Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 3/20/01
1940 (1999) - Anchor Bay
review by Dan Kelly of
The Digital Bits
Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/F
Specs and Features
130 mins, NR, full-frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered,
Amaray keep case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access
(19 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none
"I suppose he
can't get over his wife's death. They say he adored her."
Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock's
first American film, and he made quite a splash with it. The film
beat out some formidable competition (including
The Grapes of Wrath and
The Philadelphia Story) to
take the Oscar for Best Picture in 1940. It's one of the biggest
looking films from the grand era of Hollywood, with its huge sets,
wordy plots, dramatic music cues, broadly drawn characters and
enough operatic intrigue and suspense to keep you entertained for
its entire length. Add to the mix Hitchcock's trademark way of
effortlessly weaving in grand plot twists, and you have a truly
cinematic masterpiece that's well worthy of its praise.
Joan Fontaine stars as a woman who is identified only as "the
second Mrs. de Winter". She meets affluent widower Maxim de
Winter while on vacation in Monte Carlo. The two get married after a
whirlwind romance, and Maxim whisks her off to Manderley, his
massive seaside estate. But Manderley holds as much uncertainty and
despair for the new Mrs. de Winter as it does intrigue. Maxim's
previous wife, Rebecca, died under mysterious circumstances at sea
only a year ago. The house staff remains oddly devoted to Rebecca,
and the new Mrs. de Winter can't help but wonder if Maxim feels the
same way. The more time they spend at Manderley, the more cold and
remote he becomes. The new Mrs. de Winter starts to feel like she'll
never be able to fill Rebecca's shoes, and Rebecca's spirit soon
makes her presence known in more ways than one.
Sixty years after it was released, Rebecca
remains thoroughly entertaining on many different levels. As a piece
of filmmaking, it's excellent. It's a striking, Gothic romance, with
a well-rounded cast to complement its tightly wound script. The
acting is top-notch, particularly by Judith Anderson as the nasty,
conniving housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. And then there is Hitchcock's
remarkable direction, which speaks for itself. As a historical
piece, it's also fascinating. The characters are described with such
extreme polarity and rigorously defined gender roles, that they seem
to be written in big, black magic marker. As Mrs. de Winter, Joan
Fontaine is the epitome of the demure, fawn-like, naïve beauty.
Marriage, for her, is a means of being cared for and looked after by
a father figure. Maxim is exceedingly dashing and distant, and
spouts one manly, virile line after another. "I'm asking you to
marry me, you little fool," "Don't be such a little idiot,
darling," and "I should be making violent love to you,
behind a palm tree," are a few of his more potent lines. That's
not a good thing... and it's not a bad thing either. It's a sign of
the times, and makes the film fascinating on an entirely different
Anchor Bay's DVD release of Rebecca
presents the film in its original aspect ratio (approximately
1.33:1), and does so with mostly excellent results. The print does
exhibit some wear and tear, but it's nothing more than you would
expect from a film that has passed the half-century mark in age.
There are some pops and scratches in the picture and the burn marks
are still visible. Outside of this, the image looks quite good.
Contrast is accurately defined and the picture presents little in
the way of digital noise or edge enhancement.
The audio is also what you would expect of an older film. It's a
Dolby Digital 2-channel mono track and, all things considered, it
sounds perfectly acceptable. There's some audible analog hiss, but
it's rarely loud enough that it diverts your attention from the
film. There's also some natural limitation to the fidelity of the
track, but dialogue is never compromised and the monaural mix is a
good showpiece for Franz Waxman's sweeping score.
As esteemed a movie as Rebecca
is, it definitely deserved better features on DVD. This is an
absolutely barren disc. Pop the disc into your player and, right
after the obligatory FBI warnings, it goes right into the movie. I
guess I should just thank my lucky stars that the movie is available
on DVD at all, but I can't help but wish for more.
Rebecca is an important work
in Hitchcock's cannon of films and should present something more for
fans on DVD. At the very least, a theatrical trailer or production
notes would have satisfied me. But, as is the case with many titles
that are licensed to independent distributors, there's nothing in
the way of even basic extras on this disc. Hopefully, this will be
remedied by the upcoming (er... rumored) Criterion edition.
DVD's don't come any more bare-bones than Anchor Bay's release of
Rebecca. But the disc's low
price reflects this lack of features, and the sheer entertainment
value of the film alone makes it worth owning. For those looking to
take an enjoyable refresher course on some of Hitchcock's
lesser-known films, Rebecca is
a great way to start.
Films of Alfred Hitchcock on DVD