Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca comes to Blu-ray from MGM and Fox, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc in 1080p/24hz.
I haven’t laid my hands on the previous MGM DVD but do own the Criterion DVD edition. Between that edition and this one at their base they do look similar but the Blu-ray offers a substantial improvement in its rendering of the picture. I’d say contrast and gray levels are about the same between the two, but blacks look to be a little too deep on the Blu-ray and some details get lost in the darker areas of the screen. The print materials look to be in about the same condition, with a few scratches and bits of debris raining through but they’ve both been restored beautifully. But the Blu-ray’s presentation is substantially cleaner and far sharper than Criterion’s DVD, which can look a little fuzzy and is laced with compression noise. MGM’s high-definition transfer looks more like a film, rendering film grain nicely, delivering some sharp fine details, smoother edges on objects, and no substantial artifacts that called attention to themselves. It appears that MGM has taken a fairly hands-off approach to the transfer, other than possibly boosting the blacks, as I also couldn’t detect any substantial noise reduction, if any.
Overall it’s the finest presentation of the film I’ve seen on home video. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion’s 2-disc special edition DVD was loaded with material, though most of it was text notes and photo galleries. Criterion really got into detail about the production and the dramas that occurred between producer David O. Selznick and director Alfred Hitchcock primarily through the correspondence between the two. MGM unfortunately doesn’t carry over all of this archival material (though the two editions do share some of the same features) but they also cover the same subject matter through the new supplements they have created for this edition, or, more accurately, created for their previous DVD edition and carried over to here.
Instead of licencing film scholar Leonard J. Leff’s commentary from the Criterion edition (though Leff does appear briefly in other supplements on this disc) MGM has recorded their own audio commentary featuring film critic Richard Schickel. It’s a little disappointing in comparison to Leff’s, who seemed a little more energetic and more engaged in the film. This track has a surprising number of dead spaces and Schickel sort of moves from topic to topic and it sounds like he doesn’t really have a plan, as if he’s making it up as he goes. He does talk about Hitchcock’s move to the States, his working relationship with Selznick, the casting, the release and reception of Rebecca and how it fares in Hitchcock’s filmography. He examines the look of the film, the gothic elements, and so forth, but never really makes it all that interesting. He makes various comments throughout that suggest he doesn’t care all that much about Rebecca, the big one being in how he says that Hitchcock would later make “the much better” (emphasis on the “much”) adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier novel The Birds. With no real insights and a sort of detached tone it’s skippable.
MGM also includes an alternate isolated music and effects track, which was also found on the Criterion DVD.
The remaining supplements are thankfully much better. MGM offers a 29-minute making-of documentary gathering together a large number of film critics and film scholars, along with Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary Stone, director Peter Bogdanovich, and, oddly, actor Bruce Dern. It starts out with Hitchcock’s move to the States and then the adaptation of de Maurier’s novel Rebecca and the clashes that began to occur between the director and Selznick. There’s a lot about the adaptation and what each man wanted (Selznick wanted a true “picturization” while Hitchcock wanted a far more loose translation) and how the Hays Code managed to change one of the more important elements that was originally found in the novel. It also goes over some of the things Selznick wanted that Hitchcock thankfully ignored. In all it basically summarizes all of the text material found on the Criterion DVD, and though it still lacks the “coolness” of reading the many letters written between Hitchcock and Selznick it’s an informative feature.
MGM next offers a short 19-minute featurette called The Gothic World of Daphne du Maurier, which replaces the text notes on the author found on the Criterion DVD. The featurette covers her early life and her rich family history, and then gets into details about Rebecca and the Hitchcock adaptation, and what makes for a “gothic” story, drawing comparisons to Jane Eyre and Dragonwyck. Along the way the various scholars also get into her later life and her sexuality. It’s a decent piece, though really skimps over things.
We then get 9-minutes worth of screen tests. First we get one with Margaret Sullivan and then another featuring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh (who Olivier wanted in place of Fontaine, more than likely because he was sleeping with her.) The scene in question is the scene where the “I” character (who Leigh and Sullivan are trying out for) confesses to the breaking of the cupid statue. They’re great to see but I’ll always prefer Fontaine as I can’t see either of these two, especially Leigh, ever coming across as defeated as Fontaine does throughout the film. These were also found on the Criterion DVD but that edition also contained more footage. The Criterion DVD contained more footage of Sullivan, and then also had footage of Leigh on her own, and then footage of Loretta Young, Anne Baxter, and even Fontaine. Not sure why all of this wasn’t carried over but they at least included some of it.
Also making their way from the Criterion DVD are three radio play adaptations, starting with the 1938 adaptation of the book presented by Orson Welles and the Mercury theater, which even features a short, very superficial interview with du Maurier herself. Following this are two Lux Radio adaptations, the first from 1941, which is based more on the film and features a brief comment by Selznick, and then finally the 1950 adaptation which features Olivier and (to his delight I’m sure) Vivien Leigh (and I still think Fontaine was far better in the role.) MGM unfortunately doesn’t do anything creative with the presentation, limiting it to a black screen after credits are briefly shown. These radio adaptations are always great blasts from the past and I found these all interesting, especially since the latter two were trying to adapt the film to radio and the first one by Welles was actually trying to adapt the book to radio. Great stuff.
We then get more archival material with Hitchcock Audio Interviews. The first between Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich from 1972, running 4-minutes, features Hitchcock talking about Rebecca, working with Olivier, addressing that Olivier did not like Fontaine, and then other elements of the film and story. The second interview segment comes from Francois Truffaut’s lengthy interview with the director and the segment we get runs over 9-minutes. Again this portion focuses on Rebecca and Hitchcock talks about working with Selznick, adapting the story, and the setting. A portion of this interview was also found on the Criterion DVD. Both are great and are worth listening to.
The features then conclude with the same re-issue theatrical trailer found on the Criterion disc. Interestingly the trailer, which is 1.33:1, is positioned to the left side of the screen.
It is a shame not all of the material previously available on the Criterion disc has made it over (and because of that I will still hold onto it, especially since it’s been long out of print) but I think MGM has done a respectable job on here, offering a scholarly set of supplements along with strong archival material. 7/10