Another week of My Fair Lady performances nearly over and since this project is moving at a more leisurely pace during this period, it means you have plenty more time to vote on the next year of review. We're heading to the 1990s next and the poll is over there to your right.
This week, I managed to find some time to watch the eventual winner of the 1940 Best Picture race...
Philip MacDonald, Michael Hogan, Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison
Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson
2 wins, including Best Picture
Yet another 1940 nominee dealing with class differences, Rebecca relates the tale of Max de Winter (Olivier), an upper class gentleman who begins a love affair with a delightful young woman who apparently has no given name (Fontaine). The whirlwind romance proceeds to marriage and Max brings his new bride to his country home, which does have a name - Manderley. However, all is not rosy, as the new Mrs De Winter must live in the shadow of Max's first wife Rebecca, whose presence can still be felt at Manderley. Not only do all the servants seem to have adored their prior mistress, especially the creepily stoic Mrs. Danvers (Anderson), but everywhere our young heroine looks, she finds another monogrammed item of her predecessor's.
There is no question why director Alfred Hitchcock was given the moniker The Master of Suspense. In Rebecca, he creates a mysterious mood seemingly out of nowhere. For the most part, the story itself does not necessitate such mystery, at least until the final act. The first half could easily have been interpreted as a straightforward drama about a young woman struggling to fit into her new surroundings. Yet, Hitchcock consistently makes his audience feel uneasy, aware that something is awry. The circumstances of the title character's demise are given without much detail and new seemingly unrelated clues are provided every so often to unsettle the audience further. It's like an episode of Lost (except for the fact that there is actually a resolution at the end).
This is all the more unsettling precisely because the events that are unfolding do not immediately seem to be out of the ordinary. It's just the story of a woman who married a widower. But, of course, that's what you get with Hitchcock at the helm. Even the most mundane activities are treated with disconcerting tension, making us painfully curious for answers. And when these answers arrive, in the form of an explanatory - and intensely captivating - monologue from Max, the tone shifts from mysterious tension to suspenseful tension. No longer does the audience ask, "What is going on?" Now they ask, "What will happen next?"
Only a year earlier, Laurence Olivier hammed it up in Wuthering Heights, but here he is exquisitely restrained, delivering a wonderfully natural performance. Joan Fontaine succeeds at creating a meek and almost invisible character. The intense glares from Judith Anderson as the deadpan Mrs. Danvers are truly disturbing. And George Sanders is fast becoming another favourite actor of mine thanks to another bitingly acerbic portrayal.