Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1940, Tamasa Distribution
A young woman has just married a high society widow, Max de Winter. They settle in Manderley, a large house in Cornwall, which is haunted by the memory of Rebecca, who died at sea. From their first meeting, her relationship with Mrs Danvers, the governess of the house, is uneasy, full of mistrust and rivalry. The austere keeper of Manderley and its rules and regulations, Mrs Danvers dominates the young Mrs de Winter, an intruder in this house, who will never live up to the stature of the departed, much adored Rebecca.
In one wing of the building, Rebecca’s room is just as she left it, as if laid in state. Pushed on by curiosity, Mrs de Winter cautiously enters Rebecca’s room, just as if it were Bluebeard’s. This mixture of curiosity, fear and the attraction of the unknown are filmed first in a tracking shot on the character, who comes towards us, then a subjective shot on the door knob. It’s a sequence that’s found in many of Hitchcock’s films, particularly in Psycho when Vera Miles comes up to the house. The interior of the room is impressive. Its curtains form obstacles which the character has to pass through, charting her progress through the space. Wide shots magnify the space, and make it seem suddenly too large for the new Mrs de Winter. The music, by turns tense – reinforcing the feel that she’s in a trap, by others crystalline – following the elegant reveal of the space, and the interplay of shadows and light, all contribute to the intimidating feel of a mausoleum. The arrival of Mrs Danvers signals a rupture in the scene, accented by the shutting of the window, which could be have been caused by a gust of wind, but also could have been closed by more fantastical, spectral means. Overcome with the memory of Rebecca, Mrs Danvers mimics the routines of her deceased employer, in a series of tightly cropped shots, showing details, and particular habits, much like a crime scene reconstruction. The past seems to come back to life once again, with an almost indecent flair, through revealing intimate details of the dead woman’s life – the caressing touch of fur, her underwear being presented for admiration. It is difficult not to identify with the new Mrs de Winter, called upon to take the place of another, quite literally in her place, at her dressing table, while the Governess pronounces the words Rebecca would have spoken in this very place. This well-played game with Joan Fontaine as Mrs de Winter, places the audience alongside the character in the presence of a ghost. One of the characteristics of places in cinema is that they are often visited by spirits.