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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Commentary by film scholar Leonard J. Leff, author of Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood
  • Isolated music and effects track
  • Rare screen, hair, makeup and costume tests including Vivien Leigh, Anne Baxter, Loretta Young, Margaret Sullavan, and Joan Fontaine
  • Hitchcock on Rebecca, excerpts from his conversations with François Truffaut
  • Phone interviews with stars Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson from 1986
  • Hundreds of behind-the-scenes photos chronicling the film's production from location scouting, set photos, and wardrobe continuity to ads, posters, and promotional memorabilia
  • Production correspondence and casting notes
  • Deleted scene script excerpts
  • 1939 test screening questionnaire
  • Essay on Rebecca author Daphne du Maurier
  • Footage from the 1940 13th Annual Academy Awards&tm; ceremony
  • Re-issue trailer
  • Three hours of complete radio show adaptations:
    • 1938 Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre broadcast, including an interview with Daphne du Maurier
    • 1941 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast starring Ronald Colman and Ida Lupino, including an interview with David O. Selznick
    • 1950 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh
  • 22-page booklet, including liner notes by Robin Wood, author of Hitchcock's Films and Hitchcock's Films Revisited, and George Turner's essay "Du Maurier + Selznick + Hitchcock = Rebecca"

Rebecca


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith
1940 | 130 Minutes | Licensor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #135 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: November 20, 2001
Review Date: September 5, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

"Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again." Rebecca's haunting opening line conjures the entirety of Hitchcock's romantic, suspenseful, elegant film. A young woman (Joan Fontaine) believes her every dream has come true when her whirlwind romance with the dashing Maxim de Winter culminates in marriage. But she soon realizes that Rebecca, the late first Mrs. de Winter, haunts both the temperamental, brooding Maxim and the de Winter mansion, Manderley. In order for Maxim and the new Mrs. de Winter to have a future, Rebecca's spell must be broken and the mystery of her violent death unraveled. The first collaboration between producer David O. Selznick and Hitchcock, Rebecca was adapted from Daphne du Maurier's popular novel and won the 1940 Academy Award&tm; for Best Picture and Cinematography (Black and White).

Forum members rate this film 8.8/10

 

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PICTURE

Criterion’s original 2-disc DVD edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca presents the film in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on the first dual-layer disc. The transfer comes from a high-definition scan of a 35mm fine-grain master positive. Since the film is presented in a standard aspect ratio the picture has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

All-in-all this standard-definition presentation has held up surprisingly well over the years and even now, upscaled on a high-definition television, it still looks good. I’m also pretty sure MGM reused the same master for the subsequent DVD and Blu-ray editions.

In regards to the restoration work the picture still looks quite marvelous. Bits of debris remain but they’re small and scattered about, rarely drawing much attention. Where issues are most notable are just in the general stability of the picture: there is a noticeable pulse at times and the image can shift around a bit with a slight flicker. But outside of these instances the picture is incredibly clean and I still recall how shocked I was at the image at the time of its original release, besting Anchor Bay’s previous DVD edition by a fairly good margin.

The digital presentation itself is also no slouch. Since this is standard-definition it does show all the weaknesses one does expect from DVD, such as some compression and limited detail, but even then this still looks rather striking. Detail still manages to be very strong and found depth within the mansion settings to still come off rather impressively. Objects are still cleanly defined and I don’t recall any severe cases of edge-enhancement or noise. The film’s grain has been leveled out a bit but it’s still there to an extent and it actually doesn’t come off too poorly. Contrast is also very good with nice looking whites and blacks, and fairly decent shifts in the gray tones.

So yes, it’s limited a bit by the format, and MGM’s Blu-ray still clearly bests it (as does Criterion’s own new Blu-ray edition), but this isn’t a bad presentation and I don’t think it’s too off to say I could see many being quite happy with it as it is.

8/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film comes with a fairly standard Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track. Dialogue is easy to hear but the track is still a bit flat and there can be a slight edge to louder moments, particularly in the score. There is some background noise evident as well but otherwise I don’t recall any other severe bouts of damage.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion’s 2-disc set was fairly packed with special features, which made it a shame to lose when Criterion lost the rights for the film to MGM. The supplements here are primarily text notes but even then there was a large quantity of information on the film’s production that I deeply valued, and unfortunately a lot of the material on this edition has not made it on to the new Criterion Blu-ray edition.

The first disc only offers a couple of features, limited to alternate audio tracks: an isolated music and effects track along with an audio commentary recorded by film scholar Leonard Leff, originally for Criterion’s LaserDisc edition for the film. Leff’s track can be a little dry unfortunately, not helped by the fact he is obviously reading from notes, but it has some really fascinating and engaging passages found within it. While he covers a lot about the film’s themes, the camera work, the editing, and even the model work (as well as making comparisons to the original novel) his track is most interesting when he gets into the sparring that occurred between Selznick and Hitchcock over the direction of the film: Hitchcock wanted to make his own film using the general story and themes found within the book, expanding on certain ideas about the characters, while Selznick pretty much wanted a word-for-word adaptation of the book. Though this aspect is still covered ad nauseam throughout the rest of the disc’s supplements this aspect still makes the track worthwhile.

The second disc is a single-layered DVD containing the remaining supplements. It has been divided into 4 sections: "Dreams," "Fruition," "Ballyhoo," and finally "Broadcast". I will go through each section in order.

First, under "Dreams" we find material related to pre-production. Dreaming of Manderley is a navigable text supplement with photos on author Daphne du Maurier and her early life and literary career with a focus on Rebecca naturally. It’s a well written essay loaded with details on her primary influences for the book. Following this is then another text supplement, Picturization of a Celebrated Novel, which offers a comparison between key sequences from the novel and the film that differ between one another, even quoting passages directly from the novel. This is all interesting though some of the changes are more subtle. There is one large change, though, that had to do with the production code of the time, and it does change one character and outcome rather drastically. Short of getting the actual novel as a supplement this is another great and thoughtful inclusion.

The Search for “I” next presents (in another navigable text feature) the correspondence between Hitchcock and Selznick over the casting of the film’s heroine. The notes go over each actress up for the part, most complete with glamour shots, and the reasons as to why they would or would not work (some of the rejections are cruel). It was interesting going over the concerns but disappointingly the concerns over Vivien Leigh (who Laurence Olivier was fighting for while Hitchcock and Selznick were resistant) are missing from here (other features here guess she probably came off too phony and couldn’t pull off the unglamorous role). This will not be the only bit of correspondence found here but like the rest it’s an incredibly fascinating read.

We Intend to Make Rebecca presents some of the more heated exchanges between Selznick and Hitchcock. As I mentioned prior Hitchcock wanted to change the story around while Selznick was intent on adapting the novel word-for-word. In the correspondence here Hitchcock throws around ideas he’s toying with, including (but not limited to) actually showing Rebecca (and I was amused that even Hitchcock wasn’t fully on board with this, including a literal “Ugh!” to the thought). Selznick wasn’t having it, though, and there are some long-winded rants here about the director’s ideas and his treatment for the film, Selznick bringing up his past successes (he does this constantly throughout all of his correspondence). Also here are concerns from Val Lewton pertaining to the production code and what was unacceptable in the story, including a rather large plot point that’s pretty much central to the entire story. Again, there are more correspondence pieces to be found here but this one especially fascinating, but surprisingly still not the best one.

Location Research is a simple collection of photos taken for possible locations to shoot the film, including in Monaco and Northern California (it’s mentioned elsewhere that the war prevented the film from being shot in England). Each photo is accompanied with a description of the photo. But one of the best features in the “Dreams” section would be a collection of screen tests that not only includes Fontaine’s, but also includes ones featuring Anne Baxter (one with and another without a blonde wig), Margaret Sullivan, Loretta Young, and Vivien Leigh (including one where she appears with Olivier). I thought these were great and they accompany the Selznick/Hitchcock notes well since you can see what they were talking about in a few cases. Leigh, though, is obviously wrong for the part, unable to pull off the timid aspects of the character. She would have been more suited to play Rebecca herself. Each one lasts between over 2-minutes and 9-minutes for a total of about 40-minutes.

Lighting, Make-UP and Costume Tests presents video footage of the various titled test. "Make-Up and Lighting Effects" presents split screens of the different actresses (Baxter, Sullivan, and Leigh) accompanied by a commentary by Leff explaining the techniques and the tight schedule. "Costume Tests" presents Joan Fontaine trying on many of the costumes and outfits seen in the film or intended to be used in the film (I don’t recall a couple). You can also see Fontaine isn’t in the best of moods and is really going through the motions, the notes mentioning that at the time Selznick was putting a lot of pressure on her leading to fatigue. Each video runs about 3-minutes.

The next section, "Fruition," looks at elements related to the actual film’s production. Memos From DOS is another collection of writings from David O. Selznick, which seem to refer to some of the problems he had with Hitchcock's methods, particularly in how much time his techniques can take up (at least from his point of view). One of them is even a letter he wrote to Hitchcock but never actually sent, and another is to a representative to write and warn Du Maurier about a change they had to make.

Following that is a number of still galleries: A Curious Slanting Hand is a short collection of five photos that shows the process that went behind creating Rebecca’s cursive handwriting and the famous “R” monogram; Wardrobe Stills is a collection of photos used by the wardrobe department (using stand-ins) showing how the colours of the fabric would look in the black and white film; and "Set Stills" present a lot of shots of the sets used for the film accompanied by text notes.

Deleted Luncheon Scene is a subsection that goes over a deleted scene in the film. There is a memo from Selznick to Hitchcock about his problems with the scene and you also get a copy of the scene from the script. I don’t think the scene was all that important but this section is great simply for getting another look at Selznick’s management of his film and his general frustrations with some of what Hitchcock was doing. He goes bonkers over the general playing of the scene (though admits he is aware this scene still needs to be properly edited) but then shows frustration at one of the scene’s little details. It’s a shame the scene appears to be lost but just getting the memos makes it worthwhile.

And finally, another great feature is "How Did You Like the Picture?", a collection of scores and comments tallied from test screenings (general concensus was it was "Very Good"). Some of the comments are a amusing, particularly in what should have been cut out, with one audience member saying 30-40 minutes should have been trimmed.

The third section, "Ballyhoo," focuses on events following the film’s release. Passion! Frustration! Mystery! looks at some of the publicity and advertising for the film, and features photos, posters, and ads. There's even photos for store window displays tied to the film hocking perfume.

The re-issue trailer follows as does a less-than-2-minute collection of footage from the 13th Annual Academy Awards with commentary again by Leff. This footage shows the table where the cast and crew of Rebecca sit, and Hitchcock goofs a little bit by playfully blocking Fontaine as the camera passes by.

Criterion then presents 8-minutes’ worth of excerpts from the interview between Hitchcock and filmmaker François Truffaut. In this excerpt (naturally) Hitchcock talks about Rebecca and what it was like working with Selznick, who had more control of his films than Hitchcock liked (he states that Rebecca is not a Hitchcock film). Hitchcock also talks about a particular shot he was trying to pull off in Rebecca, the one he would eventually pull of in Vertigo with the dolly/zoom of the camera. Another great excerpt from that interview.

Also included are two audio interviews recorded by Leff in 1986, one featuring Joan Fontaine and the other Judith Anderson, running 20-minutes and 10-minutes respectively. Both pretty much recall working on the film and what it was like working with Hitchcock, Anderson also talking about the art of acting in a more general manner.

Under the last section, “Broadcast” we then get 3 Radio broadcasts of Rebecca ,one for the Mercury Theatre and 2 for the Lux radio theatre. Each one has a text introduction and a list of players. Each one lasts about an hour and is chapter indexed (the audio playing over the chapter listing). These are actually decent adaptations but the Mercury Theater one (starring Orson Welles) is probably the more interesting one. The latter two Lux Radio ones (recorded in 1941 and 1950) are adaptations of the film while the Mercury one, made in 1938, is an adaptation of the book, made well before the film (this radio play is mentioned in one of Selznick’s letters to Hitchcock, pointing out a “successful” adaptation of the book), and since Welles wasn’t held back by the production code he leaves in a plot point altered in the film.

The release then features a booklet containing a couple of essays: Robin Wood provides a short one for the film while Criterion reprints a 1997 piece by American Cinematographer editor George E. Turner, who provides a write-up (almost in a bullet list kind of form) about the film’s production.

Though most of the material is text in nature Criterion’s original edition for the film was quite satisfying. It was especially fun to get a firsthand look at the friction between Hitchcock and Selznick as well as a wealth of great material on the film’s general production and legacy. A really solid edition.

8/10

CLOSING

Technically there are better editions with better picture and sound (MGM’s and Criterion’s individual Blu-ray editions for starters) but it’s still a very solid edition. It sports a still fairly sharp presentation and a nice collection of fantastic supplementary material that hasn’t been carried over to other editions. I think it’s still worth looking at picking up.


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