Halloween has come and gone, a time change looms (“fall back”) and winter is just around the corner. Early twilight and cool evenings are here and it seems to me that when the weather starts getting nippy and night falls early, nothing satisfies like a crackling fire, something either steaming or iced to drink and a well-chosen book or movie to settle into. What I'm reading and watching as autumn deepens this year are books and the films that were made of them.
|The Uninvited, 1944|
The film is a generally literal adaptation, barring Production Code-dictated changes (most notably, Rebecca's death is accidental in the film rather than outright murder as in the book) and a few other alterations. This is largely thanks to producer David O. Selznick, who was wary when it came to tinkering with literature.
|Selznick, Fontaine & Hitchcock at Academy Awards dinner|
He should not have been so glum. Rebecca is plainly a Selznick project, a glossy and rich first rate production. The film was an unqualified success and brought the producer his second Best Picture Oscar in a row, one of the two Oscars Rebecca won out of the eleven total nominations it received. But Selznick was accustomed to dominating his directors and Hitchcock had outfoxed him…
Despite the fact that Rebecca has been called the least ‘Hitchcockian’ of the director's films and that Hitchcock later virtually disowned it, it bears unmistakable signature touches. The character interpretations of Florence Bates (Mrs. Van Hopper) and George Sanders (Jack Favell) are darkly witty comic turns - entirely in the Hitchcock tradition. And from relatively inexperienced Joan Fontaine in the central role, the director determinedly mined the performance of her young life. Judith Anderson’s iconic Mrs. Danvers, a brilliantly shaded tour de force, evolved out of a collaboration between actress and director about which she remarked, “I knew I was in the presence of a master; I had utter trust and faith in him.”
Judith Anderson and Joan Fontain in Rebecca
Rebecca's visual style also bears the recognizable imprint of its director. Hitchcock and cinematographer George Barnes concocted a persistently foreboding atmosphere that permeates the film from its first frames. In fact, the film's opening images - of Manderley's ornate iron-gated entrance, its misty landscape and the mansion's ghostly silhouette - are often cited as an influence on Citizen Kane. Hitchcock and Barnes also notably and inventively contrived to create a character, or the presence of a character, who never once appears onscreen - the titular Rebecca. The scene above beautifully illustrates...
|Daphne du Maurier and her children at Menabilly|
|Daphne du Maurier|
For me, du Maurier's novel and the Hitchcock/Selznick film are, taken together, an unbeatable way to greet the season's chill...