mythic ceremony to sacrifice herself and burn along with her great lady’s memory and her legacy while the mistress of Manderley.
When Maxim returns home from London to Manderley the entire place is lit with fire, as the crazed Mrs. Danvers has set the place ablaze she stands in the middle of it like a sacrificial minion, a mythical inamorata surrounded like Frankenstein’s monster at the end of a Universal horror. Mrs. de Winter clings to him and tells Max that Danvers roaming around in her black dress gripping a single candle went mad and said that if her mistress couldn’t have Manderley no one else could have it.
Danvers’s plagued by memories of her lost love, surrounded by tokens of her existence are a torture to her longing and her grief, waiting to hear the quick, light step of Rebecca along the corridors and in the rooms of Manderley. The one last time the staunch and rigid figure of Mrs. Danvers is framed by fire, as Tanya Modleski poses the ultimate question, “What is the nature of Mrs. Danvers’ desire?
DAME JUDITH ANDERSON’S EPIC CHARACTERIZATION OF MRS. DANVERS THE CANNY GOTHIC VILLAINESS OF MANDERLEY AND THE SPELL OF REBECCA
Mrs. Danvers talking about Rebecca-“She had a right to amuse herself didn’t she. Love was a game to her. Nothing but a game. It made her laugh I tell you. She used to sit on her bed and rock with laughter at the lot of you!”
Reassessing the Hitchcock Tough: Industry, Collaboration, and Filmmaking edited by Wieland Schwanebeck
“Mrs. Danvers has indeed been read as an example par excellence of the queer Hollywood villain. Within popular culture, Mrs. Danvers has become a cinematic symbol of queerness, framing the housekeeper as “one of the earliest coded lesbian images in Hollywood”(Kregloe) and even more telling so, as one of the “seven evilest lesbian and bisexual exes.” (Snarker)
As the murderous antagonist in HItchcock’s American film debut, Mrs. Danvers challenges the gendered norm that is otherwise established within the film. With her dark hair tightly pinned up, the housekeeper is introduced as she is standing in front of the male staff, her color-coded unity with the latter suggested by her long black robe. At the same time, Mrs. Danvers stands in visual opposition to the female house staff, who are wearing white aprons, line up on the other side of the room. The contrasting of light and dark colors becomes a continued motif throughout the film as the young blonde protagonist (Joan Fontaine), dressed in lightly colored clothes, is followed by a hauntingly dark Mrs. Danvers.
From Danvers The Wandering Woman in Rebecca by Richard Armstrong
“But beyond Rebecca’s cautionary tale against marrying in haste lies another kind of female longing. When we first meet Mrs. Danvers she is, characteristically dressed in black. After her initial conversation with the second Mrs. de Winter, the camera moves into a close-up on her face. There is a dissolve to a clock face against which we see the reflection of a window streaming with rain. The juxtaposition is poignant. Mrs. Danvers was devoted to her mistress, she ‘simply adored Rebecca’ we are told, and the association between this solitary figures gaunt mien and the clock face streaming with rain (tears) is rich and strange.”
From Postwar Hollywood 1946-1962 by Drew Casper–
“Selznick/Hitchcock’s Rebecca (UA, 1940), a Best Picture Oscar winner with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, the suspense thriller as an A genre began to germinate and came to fruition in the war/postwar years while the B thriller continued strong and got aesthetically better. The genre’s strategizing of a protagonist’s physical, emotional and intellectual confrontation with a world gone awry took on psychologically complex characterizations, morally fuzzy situations and solutions, and sociological resonances (the problem of male definition). It flirted with forbidden topics (aberrant sexuality, sadomasochistic violence). It began to ally itself with other genres. The genre, with its usual male controlling the action, made room for the female protagonist. And, all the while, it became humanly recognizable and timely.”
From Dark Romance sexuality in the horror film by David j. Hogan
As Hitchcock entered his American period in 1940 he turned his attention more frequently to sexual suspense. Rebecca (1940), his first Hollywood film, concerns the unnamed second wife (Joan Fontaine) of Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), and her fight to resist the influence of her dead predecessor, Rebecca. De Winter’s estate, Manderley, is in Rebecca’s thrall; the dead woman’s earthly agent is de Winter’s housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), who tries to push the new Mrs. de Winter into suicide. Fontaine is made to feel like a clumsy outsider in her new home. When Mrs. Danvers learns the distasteful secret of Rebecca’s death (which revolves around cancer and a mercy killing by Maxim) she hides the truth by destroying Manderley and herself -by fire. Rebecca is a romantic fable.. Set-bound, mannered and painfully conscious of the class of people it depicts, the film is typical of the high gloss Hollywood studio product of the period. Hitchcock’s flair for sexual paranoia did not blossom until Shadow of a Doubt (1943), a quintessentially American film that was shot on the sunny streets of a real town, far away from sound stages and process screens. The picture is among Hitchcock’s finest and was his first out and out horror story.
IT IS PROBLEMATIC TO ATTACH LABELS TO AUTEUR HITCHCOCK’S FILMS: BECAUSE HIS WORK CONSISTS OF SO MANY INTERSECTIONAL ELEMENTS.
From Film Noir The Directors Hitchcock by Alain Silver and James Ursini
Inevitably critics differ about which film was Hitchcock’s first noir, though many accord that honor to Rebecca, including the French critic Patrick Brian, in his 1981 book Le Film Noir ) Rebecca provides a perfect illustration of the difficulty categorizing the work of a director like Hitchcock. There his certainly much about the movie that is distinctly un-noir. The locations are far removed from the mean streets of a Hammett or Chandler, switching largely between Monte Carlo and a grand country mansion in the remote English countryside. There are no dives or speak-easies, no rain swept streets, no gumshoes with hats shielding their hand rolled cigarettes. Instead what we have is a Gothic romance, with undercurrents of the horror movie or even ghost story. Yet there are powerful noir undercurrents most interestingly in the form of the eponymous heroine. Rebecca is dead at the start of the movie, yet nevertheless her presence haunts it throughout. When we first learn of her, Rebecca appears to be the most wonderful creature who ever lived, beautiful, witty sophisticated and charming—everything her widower’s second wife is not. But as the film develops and we learn more about her, the details of her selfishness, infidelity and cruelty emerge. As Oliveir’s Maxim de Winder says to his mysteriously anonymous second wife, Rebecca’s “shadow has been between us all the time, keeping us from one another” She becomes one of the most destructive femme fatales never actually to appear in a noir film.
From Charles Derry The Suspense Thriller -Films in the Shadow of Alfred Hitchcock
Related to thrillers called ‘moral confrontation as a kind of distinct subset are a group of ‘women thrillers’ which include Rebecca, Suspicion 1941, Gaslight 1944, Worry, Wrong Number 1948, The Spiral Staircase? In which a heroine finds herself increasingly certain that her husband is either a killer or a homicidal maniac. These films emerge from a chauvinist view of male potency and aggression, these women’s thrillers emerge from a chauvinist view of female passivity and helplessness.
From Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies
“Even when the movies are adaptations of plays or novels written earlier, it is significant that, having been made in the forties, they take on its peculiar colorations. The trust that accompanied attraction is a thing of the past. Instead, relationships are rooted in fear and suspicion, impotence and inadequacy: Charles Boyer driving Ingrid Bergman mad in Gaslight; Joan Fontaine misunderstanding Laurence Olivier’s brooding in Rebecca and Cary Grant’s deviousness in Suspicion. In each of these films we find, in the ease with which the men intimidate the women, an identification on the part of the director (Cukor in Gaslight and Hitchcock in Suspicion and Rebecca) with the woman’s point of view, with the peculiar susceptibility of women who have so little self-confidence that they are only too ready to accept the most sinister designs, ill-will or indifference from their husbands. The directors suggest, moreover, that cruelty and coldness are indispensable elements in the fascination these men hold for these particular women.”
From A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock edited by Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague
“As villains, Hitchcock’s romantic movies replace evil wizards, wicked step-mothers and corrupt royalty with similarly sublimated forms;traitors, parvenus, foreigners, or figures of equivocal sexuality. Especially common are a host of Hitchcock antagonists that Jung called “Terrible Mothers,” an archetype that the director and his writers took over almost unchanged from the world of folklore. In addition to Norman’s unnaturally persistent parent in Psycho (1960), we may count such powerful, destructive women as Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) in Rebecca (1940), Mrs. Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin in Notorious (1946), and Millie (Margaret Leighton) in Under Capricorn (1949).”
From Class, Gender and Violence: Bringing Unreliable Femme Fatales from Page to Screen in Rebecca and Gone Girl by Laura Burns
Burns talks in terms of du Maurier’s novel as a feminist rally — here in the introduction to her fascinating article-“Stories that deeply resonate with readers or an audience and incite complicated feelings and discussions for them often reflect an underlying fear and tension within society. Plotlines that reveal unexamined prejudices and shed light upon unresolved societal norms transcend the boundaries of fiction and entertainment, and work on an individuals’ greatest inadequacies, reminding them that no matter how much they work towards understanding and solidarity with those that are different than themselves, there still often exists a fear of the unknown and a bias for the familiar. The novels and film adaptations of Rebecca and Gone Girl explore the tensions of gender, class and violence within marriages, and how straying from the patriarchal norms can incite feelings of violence in the opposite sex with dramatic consequences. These film noir stories portray female agency as the most terrifying threat of all, and reveal that the idea that a powerful woman should be feared and distrusted resonates within society as powerfully today as it did in the late 1930’s”
Hitchcock himself describes the story as having four central characters, Rebecca, the second Mrs. de Winter, Maxim, and Manderley, and Hitchcock felt that Manderley is the most central of these, and depicts the home that way in his film adaptation (Sally Beauman). Manderley is the seat of patriarchal power, representing all the complex expectations and oppressions associated with the maintenance of the patriarchal structure, and it is no coincidence that the ancestral estate looms ominously over each of the main characters in Rebecca and heavily influences all of their decisions
There is inherent misogyny in and a threat to patriarchy in Rebecca because Maxim’s first wife while I won’t give away the story’s subplot she is depicted as unnatural, transgressive, abhorrent, too independent, and violent. This can be transferred then to Mrs. Danvers who worships Rebecca.
From Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood.
Assuming her role, Hitchcock showed Anderson how hers should reveal memories of dressing and undressing her mistress. “I knew I was in the presence of a master,” Anderson concluded. “I had utter trust and faith in him.” Though no one mentioned the underlying lesbianism of the Rebecca-Danvers relationship, Hitchcock sensed it. Esme Percy (Murder!) and Peter Lorre (The Man Who Knew Too Much) had appeared as fey, perhaps homosexual characters in earlier Hitchcock pictures; according to numerous observers, sexual aberrance intrigued the director. In Rebecca, the attachment of servant to mistress awaited only his touch.”
But the relationship between Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca, who called her companion “Danny”, skirted the industry’s cencorship dictum against ‘sex perversion or any inference to it.” But Mrs. Danvers’ description of Rebecca’s physical attributes, her handling of her various garments, particularly the night gown,” reddened his Irish Catholic cheeks (Joseph I. Breen MPAPC) In the final cut, Breen told Selznick “there must be no suggestion whatever of a perverted relationship between Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca. If any possible hint of this creeps into this scene, we will of course not be able to approve the picture.
From Women in Film Noir : Queers and Women in Film Noir by Richard Dyer
“Female queers figure differently in relation to the central female figure. Not so much Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, perhaps, if one counts this as part of film noir. Her relation to the dead Rebecca is one of adoration, of an enrapture with scents and silks that she herself does not wear. Like other film noir lesbians, however, she has a closer physical intimacy with a woman than do the male queers.”
Suggesting a similarity with The Haunting in it’s Gothic nature “The Haunting exceeds the woman’s story as female Oedipal drama enacted, Tania Dodleski demonstrates, in a gothic like Rebecca. In that genre the protagonist’s search for the ‘secret’ of a dead woman is facilitated (or impeded) by a key figure, an older, sometimes sinister female character variously the ‘housekeeper’ the ’nurse’ , or in some other capacity a ‘companion’ to the dead woman. These roles are truly a gallery of the best lesbian characters in classic cinematic history. Played by the likes of Judith Anderson or Cornelia Otis Skinner in The Uninvited they are a compelling reason for the young woman, recently married and suspecting it might have been a mistake, to realize that it was one. I have discussed the centrality of the companion function provides a mapping and an iconography of female homosexuality throughout the gothic genre. In The Haunting a crucial transformation has taken place with the manifest appearance of lesbianism. The representation of the dead woman, the object of the heroine’s desire (Rebecca’ as precisely unrepresentable in the film), and the function of the companion, converge in the figure of Theodora, who is emphatically not the mother.
THE CANNY LESBIAN—Tania Modleski “Never to be Thirty Six Years Old”: Rebecca as Female Oedipal Drama (1982)
If the nameless heroine of Rebecca oscillates between the two poles of female Oedipal desire—desire for the mother and desire for the father—Mrs. Danvers sets the house on fire and dies with it, joining the ghost of Rebecca which, as Modleski reads it, ‘haunts’ her.
Last Night I dreamt you all came back to The Last Drive-In. Through the gates and up to the concession stand order some popcorn and Pepsi and let me know how much you enjoyed the show! This is your EverLovin Joey sayin’ it’s always a thrill to see you here. Keep coming back!