Sunday, April 5, 2009

Top Films: More Hitch: Rebecca

After his string of successes in Britain, (The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, and The Lady Vanishes among others) Hitchcock was finally brought over to Hollywood by the strong-willed producer David O. Selznick. His first film under that contract is a strange film in the Hitchcock canon. Some actually consider it his last and best British film. (Hard to do, when it is not a British film and not the best of that list even.) For others, it is hardly a Hitchcock film at all. Selznick did not allow Hitch to adapt the film, and used the editing room to shape the film the way he wanted, even though Hitchcock “edited in camera” as much as possible.

It eventually won the Best Picture Oscar for Selznick, and secured Hitchcock his first Best Director nomination. But it feels a lot like other pictures of its day. It does explore deep issues including the relationships between men and women, between women and women, and the powerlessness one feels when immersed in a completely foreign culture.

However, Hitchcock’s signature style is seen less than in other films. Mrs. Danvers is the best Hitchcock touch here. Her ghostly appearance and behavior, and the tension she brings simply controlling and manipulating the nameless lead with her words is chilling. More than most other Hitchcock stories, this is almost pure character study with little plot device (Macguffin) in play.

From an intercultural perspective, the experience of the leading lady as she moves to Manderlay is intriguing. Hitchcock shows us perfectly one way people feel and react when they are taken out of the life the have been accustomed to and are thrown into a foreign situation. The scene where she tries to “work” at Rebecca’s desk is perfectly orchestrated.

All in all, Rebecca is a great film, just not quite what one usually expects from Hitchcock.

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