Rebecca (1940)

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Released 13-Nov-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Animation
Featurette-Original Screen Tests
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 124:05 (Case: 130)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor
Selznick Intrnationl
MRA Entertainment
Starring Laurence Olivier
Joan Fontaine
George Sanders
Judith Anderson
Gladys Cooper
Nigel Bruce
Reginald Denny
C. Aubrey Smith
Melville Cooper
Florence Bates
Leonard Carey
Leo G. Carroll
Edward Fielding
Case Amaray-Opaque-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Franz Waxman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Sight and Sound magazine, the well respected monthly publication of the British Film Institute, conducted its traditional ten year poll of a host of directors and film critics in 2002, asking for each participant to do the seemingly impossible task of selecting the greatest films and directors. Alfred Hitchcock, a now almost mythic figure in the history of cinema, was delivered to the top of the critics' list, and hardly fared worse in the eyes of the directors, sitting in fifth position below the likes of Fellini, Welles, Kurosawa and Coppola (Francis not Sofia, not yet anyway). A staggering fifteen of his films were voted for by at least one critic or director as being in their Top 10 list, including North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, The Birds, Marnie, and the list goes on... Amongst such company sits Rebecca, Hitchcock's first American studio production, starring the Oscar winning British actor Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine (younger sister of Olivia de Havilland). Lavishly produced by the legendary David O. Selznick on the back of his tremendous success with Gone With The Wind, this 1940 black and white film garnered eleven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Olivier), Best Actress (Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Director (Hitchcock's first nomination in this category), Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, Best Black and White Interior Decoration, Best Original Score (Franz Waxman), Best Film Editing, and Best Special Effects. Against strong competition, beating out John Ford's classic The Grapes of Wrath, Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, The Philadelphia Story and Hitchcock's own Foreign Correspondent the film won the acclaimed director's only Best Picture Oscar and secured a second award for Best Cinematography.

    The seemingly endless wealth of classic films belonging to this luminous period in Hollywood's history and the hushed tones with which the name of Alfred Hitchcock is spoken shame me to confess a prior ignorance of either. Now, however, having started at the beginning of Hitchcock's chronology of Hollywood films, I intend to rectify this problem and look forward to seeing for myself why films like Vertigo and Rear Window are held in such high regard. Viewing Rebecca is more than simply taking a significant step back in time (both in regards to the film itself and the history of cinema), it is entering another world, entirely controlled by the whims of a master director - a sombre Gothic mystery that enshrouds the relationship between not only Maxim de Winter (Olivier), a brooding widower and a naive, young woman (importantly never named - Fontaine), unaccustomed to the aristocratic lifestyle her sudden marriage to de Winter plunges her into. Having met de Winter in Monte Carlo, Fontaine's character is courted and then whisked away to a new life at Mandelay, his estate. Before too long she is plagued by feelings of fear, pain and guilt, when the memories, and perhaps more, of her new husband's dead wife begin to intrude upon her psyche. Her worries are made worse by the housekeeper (Judith Anderson) whose own sinister presence haunts the new Mrs de Winter's steps. Much mystery surrounds the late woman's death, and little by little Hitchcock unravels it in front of us, building to a climax that is, although by today's special effects laden standards tame, nonetheless impressive.

    It must be said that this film comes before scores of cinematic advancements (Orson Welles' unprecedented movement of the camera in Citizen Kane immediately springs to mind), and well before greats like the late Marlon Brando turned film acting on its head, reducing its theatricality and imbuing it with a realism made possible by the Method school. Anyone who sits down to watch this film must do so aware that an appreciation of it, like an appreciation of the language of Shakespeare or the art of Michelangelo, relies to a significant extent on the understanding that art, however revolutionary, is very much a mirror of its time. Rebecca may or may not appeal. It may or may not be a film to put in your player over and over (for me it is not a film I will rush to see again, but I am pleased to have seen it). It may or may not replace, or even sit alongside The Lord of the Rings or Pulp Fiction. Rightly, each individual decides what they do and do not like. There is nothing more infuriating than being told what to like, or what is good. However, I think the occasional step outside the box can offer tremendous rewards.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Assessing the video quality of a film released over sixty years ago is a difficult enterprise, however in this instance I was amazed at how good this film looked. There have been two releases of the film in the U.S. by Criterion and Anchor Bay, both responsible for a restoration of the film from its original 35mm sources. There is some conjecture amongst reviewers as to the better transfer and  I have not yet been able to find out whether either of these two transfers was used for the Region 4 release or if in fact an entirely different print was used. Whatever the case, what we are presented with is excellent, putting a lot of much more recent releases in the shade. It is presented at almost its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 (1.33:1) and is obviously not 16x9 enhanced.

    Sharpness and shadow detail were generally excellent. I was constantly amazed at the clarity of the presentation. Some of the backlighting causes grain to intrude, but this is never unacceptable.

    The contrast of the elegant black and white photography is also almost beyond reproach considering its age. Blacks are beautiful and clear, with only relatively slight tinges of fuzziness or greyness, lending us a surprisingly natural looking black and white world.

    There are hardly any worrisome film artefacts to speak of, let alone complain about. There is a smattering of specks that occurs occasionally but they are basically insignificant. The transfer is clean and stable. Turning to MPEG artefacts - they are minimal, and only intermittently was I aware of a slight shimmer in the image; aliasing is fairly minimal, and limited to the lines of door frames and a tweed suit. The stillness of the camera, relative to our modern movies, assists this maintenance of a high transfer quality I would suggest.

    So, I remain unaware of the origins of this superbly restored print, expertly transferred to disc, but regardless, it is a winner.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    We are presented with a solitary English Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural soundtrack that is of excellent quality.

    The sound is firm and focussed, never possessing the tinniness that plagues so many releases of vintage films. It is a well rounded soundtrack that I would venture to say presents a soundstage as close to the filmmakers' intentions as is possible in a modern home theatre setting. Only in the opening and closing flourishes of the entire orchestra is one aware of the limited range of the old recording equipment - the sound is a little compressed. The musical soundtrack, composed by Franz Waxman is beautifully evocative of the film's mysterious mood and realistically presented.

    Dialogue is clear, presented without distortion or dropouts. Audio sync is excellent.

    Obviously the surrounds and subwoofer get nothing to do. This is not a loss in any sense.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras included are a very interesting collection of screen test footage with actors considered for the roles, including Olivier, Fontaine, Vivien Leigh (a name now synonymous with Gone with the Wind) and Anne Baxter. It is divided according to the actors appearing in each test, or you can select the play all option. I must confess that the inclusion of screen tests (Hugh Jackman's on the original X-Men DVD for example) is not of tremendous appeal for me personally, but in this case it was interesting to see different individuals inhabiting the same part in the case of Mrs De Winter, particularly Mrs Olivier, Vivien Leigh.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Turning to comparisons with Region 1 releases matters become a little difficult. As previously mentioned, both Anchor Bay and Criterion have released DVD editions of the film, however it appears they are not readily available, at least not from all the major stores. Some online stores list them as out of stock whilst others have backorders available. With such difficulties our release has the immediate advantage of ready availability.

    Compared to the Region 4 release, the Region 1 Anchor Bay release misses out on:

    The Region 1 Criterion release misses out on nothing:

    Compared to the Criterion release, the Region 4 release misses out on:

    Now if you're a fan of this film, the extensive and expensive ($35 US) Criterion 2-disc edition could be for you. Otherwise I would suggest going for the local product with a fantastic video and audio transfer, and a sample of interesting screen tests.

Summary

    This is an artistically and historically important and I must confess (as someone who is usually dismissive of those arty types who profess to love The Third Man more than Star Wars) an engrossing film, worth seeing, even if ultimately it is too far removed from today's society's current expectations of film to be watched repeatedly.

    The video quality is of a high standard.

    The audio quality is of an equally commendable quality.

    The extras are interesting and a welcome inclusion considering the age of the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Scott Murray (Dont read my bio - it's terrible.)
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S100, using Component output
DisplaySony 76cm Widescreen Trinitron TV. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DVR-S100 (built in)
SpeakersYamaha NX-S100S 5 speakers, Yamaha SW-S100 160W subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
R2 Version - Similar high quality but with Extras - RichardP REPLY POSTED
Criterion out of print - REPLY POSTED
Film history - REPLY POSTED
Criterion version stll available at Amazon. -