Based on the book by Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca tells the story of the second Mrs de Winter (Joan Fontaine) who marries Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) after a whirlwind romance in Monte Carlo and returns to England to his family home of Manderley. Once there, however, she finds the house, her husband and the servants - particularly housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) - all preoccupied with his first wife, Rebecca. Mrs de Winter at first feels inferior but the truth has the potential to be much more damaging.
You can certainly tell this is a Hitchcock film. Even as an early one, it displays some of the techniques he employs to such effect in later films. For instance, the scene when Mrs de Winter ventures into Rebecca's chamber is atmospheric to the extreme, with camera angles and lighting being deployed to their full potential. Equally, the character of Mrs Danvers is represented as menacing at all times thanks to Hitchcock's direction. Mixed with excellent performances from the three main actors, along with those from George Sanders, Florence Bates, Edward Fielding and Leonard Carey, this is a truly remarkable film.
Joan Fontaine is outstanding as the anxious bride. In a few scenes she seemed to almost quiver out from the screen, especially in her pivotal scene in the bedroom with Mrs Danvers. Laurence Olivier is equally engaging in his pivotal scenes towards the end of the film. In fact, whether it's a small scene or a large one, Olivier commands attention. In his first few scenes with Fontaine I actually found it difficult to concentrate on her, so overwhelming was Olivier's presence.
This is truly a gripping film. Some elements were altered in the transition from book to film but they work cinematically and that's the most important thing. Judith Anderson's performance works completely and I came away this film deeply unsettled by the character of Mrs Danvers. For me, she was the one who lived on, despite the chilling finale.