Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1940, Tamasa Distribution
Rebecca opens with a prologue, which isn’t totally necessary to allow the plot to be understood. The choice of starting the film in this way, placing Manderley at the centre of everything is very specifically to allow the atmosphere of the film to be established right from the start. It has a very singular feel to it, somewhere between expressionist and gothic. The film is adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous Victorian novel. Released a year before Welles’ Citizen Kane, which opens with a very similar sequence on Xanadu, the film starts at night, by the light of the full moon, with a closed gate in front of the camera, blocking our path into the large, rolling estate grounds. We pass through the gate as if by way of magic and then the camera seems to float through fog, traveling through the misty veil which enshrouds and obscures the property – it is as if we are in a dream. Stubby branches get in the way and delay the reveal of the building, which is named in the voice over as if summoned – Manderley. Here again we notice the importance of a name, it is as if the place has been baptised. In a way it personifies and is synonymous with the name, and yet it also signifies the heraldry and honour of another name, another couple - the de Winters.
Lit by glints and tricks of the light, the house appears haunted by ghostly presences, until it is revealed to us that the house is a burnt and charred ruin, it no longer exists. Although destroyed, Manderley continues to live on, brought to life in the memories of our heroine, who we don’t see but hear in the voice over. It’s this memory of the place, the spirit of the place, apparently immovable and eternal, which starts the story. Here Manderley draws on Rebecca herself, who died in a drowning accident. Two powerful names disappeared yet eternally present, ready to come back to life at any moment and influence the affairs of the living.