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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/20/01

1940 (1999) - Anchor Bay

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD

Rebecca Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/F

Specs and Features

130 mins, NR, full-frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

"I suppose he can't get over his wife's death. They say he adored her."

Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock's first American film, and he made quite a splash with it. The film beat out some formidable competition (including The Grapes of Wrath and The Philadelphia Story) to take the Oscar for Best Picture in 1940. It's one of the biggest looking films from the grand era of Hollywood, with its huge sets, wordy plots, dramatic music cues, broadly drawn characters and enough operatic intrigue and suspense to keep you entertained for its entire length. Add to the mix Hitchcock's trademark way of effortlessly weaving in grand plot twists, and you have a truly cinematic masterpiece that's well worthy of its praise.

Joan Fontaine stars as a woman who is identified only as "the second Mrs. de Winter". She meets affluent widower Maxim de Winter while on vacation in Monte Carlo. The two get married after a whirlwind romance, and Maxim whisks her off to Manderley, his massive seaside estate. But Manderley holds as much uncertainty and despair for the new Mrs. de Winter as it does intrigue. Maxim's previous wife, Rebecca, died under mysterious circumstances at sea only a year ago. The house staff remains oddly devoted to Rebecca, and the new Mrs. de Winter can't help but wonder if Maxim feels the same way. The more time they spend at Manderley, the more cold and remote he becomes. The new Mrs. de Winter starts to feel like she'll never be able to fill Rebecca's shoes, and Rebecca's spirit soon makes her presence known in more ways than one.

Sixty years after it was released, Rebecca remains thoroughly entertaining on many different levels. As a piece of filmmaking, it's excellent. It's a striking, Gothic romance, with a well-rounded cast to complement its tightly wound script. The acting is top-notch, particularly by Judith Anderson as the nasty, conniving housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. And then there is Hitchcock's remarkable direction, which speaks for itself. As a historical piece, it's also fascinating. The characters are described with such extreme polarity and rigorously defined gender roles, that they seem to be written in big, black magic marker. As Mrs. de Winter, Joan Fontaine is the epitome of the demure, fawn-like, naïve beauty. Marriage, for her, is a means of being cared for and looked after by a father figure. Maxim is exceedingly dashing and distant, and spouts one manly, virile line after another. "I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool," "Don't be such a little idiot, darling," and "I should be making violent love to you, behind a palm tree," are a few of his more potent lines. That's not a good thing... and it's not a bad thing either. It's a sign of the times, and makes the film fascinating on an entirely different level.

Anchor Bay's DVD release of Rebecca presents the film in its original aspect ratio (approximately 1.33:1), and does so with mostly excellent results. The print does exhibit some wear and tear, but it's nothing more than you would expect from a film that has passed the half-century mark in age. There are some pops and scratches in the picture and the burn marks are still visible. Outside of this, the image looks quite good. Contrast is accurately defined and the picture presents little in the way of digital noise or edge enhancement.

The audio is also what you would expect of an older film. It's a Dolby Digital 2-channel mono track and, all things considered, it sounds perfectly acceptable. There's some audible analog hiss, but it's rarely loud enough that it diverts your attention from the film. There's also some natural limitation to the fidelity of the track, but dialogue is never compromised and the monaural mix is a good showpiece for Franz Waxman's sweeping score.

As esteemed a movie as Rebecca is, it definitely deserved better features on DVD. This is an absolutely barren disc. Pop the disc into your player and, right after the obligatory FBI warnings, it goes right into the movie. I guess I should just thank my lucky stars that the movie is available on DVD at all, but I can't help but wish for more. Rebecca is an important work in Hitchcock's cannon of films and should present something more for fans on DVD. At the very least, a theatrical trailer or production notes would have satisfied me. But, as is the case with many titles that are licensed to independent distributors, there's nothing in the way of even basic extras on this disc. Hopefully, this will be remedied by the upcoming (er... rumored) Criterion edition.

DVD's don't come any more bare-bones than Anchor Bay's release of Rebecca. But the disc's low price reflects this lack of features, and the sheer entertainment value of the film alone makes it worth owning. For those looking to take an enjoyable refresher course on some of Hitchcock's lesser-known films, Rebecca is a great way to start.

Dan Kelly

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD

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