“Rebecca” won two Academy Awards for Best Picture, and Best Cinematography (Black & White).
The 1940 film version of Daphne du Maurier's best-selling novel, "Rebecca," marked director Alfred Hitchcock's first American film, and the third phase of his lengthy career: after the British Silents and Sound films, "Rebecca" inaugurated the director's Selznick period, from 1940-1947.
Awarded a Best Picture Oscar, "Rebecca" remains a unique marriage of two powerful film personalities: the visual-oriented Hitchcock, at the time one of England's most esteemed directors; and detail-obsessed Selznick, a producer-executive whose hands-on approach to "Gone With The Wind" was heavily documented in an unending series of lengthy memos.
Criterion's transfer, made from a new 35mm fine-grain master, presents the film in its best incarnation to date. The audio has also been dramatically cleaned up, sharpening the dialogue and sound effects, and presents Franz Waxman's score (with sound effects) on a separate audio track. Though the 2-disc set offers the usual extras admirers have come to expect from the label, this particular release can also be seen as an updated, multimedia version of Leonard J. Leff's book "Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood."
Leff provides a feature-length commentary, floating between anecdotes, production details, and traditional film analysis. Though a bit dry and occasionally obvious, Leff nevertheless hits all the key theories and observations that are standard when analyzing Hitchcock's work, and reveals in detail, for example, how finished scenes were often the result of compromises and battles with producer Selznick, and the powerful censor board. Many of Leff's facts are also supported by the myriad extras that fill Disc Two to capacity.
From text pages chronicling the film's pre-production, filming and publicity during its original theatrical release to examples of Selznick's idiosyncratic memorandums and scripts excerpts (including deleted material), there's a lot to read before exploring the A/V archives.
Similar to his 1939 production of "Gone With The Wind," Selznick did a talent search for the film's leading roles, and several screen tests reveal the various actresses preferred by Selznick, Hitchcock and star Olivier (who managed to finagle two tests for his lover, Vivien Leigh). Each actress goes through the same basic scene, and utters some risqué dialogue - "You're my father, my brother, and my son" - which obviously had to be shorn to appease the censors. Leff also provides brief comments for the included Lighting/Make-Up, and Costume tests (the latter presented in convenient split-screen).
Hollywood's publicity machine is evidenced with a re-issue trailer, numerous stills and original commercial art, and three complete (and very clean) radio plays of du Maurier's novel. Orson Welles' 1938 Mercury Theatre production predates the film's release, but offers Margaret Sullavan's interpretation of the new Mrs. de Winter, as briefly glimpsed in her screen test, and there's also a live phone interview with du Maurier at the end, just before the yummy Campbell's soup blurb.
A 1950 production pairs Olivier and Vivien Leigh in the leads, finally giving the couple the chance to perform "Rebecca" together after their brief screen tests, and a 1941 Lux radio play has Ida Lupino and Ronald Coleman (once a candidate for Maxim de Winter), plus producer Selznick himself receiving an on-air award from director Cecil B. DeMille. "Rebecca's" popularity is capped with an archival film snippet of the 13th Academy Awards (directed by Sam Wood!), with observations by Leonard Leff. (Leff's final contributions are excerpts from two 1986 telephone interviews with a tough Joan Fontaine, and a reserved Judith Anderson.)
In 1998, France Culture (http://www.radio-france.fr/chaines/france-culture/sommaire/) produced a series of half-hour radio shows, with lengthy excerpts from the actual discussions between director Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock during the early 1960s. Spanning 8+ hours, the fascinating series covered all aspects ultimately printed in the classic book "Hitchcock/Truffaut," although it became clear the casual tone of the genial directors was organized and formalized when bounced to French, and re-translated to English for the book version. Criterion has chosen to carefully edit out Truffaut's questions, although the translator's voice is heard off and on. Hearing a master filmmaker candidly speak about his craft is priceless, and given the numerous subjects contained in the book, it's obvious Criterion has plenty of audio tape to mine for their scholarly Hitchcock-Selznick series.
Hitchcock titles released by Criterion include "The Lady Vanishes," "Notorious," "Rebecca," "Spellbound," and "The 39 Steps."
© 2001 Mark R. Hasan