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Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” arrives with a striking 4K restoration

Updated: Jan 30, 2023


Rebecca” is the only Alfred Hitchcock film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The original camera negative was scanned and mastered in 4K and then downconverted for this Blu-ray presentation.

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Blu-ray, DVD; 1940; Not Rated

Best extra: A 25-minute conversation with film critic Molly Haskell and film scholar Patricia White

DAVID O. SELZNICK – the Hollywood tycoon behind "Gone with the Wind” – originally brought "Master of Suspense" Alfred Hitchcock stateside to make a movie about the Titanic. Hitch wasn't interested. He just wanted to work in Hollywood, U.S.A., and signed an exclusive seven-year contract with the producer.

They squabbled for weeks over Hitchcock's first American film. Would it follow the bestselling novel “Rebecca” scene-by-scene as Selznick wanted, or would Hitchcock cut the story and retell it from a subjective point of view? Hitchcock was so frustrated with the relationship he only worked with Selznick once more. He was loaned out to other studios for the rest of his contract, while Selznick continued to write his paycheck.

(1) 21-year-old Joan Fontaine provides an outstanding performance as the shy young woman who's never identified other than "I." (2) Laurence Olivier plays the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter.

"Rebecca" has one distinction from all the rest: It's the only movie for which Hitchcock snagged a Best Picture Oscar. His first American film, this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel, starts in fashionable Monte Carlo. A shy young woman who's never identified other than "I," is played by 21-year-old Joan Fontaine in an outstanding performance. She falls for wealthy widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). After a short courtship, they marry and return to his English estate Manderley, where memories of his first wife, Rebecca, overwhelm the household supervised by the creepy Mrs. Danvers (Dame Judith Anderson).

The psychological thriller plays off the "second wife syndrome," film critic Molly Haskell says in her conversation with Patricia White. "You always wonder about the first wife – was he more in love with her, and is she hovering nearby?" Haskell compares it to "The Sound of Music" and its "embittered widower, who needs to softened before he falls in love with a woman that has nothing obvious to recommender her."

In the enclosed 37-page booklet, author/biographer David Thomson writes, "Rebecca" is a "ghost story," or a "restrained scheme of horror," as Fontaine's character follows a Jane Eyre path. She is drawn to the "malevolent spirit in the mistress's old bedroom." The young woman is "striving to replace the burnished, intimidating reputation of that absent presence, the beautiful and accomplished hostess Rebecca."

(1) The creepy Mrs. Danvers (Dame Judith Anderson). (2&3) Deep shadows dominate the Oscar-winning cinematography from George Barnes.

The disc features a fabulous 4K restoration of the black-and-white picture, scanned from the original camera negative (1.37:1 aspect ratio). Digital noise reduction is kept at bay while preserving the natural film grain. Manderley's gorgeous interiors are filled with sharp detail in the wide-angle shots. Those perspectives are the first to fall flat when the original negative is missing or damaged. The contrast level is just as impressive, with deep shadows falling across Fontaine's face in George Barnes' Oscar-winning cinematography.

"Rebecca" includes a commentary with film scholar Leonard J. Leff, originally recorded for a 1990 Criterion laser disc and a 30-minute standard-def making-of documentary (2008) with dozens of interviewers highlighting the stormy relationship between Selznick and Hitchcock. Selznick considered himself the author of his movies, even choosing which actress should be the leading lady. Check out the screen tests of Norfolk native Margaret Sullavan and Vivien Leigh. Selznick came close to a breakdown during the production, with gambling debts and a reported affair with Fontaine while still married to Irene Mayer, the daughter of Louis B. Mayer. Thomson calls the relationship between Hitchcock and Selznick "a classic battle over authorship, a romantic producer, and a rather cold-blooded director."

Viewers will also find a new French documentary, with subtitles, on the life of du Maurier on a second Blu-ray disc, which also houses Hitchcock's and Fontaine's interviews with NBC's Tom Snyder from 1973 and 1980; a new interview with film historian Craig Barron detailing the visual effects, which included a 50-foot model of Manderley for its grand finale. If that's not enough, there are three radio versions including Orson Welles' Mercury Theater in 1938 and the Lux Theater broadcast in 1950 with Laurence Olivier and wife Vivien Leigh.

― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer

Craig Barron on the Visual Effects in Hitchcock's "Rebecca"


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