Saturday, May 04, 2019

Rebecca + Rebecca Screen Tests (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Rebecca. Judith Anderson, Joan Fontaine. Behind them, the portrait of an ancestor of Maxim de Winter wearing the dress that had been unforgettably copied by Rebecca.

Rebecca / Rebecca.
Alfred Hitchcock, US 1940
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 130 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 4 May 2019.

NPS: One of three prints donated to the museum in 1999 by Daniel Selznick (son of producer David O. Selznick), it has the original distribution company, United Artists, credited in the opening of the film. There is very light scratching on the emulsion throughout. Shrinkage: 0.60%

About the film
“No one knows better than ‘Hitch’ how to cast a Poe eeriness about a scene, how to use the commonplaces of life to deadly effect, how to isolate a detail so that it shouts drama in your face. From the opening shot . . . he builds up the mood . . . so that every stick and stone, every flimsy knick-knack about the house, has its place in the pattern that fire ultimately devours.”
— C. A. Lejeune , The Observer, June 30, 1940

“A practically perfect translation of Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling novel into a picture. All the old-fashioned charm, the mystery and the originality of treatment which characterized the book may be found in the talkie. . . England’s premier director has combined with Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson in turning out a picture that ought to delight every person who has read the book and every person who meant to read it.”
— Daily Boston Globe, March 22, 1940

Followed by: Rebecca Screen Tests
Alfred Hitchcock, US 1939
Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY
Running time: 10 minutes

About the prints: These tests, also donated by Daniel Selznick, show slight emulsion and base scratches with splices between takes. Shrinkage: 0.90%

About the film: Rare tests show actors and costumes tested for the production of the feature film. Look closely and you may recognize some of the costumes that were used in another famous film made in 1939. (NPS)


"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 had 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 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 a 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... " (The opening monologue of the Second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca).

Rebecca was a personal project both for the producer David O. Selznick and the director Alfred Hitchcock. For Selznick, it was another magnificent woman's picture after Gone With the Wind.

For Hitchcock, it was a meditation on the power of the past. Like in Vertigo 18 years later, and like in Psycho even later, a dead woman overshadows everything. In Vertigo, it's Madeleine, in this film, it's Rebecca. We never even learn the first name of the living female protagonist, the second Mrs. de Winter.

Rebecca is a masterpiece in the sub-genre of the Female Gothic, comparable with Jane Eyre in its use of the first person narrative and a male protagonist with a dark secret like Rochester. It is a brilliant variation of the archetypal Female Gothic narrative of the young and innocent woman entering a sinister house possessed by the past.

The second Mrs. de Winter is a stranger in her own home at Manderley. Scarier than her husband Maxim are the women, starting with her hostess Edythe Van Hopper in Monte Carlo. Mrs. Danvers incarnated by Judith Anderson does her best to make the new mistress feel unwelcome.

Revisited after many years the performances of Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier strike me as even greater than I remembered. They are full of wit, nuance, gravity, and humour. This is a Bildungsroman of a young woman developing from an awkward and clumsy outsider to a heroine of her own life. A turning-point is when she declares to Mrs. Danvers that "I am Mrs. de Winter now".

Finally it turns out that the splendour of Rebecca de Winter's household was only a facade. "I hated her, there was never a moment of happiness", confesses Maxim. That is why he has tried to find a genuine and honest woman in contrast to the glittering fraud of Rebecca.

Robin Wood has assessed Rebecca as a study in patriarchy. He finds ominous Maxim's observation that "It's gone forever, that funny, young, lost look that I loved" and also his quip that his new wife should never be thirty-six. Another way of looking at it is that Maxim has conflicting feelings of patriarchy and modern terms of relationships. The past is a nightmare, but honest and genuine feelings can save the future.

Heikki Nyman has commented on Rebecca's influence on Citizen Kane down to the significant detail (Manderley / Xanadu, the letter R / the letter K, the burning negligée case / the burning sled... ).

I have never had such a stunning visual experience of Rebecca before. The vintage nitrate print from the Selznick estate is clean, refined, and ravishing. It is interesting to observe that the original visual quality is hazy in the framing footage and establishing shots of Manderley.


The ten minutes of tests are moving and charming.

Joan Fontaine's forlorn looks in her four silent costume tests.

Nova Pilbeam and Wyndham Goldie in sound test footage directed by Edmond T. Gréville. She plays the role of the gauche and awkward young woman.

Anne Baxter at age 16 directed by Hitchcock acting with Reginald Denny. She is still too young.

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