I’ve never been the greatest fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. Dangerous to admit, I know, you can gauge what sort of horridly dense person I am from my ratings of his feature films thus far, but I do hold out hope that, one day, I’ll come across a film from him that I enjoy. Rear Window was great and I am assured that that’s not evidence of Hitchcock being a one-hit-wonder. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but the godfather of chilling horror cultivated a name for himself, and I’d expected him to live up to it. Rebecca, then, was probably the best chance I had of falling in love with his work, a tightly written drama which pivots into light flutters of mystery and thriller with a woman attempting to uncover the dark secrets of her husband.
Rebecca showcases a woman in the throes of love, blinded by adoration for a mysterious man she has only just met. Hitchcock’s direction here is certainly impressive. I can’t deny his consistent use of effective lighting and camera movements. They’re concise, and add a great sense of grandeur to the mansion. Each room has its walls lined with guilt and mystery, his panning camera takes in the grand hallways and wide rooms extremely well. His set design, as expected, is rich with detail and an engaging treat for those looking for the hidden clues littered throughout. They’re truly excellent, and they meld a solid story into some excellent 40s iconography.
Laurence Olivier, a man who defines this period of film, is expectedly incredible. The man oozed charm and charisma, his charming, if cold-hearted approach to those around him here as Max de Winter is a superb performance. I’ve often looked at his twilight years as the best his career had to offer, with Sleuth being the jewel in his crown. Rebecca looks to convince otherwise, and his role here is nothing short of excellent. A jaded, grief-stricken aristocrat that woos women with ease, and has burdens on his conscience too great to bear. We’re shown this clearly through a performance that caters to the guilt and remorse found within his blank expression, his saddened eyes and thousand-yard stare. His chemistry with those around him is tremendous, especially that of Joan Fontaine, who gives a superb performance alongside Olivier.
Towards the end, the inevitable court case and big reveals rear their heads with underwhelming fashion. Where Hitchcock falls apart for me is in is endings, which I find neither alluring nor competent. The hour and a half before it, though, is nothing short of great. It never blows me away, nor is there a time I felt myself coming unstuck from my opinion of Hitchcock, but it’s a certainly enjoyable piece that details its story well. A trickle of information spread through a collection of strong leading performances and tight direction, it’s certainly a piece worthy of artistic praise, I just struggle to see its overwhelming appeal.