Sunday, November 17, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Rebecca (1940) at the Egyptian Theatre

Last night was another very special evening in Hollywood, thanks to the American Cinematheque: A screening of David O. Selznick's personal 35mm nitrate print of REBECCA (1940).

The REBECCA showing, which was a complete sellout, was part of a weekend of nitrate films at the Egyptian Theatre. Director Christopher Nolan (DUNKIRK) was present to introduce the movie.

I've seen REBECCA on a big screen multiple times over the years, including at the Tiffany Theater in the late '70s and at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 35mm in 2015, but this viewing was extra-special. The nitrate print was absolutely pristine.

There's something truly unique about nitrate, which I've heard described as being the closest viewers can get to having actually been on the set. A nitrate print has a richness to it that almost makes it feel like a living thing, and knowing that exact print has been viewed by others throughout many decades is awe-inspiring. In a sense, last night all of us in attendance became part of the history of that nitrate print.

Since REBECCA is one of my favorite films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the evening was pretty much perfect for me. For those curious, I'd class REBECCA in my Top 5 Hitchcock films, along with FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), THE LADY VANISHES (1938), NOTORIOUS (1946), and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). REBECCA was the director's first American-made film.

The story of somewhat mysterious, wealthy widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) and his shy and adoring young second wife (Joan Fontaine) is well known to most classic film fans, so I won't reiterate it here; I encourage any classic film fans who haven't yet seen this film to bump it high up on the "to watch" list!

Although the screenplay by Joan Harrison and Robert E. Sherwood was forced by the Production Code to make a key change from the classic novel by Daphne Du Maurier, it's exemplary classic film era moviemaking in every way, very much deserving of its Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie runs two hours and 10 minutes yet never seems too long, and I happily return to it every few years.

The casting of the role of the Second Mrs. de Winter is almost as famous as Selznick's hunt for Scarlett O'Hara, but in both cases he got it right. Joan Fontaine is simply splendid in the role; every nuance is pitch perfect. It's a performance which has grown on me more with each viewing; in recent years I've picked up on some interesting unspoken undercurrents as played by Fontaine and Olivier, who is also perfectly cast as Maxim.

As for the supporting cast, they don't come any better. Other actresses have tackled the role, but Oscar-nominated Judith Anderson is the Mrs. Danvers for all time. George Sanders plays the late Rebecca's oily "cousin," Reginald Denny is Maxim's loyal aide, and Gladys Cooper and Nigel Bruce are Maxim's sister and brother-in-law. Florence Bates, Leo G. Carroll, and Sir C. Aubrey Smith round out the players. As good as "modern" movies can be, casts like this simply don't exist in this day and age.

The Oscar-winning cinematography was by George Barnes, and the musical score was by Franz Waxman.

REBECCA has been released on DVD multiple times, including by the Criterion Collection and as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection. It's also been released on Blu-ray and VHS.

Some more shots taken last night:

We're very lucky that two of the four theaters capable of screening nitrate prints are in Los Angeles, the other being UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater.

Christopher Nolan speaking before the movie (click on the photo to enlarge it):

REBECCA is most highly recommended.


Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I got to see this on the big screen last year, which was thrilling, but it was just a digital copy. SOME DAY I will get to see a silver nitrate version of something... I hope ;-)

3:06 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope so too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Best wishes,

8:08 PM  

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