Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film was originally going to be about the Titanic , but instead, in 1940, he did an admirable adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca [Thursday, Nov. 27, Bravo, 11 A.M.] , which won the Academy Award for best picture-the only time a Hitchcock film won that prize, though of course it was presented to producer David O. Selznick. It also earned Hitch his first of five Oscar nominations for best director-the others were for Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960)-but the most famous filmmaker in movie history never won a competitive award personally from the academy, only a belated honorary Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award toward the end. Though Rebecca has its weaker moments-Judith Anderson’s evil Mrs. Danvers is a bit much at times, Laurence Olivier could not believably smoke a cigarette, the wrap-up is a trifle too neat-the story of a young woman in deadly competition with the deceased title character nevertheless remains very affecting. Joan Fontaine’s notably honest, endearing performance, together with Hitchcock’s sensitive and piquant direction, holds the interest securely throughout this suspenseful love story-melodrama. Fontaine didn’t win best actress that year, but the academy made it up to her the following season by giving her that prize for a far less challenging role in Suspicion , yet another Hitchcock picture. Olivier is at his most attractive here; this is also his most movie-starish (in the good sense) appearance, probably his most appealing. Excellent support from George Sanders’ charming bounder at the head of a fine British cast, plus a very funny performance by Florence Bates as a pushy American. Seeing Hitchcock’s empathetic treatment of the lead woman in this and realizing that Psycho -in which the lead woman is killed off midway-came only 20 years later, reveals a shocking social and cinematic descent for the female: Hitchcock’s prescient view has being mirrored in the increasingly poor roles for women over the subsequent 37 years. Since the death of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, what enduring female stars have been developed besides Barbra Streisand? In its day, Fontaine’s hugely dominant role in Rebecca was in a good 20’s and 30’s tradition, and hardly unusual. Previously recommended highly, two of my favorites: Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in arguably Hitchcock’s best, the 1946 Notorious [Nov. 27, Bravo, 5:05 P.M., or on the big screen in a brand-new print on Friday, Dec. 19 , at the Museum of Modern Art, with an introduction by me]; also, Jennifer Jones and Charles Boyer in Ernst Lubitsch’s last glorious romantic comedy, the same year’s Cluny Brown [Monday, Dec. 1, AMC, 6:30 A.M.].

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week