(On DVD, September 2018) For all of his famed ability at creating and sustaining suspense, Alfred Hitchcock could have a surprisingly romantic streak at times, and few of his movies manage to combine both traits as intriguingly as in Rebecca, perhaps one of the best depiction of the Gothic romance sub-sub-genre ever put on-screen, adapted from Daphne Du Maurier’s still well-known novel. The mystery here is intensely personal, as the new wife of a rich man has trouble measuring up to the example set by her predecessor, the mistress of a vast estate who clearly still has her fans in the household help. Against the lonely and oppressive backdrop of a house far too big for its inhabitants, the heroine starts wondering who’s not out to murder her. It escalates into a fiery climax, but the point of the film, after a sunny romantic first act, is the heroine looking over her shoulder, discovering deeper secrets about her new husband and his house, and sparring with a standoffish housekeeper. Rebecca is noteworthy in Hitchcock’s oeuvre in a few respect: it was his first Hollywood project after emigrating from Great Britain; it was produced/dictated by the legendary producer David O. Selznick and it’s the only Hitchcock film to win the Best Picture Academy Award. Both Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier are quite good as the leads, but it’s Judith Anderson who has the best role as the ever-faithful Mrs. Danvers. Otherwise, Rebecca is still good fun to watch, not quite noir but definitely Gothic enough to be visually interesting on top of Hitchcock’s usually skillful direction.
(Video on-Demand, September 2017) Everything old can be new again, and so it’s not a bad idea to dig up some of Daphne Du Maurier’s Gothic romances as inspiration for movies that set themselves apart from the usual cut-and-dried psycho-killer thriller swill that we see too often today. My Cousin Rachel is a thriller told in suspicions, the viewer going back and forth in believing that a character is out to murder our protagonist. Rachel Weisz is very good as the titular Rachel, keeping us unsettled throughout the film and being able to play menacing or charming at rapid intervals. She makes Sam Claflin look pedestrian in what is supposed to be the protagonist’s role. The production values are high, as we spend a lot of time on a credibly recreated 19th-century British estate. My Cousin Rachel is not a fast-paced film, but it does well in taking its time to present us with an unfolding subtle story. The ending hits harder than it should. It’s the perfect kind of film to watch on a cozy snowy evening.