This week is Halloween! Kids will go trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns will glow, and everything will be a little more spooky than normal. Many people, those who aren’t out scavenging for candy at haunted houses, will get their dose of spooky by watching scary movies—Paranormal Activity, Halloween, Carrie, and the like. I am not a big fan of scary movies like this because I scare rather easily. Also, I prefer psychological thrillers and suspenseful films with creative twists and turns. There is no better filmmaker in this genre than Alfred Hitchcock. So, in honor of Thursday’s spooky holiday, I will be reviewing two of my favorite Hitchcock films that make for good Halloween viewings.
Rebecca is neither Hitchock’s most famous film nor his scariest. It is, however, the only Hitchcock film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Rebecca is a psychological thriller based on the book of the same name written by Daphne Du Maurier. It stars Sir Laurence Olivier as the affluent Maxim De Winter, a widower who is traveling abroad in Monte Carlo. In Monte Carlo he meets a young woman, the protagonist of the story known only as the second Mrs. De Winter, played by Joan Fontaine. Maxim marries this young woman and takes her to live with him in Manderley, his large estate in England. It is here that the second Mrs. De Winter meets Mrs. Danvers, Maxim’s housekeeper, and one of the American Film Institute’s top villains.
Upon settling down at Manderley, the second Mrs. De Winter becomes wrapped up in the psychological pull of the film—the mystery surrounding Maxim’s first wife Rebecca. From Maxim’s family and staff at the house, the second Mrs. De Winter hears all about the beauty and sophistication of Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers is always reminding her about Maxim’s first wife, having a rather creepy obsession with the late Rebecca. She preserved Rebecca’s room, constantly talks about her, and uses her to intimidate Maxim’s new wife. The second Mrs. De Winter finds herself inexperienced and struggling to fill Rebecca’s shoes as the mistress of Manderley, and Mrs. Danvers is always looming in the shadows thwarting her efforts, even urging her to commit suicide. Eventually, the second Mrs. De Winter finds herself even doubting the love she thought her husband had for her. Maybe Maxim never got over his mysterious but glamorous first wife and she must always be jealous of Rebecca. Du Maurier always believed her novel to be a story of jealousy, based on her own doubts about her husband’s feelings about his first fiancé.
The second Mrs. De Winter eventually trades her innocence for truth when she discovers who Rebecca really was, revealed by Maxim himself. Rebecca was indeed beautiful, intelligent, and sophisticated, but also led a cavalier social life full of affairs, even after she married Maxim. Maxim and Rebecca made an agreement that she could continue her affairs if she pretended to be the perfect wife and hostess for him and his estate. As time passed, Rebecca grew careless with maintaining her public image, and when Maxim discovers this, he and Rebecca fight. She falls and hits her head, dying. Worried he’ll be arrested for murder, Maxim puts Rebecca’s body in a boat and sinks it, claiming she died in a boating accident.
Now the second Mrs. De Winter can rest assured that she does indeed have Maxim’s love, but their happiness is threatened when that boat is recovered and Rebecca’s body is found, sparking a murder investigation targeted at Maxim. However, when the true circumstances of Rebecca’s death are revealed, Maxim is cleared, and Rebecca found to be an even more disturbing woman than anyone had realized. The movie ends with Maxim and his wife returning to Manderley only to discover that Mrs. Danvers has lit it on fire.
This movie is one of the most accurate book-to-film adaptations I have ever seen. Though Rebecca is not Psycho or The Birds, it is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best works. Mrs. Danvers is one of the creepiest villains ever, and the mystery surrounding Rebecca is both psychologically disturbing and suspenseful. Both Olivier and Fontaine give excellent performances as Mr. and Mrs. De Winter, and the black and white nature of the film gives it a classic feel. With the mystery and suspense surrounding Rebecca, it is definitely spooky enough for Halloween.