A successful and enjoyable mixture of mystery and romance, this 1940 picture paired master director Alfred Hitchcock with famed producer David O. Selznick ("Gone With The Wind"). The film stars Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, a wealthy, somewhat unemotional man who has recently lost his wife, Rebecca. de Winter finds a new woman in his life (Joan Fontaine) and proposes that they marry. She's thrilled and joins him in his journey back home.
Once she returns with him to his Manderley estate in Cornwall, things start to become a little off. While the house isn't visually haunted, there are constant reminders of the previous woman's existence, as well as a creepily evil maid Mrs. Danvers, who is doing her best to make the new woman feel not at home. The film changes tones wonderfully and smoothly, as a film that started off rather bright and pleasant slowly grows ever more moody and dark. The cinematography of George Barnes adds to the atmosphere perfectly, with rich shadows and light.
The performances are also outstanding, especially Fontaine, who captures the character of a woman who nearly loses it due to the oppressive weight of the memories of the woman who came before her. Olivier is also superb as the husband who might be hiding secrets about his past. Last, but certainly not least, Judith Anderson is remarkably creepy as Mrs. Danvers.
"Rebecca" isn't one of the more widely known of Hitchcock's pictures, but it's still a deliberately paced, beautifully acted and elegant drama that was rightly awarded with several Academy awards.
VIDEO: "Rebecca" is presented by Criterion in the film's original 1.33:1 (full-frame) aspect ratio. According to the booklet, the picture was restored and preserved from the original nitrate camera negative, a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master and a 35mm original nitrate print. A newly printed 35mm fine-grain master was used for the digital film-to-tape transfer. Criterion also used the MTI restoration system to digitally remove dirt and other wear elements from the print. That said, Criterion's new presentation of the now 61 year old picture is a delight in just about every way. Sharpness and detail are quite excellent and the richness of the black and white image reminded me of Criterion's pristine edition of "L'Avventura".
Although the majority of the wear on the film seems to have been removed, juding by how clear and clean it looks, there are the occasional stray specks and marks on the print used. A few sequences display some light grain, but otherwise, the picture remains smooth and without any wear-related distractions. Edge enhancement and pixelation are not found, either. This is an excellent effort from Criterion and their work has certainly paid off - the picture looks consistently terrific.
SOUND: The mono soundtrack has, according to the booklet, been preserved from the original 35mm nitrate negative, a 35mm acetate dupe negative and a 35mm magnetic music and effects master. New 35mm magnetic analog masters and DA-88 digital masters were created utilizing Sonic Solutions noise reduction software. Although the soundtrack is mono, the quality is rather impressive, given the film's age. The music and dialogue sound fuller and richer than expected and I didn't think this soundtrack came across as thin or edgy at all. Extremely nice.
MENUS:: Haunting and elegant animated menu, complete with music and film-themed images slowly appearing.
The Criterion edition of "Rebecca" is certainly one of their most "packed" special editions in memory, as the two disc set seems nearly ready to burst at the seams with information. The first disc includes a full-length commentary from Hitchcock expert Leonard J. Leff, who offers a dry, but immensely informative discussion of the production of the picture. We get a great deal of production information and stories, general information about Hitchcock and his career and even analysis of the film's story and character actions. Also included on the first disc is an isolated music and effects track.
Once one enters the second disc, they will find a massive archive of information and material relating to all aspects of the picture. As with all Criterion Special Editions, the elements are an impressive mix of common, but quality, material and fascinating items that have been rarely seen prior. The second disc's sections are split into four parts: "Dreams", "Fruition", "Ballyhoo" and "Broadcast".
First, "Dreaming Of Manderley" takes a look at writer Daphne Du Maurier and the actual location. "Picturization of a Celebrated Novel" offers more information about how producer Selznick purchased the film rights as well as information on differences between the novel and the film. "The Search for "I" offers production correspondence regarding casting for the role that eventually went to Fontaine. "We Intend To Make Rebecca" offers more correspondence to Selznick regarding early thoughts about the production and the "production code" of the time. "Locations Research" is a photo gallery of some location scouting that the filmmakers did before production.
"Screen Tests for "I" offers several rare glimpses at actresses who were trying out for the role including; Anne Baxter (2 clips), Margaret Sullivan, Loretta Young, Vivien Leigh, Vivien Leigh & Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine. The last feature in the "Dreams" section is lighting, makeup and costume tests.
"Fruition" stars with more correspondence ("Memos from DOS") and even handwriting tests ("A Curious Slating Hand"). This section then goes on to feature "Wardrobe Stills", "Set Stills and Pictures", as well as the script version of a deleted scene and interesting additional information about how some of the film's early screenings went.
"Ballyhoo" opens with "Passion! Frustration! Mystery!", a section that includes publicity stills, posters, ad slicks and images of a store display. Continuing, the section offers the re-issue trailer, footage of the Academy Awards, audio commentary from Hitchcock on "Rebecca" and an audio interview with Fontaine and Anderson.
The second disc concludes with "Broadcast", which offers not one, but three (and three hours worth of) different radio plays: a 1938 Orson Welles and the Mercury theater broadcast, including an interview with the author; 1941 Lux Radio broadcast, including an interview with Selznick and finally, a 1950 Lux Radio Theater broadcast starring Olivier and Vivian Leigh.
But that's not all - Criterion has also included an elegant and beautifully designed insert booklet, with essays and other information about the film. Certainly an A+ effort in the extras department.
Final Thoughts: A masterpiece, bringing subtle, enjoyable acting and terrific atmosphere, "Rebecca" is a really strong effort from all involved. This new DVD edition is also an excellent effort from all involved at Criterion, as the picture now boasts fantastic image and sound quality as well as a load of fascinating extras. Recommended.
The Film ****
Video 91/A = (364/400 possible points)
Audio: 82/B = (328/400 possible points)
Extras: 100/A+ = (300/300 possible points)
Menus: 90/A- = (180/200 possible points)
Value: 88/B = (264/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ****
DVD GRADE: B+