Rebecca (1940)

Producer David O. Selznick’s vision is as important as director Alfred Hitchcock’s in this 1940 Best Picture Oscar winner, yet it contains enough of the Master of Suspense’s trademarks to make it a favorite for many of his fans. From the producer came the sumptuous production values and close adherence to the source novel by Daphne du Maurier, which makes it a rarity among Hitchcock’s films as he preferred to put his own stamp on all his movies, even adaptations. The result is a compelling story of the second Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine), a shy young woman haunted by the thought of husband Laurence Olivier’s glamorous  first wife and the baleful presence of Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), the deceased woman’s devoted housekeeper. Hitchcock used his customary technical precision, with miniatures and matte paintings creating a suitably lush vision of the family estate, Manderley. He manipulated Fontaine into a strong performance, drawing on her insecurities about starring in her first major film and at one point, at her request, slapping her before a scene. More important, however, was his ability to generate suspense by mining the characters’ psychological complexities. In particular, he made Mrs. Danvers a menacing character by never showing her walking, so that she just appeared wherever Fontaine was, a touch that has kept her one of the screen’s best-remembered villains.

(d. Alfred Hitchcock, 130m, 35mm)