AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Rebecca
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (Dir)
Release Date:   12 Apr 1940
Premiere Information:   New York premiere: 28 Mar 1940
Production Date:   8 Sep--20 Nov 1939; retakes began Dec 1939
Duration (in mins):   127 or 130
Duration (in reels):   14
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Cast:   Laurence Olivier (Maxim de Winter)  
    Joan Fontaine (Mrs. de Winter)  
    George Sanders (Jack Favell)  
    Judith Anderson (Mrs. Danvers)  
    Nigel Bruce (Major Giles Lacy)  
    Reginald Denny (Frank Crawley)  
    C. Aubrey Smith (Colonel Julyan)  
    Gladys Cooper (Beatrice Lacy)  
    Florence Bates (Mrs. [Edythe] Van Hopper)  
    Melville Cooper (Coroner)  
    Leo G. Carroll (Dr. Baker)  
    Leonard Carey (Ben)  
    Lumsden Hare (Tabbs)  
    Edward Fielding (Frith)  
    Philip Winter (Robert)  
    Forrester Harvey (Chalcroft)  
    Alfred Hitchcock (Man outside phone booth)  

Summary: Maxim de Winter, who is in Monte Carlo to forget the drowning death of his wife Rebecca, meets the demure paid companion of matronly socialite Edythe Van Hopper and begins to court her. The girl falls in love with Maxim and happily accepts when he asks her to be his wife. The bride's happiness comes to an abrupt end when Maxim takes her to his grand seaside estate, Manderley. There she is tormented by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who continually reminds the young bride of the great beauty and elegance of the first Mrs. de Winter and undermines her attempts to assert herself in the household. One night shortly after her arrival, a boat is wrecked off shore, and during the rescue attempt, another submerged boat is found in which the body of Rebecca is trapped. Maxim then confesses to his insecure wife the true story of his miserable marriage to Rebecca: After only four days of marriage, Rebecca began flaunting her infidelities. For the family's honor, Maxim continued his marriage, with Rebecca playing the great lady, until she informed her husband that she was to become a mother and he was not the father. Angered, Maxim struck Rebecca and she fell, hitting her head on a ship's tackle. He then placed her body in a boat and sunk it. When a new inquest is held into Rebecca's death, things look dim for Maxim until Rebecca's London doctor testifies to the authorities that she was dying of cancer and was contemplating suicide. Maxim is then free to begin life anew with his now blossoming bride. However, Mrs. Danvers is unable to relinquish her beloved Manderley to the new Mrs. de Winter and sets fire to the house and perishes. 

Production Company: Selznick International Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (Dir)
  Ross Lederman (2d unit dir)
  Ed Bernoudy (Asst dir)
  Eric Stacey (Asst dir)
Producer: David O. Selznick (Prod)
Writer: Robert E. Sherwood (Scr)
  Joan Harrison (Scr)
  Barbara Keon (Scenario asst)
  Philip MacDonald (Adpt)
  Michael Hogan (Adpt)
Photography: George Barnes (Photog)
  Archie Stout (2nd unit photog)
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler (Art dir)
Film Editor: Hal C. Kern (Film ed)
  Hal C. Kern (Supv film ed Supv film ed)
  James E. Newcom (Assoc film ed)
Set Decoration: Howard Bristol (Int dec)
  Joseph B. Platt (Interior design)
Music: Franz Waxman (Mus dir)
  Lou Forbes (Mus assoc)
Sound: Jack Noyes (Rec)
Special Effects: Jack Cosgrove (Spec eff)
Production Misc: Major W. A. Bagley (Tech adv)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the novel Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (London, 1938).
Authors: Daphne du Maurier

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Selznick International Pictures, Inc. 16/4/1940 dd/mm/yyyy LP9550

PCA NO: 5969
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Noiseless Recording

 
Genre: Drama
 
Subjects (Major): Brides
  England
  Housekeepers
  Marriage
  Shyness
  Transformation
  Widowers
 
Subjects (Minor): Accidental death
  Arson
  Boats
  Cancer
  Confession
  Drowning
  Duplicity
  Estates
  Infidelity
  Inquests
  London (England)
  Monte Carlo (Monaco)
  Physicians
  Shipwrecks
  Socialites

Note: A DV news item dated 2 Sep 1938 stated that the novel was bought by David O. Selznick for $50,000 as a vehicle for Carole Lombard and that Selznick would attempt to get Ronald Colman for the male lead. According to Selznick memos reproduced in a modern source, when Colman put off accepting the part because he was afraid that the picture would be a "woman starring vehicle" and because of the murder angle, Selznick turned to his second choices for the role, Laurence Olivier and William Powell. Olivier was willing to work for $100,000 less than Powell and so he was chosen. Leslie Howard was also considered for the part.
       According to other memos, Selznick wanted Olivia de Havilland to play the female lead, but was faced with insurmountable problems: De Havilland was already committed to Goldwyn for Raffles , Warner Bros. was being uncooperative about lending her out, she was reluctant to accept the part because her sister, Joan Fontaine, was also under consideration for the part and her agent was Leland Hayward who was promoting his wife, Margaret Sullavan, for the role. Selznick also considered Loretta Young, Vivien Leigh, Anita Louise and Anne Baxter for the role, but felt that Young and Leigh were the wrong "type." He finally narrowed the field down to Joan Fontaine, Anne Baxter and Margaret Sullavan and according to the memos, the studio staff at first disagreed with his decision to cast Fontaine becuase she was not yet an established star.
       According to other memos, director Alfred Hitchock initially wanted an English writer to work on the screenplay, but suggested Lillian Hellman and Sidney Gilliat. Selznick suggested Ben Hecht, Clemence Dane, John Baldeston, Sidney Howard and Richard Blaker as writers. Selznick rejected the first treatment of the film, written by Philip MacDonald and Joan Harrison as "distorted and vulgarized" and insisted that the treatment remain faithful to the book.
       The PCA insisted that Selznick change the ending of the novel. The book synopsis in which Rebecca goads Maxim into shooting her was "a clear violation of the Production Code since it justifies and condones murder," according to materials contained in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library. Joseph I. Breen, the head of the PCA, wrote Selznick that "the story of unpunished murder cannot be approved" and directed that Rebecca die an accidental death or that Maxim be punished for her murder. To forestall Breen's objections, Hitchcock suggested that the wife die as a result on an accident but that the circumstances are such that the husband, panic-stricken, will do all the things he does in the story, even though he has not murdered his wife. According to the memos, Selznick was so angered at Breen's insistence upon changing the ending that he considered releasing the picture without code approval. The ending was changed, however, so that Maxim strikes rather than shoots Rebecca, thus making her death accidental.
       The memos also note that Selznick wanted Harry Stradling and Gregg Toland to photograph the picture. A HR news item notes that Selznick split the production into two units. Director Ross Lederman and camerman Archie Stout headed the second unit which shot backgrounds in Northern California. Assistant director Ed Bernoudy replaced Eric Stacey when Stacey left the production to rejoin Victor Fleming on Gone With the Wind . Other news items in HR add that actor George Sanders and photographer George Barnes were borrowed from Fox for this picture. According to a news item in Var , the film went back into production in Dec 1939 to shoot extensive retakes. Hitchcock makes his customary cameo in Rebecca by appearing outside a phone booth.
       Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock's second film based on a du Maurier novel (the first was Jamaica Inn , see above) and his first Hollywood production. The film won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and Best Picture, and was the only Hitchcock film to win that distinction. It was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Black and White Art Direction, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Screenplay, Best Musical Score and Best Special Effects. The film also appeared on FD 's and the National Board of Review's "ten best list" for 1940.
       Modern sources add that Hitchcock refused to allow Selznick on the set. As a result, Selznick would watch the rushes and then communicate to Hitchcock through extensive memos. One of Selznick's concerns was Laurence Olivier's slow delivery and use of long pauses in his performance. Selznick wanted Olivier to quicken the pace.
       HR reported in 1944 that Edwina Levin MacDonald sued Selznick, Daphne du Maurier, United Artists and Doubleday for plaigiarism. MacDonald claimed that the film Rebecca was stolen from her novel Blind Windows , and sought an undisclosed amount of accounting and damages. The outcome of the suit has not been determined.
       In 1941, Ronald Colman and Ida Lupino starred in a Lux Radio Theatre version of this story. Loretta Young and John Lund starred in a Screen Guild Players radio dramatization on 18 Nov 1948, and in 1950, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier starred in another Lux presentation of the story. There have been several television adaptations of the du Maurier story, including a 1962 production starring James Mason, a 1978 British production starring Jeremy Brett and Joanna David and a 1997 British production starring Charles Dance and Emilia Fox. The 1941 film was re-issued on 7 Mar 1956. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   2 Sep 38   p. 3.
Daily Variety   21 Mar 40   p. 3.
Film Daily   26 Mar 40   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jun 39   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Aug 39   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Aug 39   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Aug 39   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Sep 39   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Sep 39   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Mar 40   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jan 44   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Jan 1956   pp. 5-7.
Motion Picture Daily   27 Mar 40   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald   30 Mar 40   p. 59.
New York Times   29 Mar 40   p. 25.
New York Times   31 Mar 40   p. 5.
Variety   26 Dec 39   p. 8.
Variety   27 Mar 40   p. 17.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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