Who Will Star in the New “Rebecca”?

11 02 2012

As Daily Variety reports here, Dreamworks and Working Title Pictures are looking to create a new adaptation of “Rebecca.” When I wrote about Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film adaptation here, I called it “a gothic romance that drips foreboding and suspense,” and while Hitchcock himself was not entirely pleased with the film, it was the only one of his films to win the Academy Award for “Best Picture” – an award that producer David O. Selznick brought home. While it’s possible that Hitchcock’s contentious relationship with Selznick soured his memory of “Rebecca” – and you can read about that relationship in my review of Leonard J. Leff’s book “Hitchcock and Selznick” here – the film stands as a masterpiece. It was an important stepping stone for Hitchcock: His first American film, his first with Selznick, his first taste of Hollywood glamour…

The new “Rebecca” is being scripted by Stephen Knight (“Eastern Promises”), who will go back to the original novel by Daphne Du Maurier as the source for his adaptation. While Hitchcock remained faithful to the novel in his film, a Selznick’s insistence, there were some differences between the two, the primary one of which was that the film significantly toned down the lesbian overtones of Mrs. Danvers’ devotion to the first Mrs. De Winter. It’s easy to imagine that this as the first story element the filmmakers will reinstate, but beyond that, it’s hard to say.

Of course, the big question is who will play the second Mrs. De Winter. Selznick did his best to make the search for the right actress an event similar to his earlier quest for the silver screen’s Scarlet O’Hara, and as the unnamed star of “Rebecca,” Joan Fontaine was naive and tremulous as Mrs. Danvers undermined her confidence. So, who do YOU think should play the second Mrs. De Winter? I could see Michelle Williams or Jessica Brown Findley from “Downton Abbey,” but there are so many terrific young actresses out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And who could fill the shoes of Laurence Olivier as the charming but imperious Maxim De Winter, or  Judith Anderson as the obsessive Mrs. Danvers?


Alfred Hitchcock Reveals a Dark “Suspicion”

17 08 2010

“You might say Suspicion was the second English picture I made in Hollywood: the actors, the atmosphere, and the novel on which it’s based were all British.” — Alfred Hitchcock

“Suspicion,” Alfred Hitchcock’s second picture of 1941, marked the beginning of his very fruitful collaboration with one of the greatest actors of the last century, Cary Grant. The film also stars Joan Fontaine, returning in a role that is in many ways like her role in “Rebecca.” In fact, “Suspicion” is rather like a modernized version of “Rebecca.” At it’s heart, it’s about a woman who is too timid to take control of her own life, and too paranoid to resist her own dark imaginings.

Fontaine won an Academy Award in 1942 for her work in “Suspicion.” As good as she is, though, Grant may be even better. He plays John Aysgarth, a ne’er-do-well, gambler, thief and cad. His performance runs the gamut from charming to sullen, from light-hearted to desperate. The film revolves around Fontaine’s character, Lina McLaidlaw, who is introduced as mousy and retiring. She has never had a relationship with a man, and this attracts her to Aysgarth: The idea of a woman who has no expectations appeals to him, for reasons that become apparent after they are married.

Hitchcock foreshadows the drama to come, as Aysgarth appears to manhandle his future wife.

Despite appearances, despite his role in upper class society, Aysgarth has no money — a fact that Lina did not realize at the outset of the film, when they are getting to know one another. They return from their honeymoon to a new house in the English countryside, replete with servants, but as they settle in, Lina learns the truth when John talks of ducking his debts. She’s stunned, but he reveals that he has a job offer — one he did not intend to take before seeing how upset she is with the idea that he has no money.

Aysgarth upsets Lina further when he sells the heirloom chairs given to them by her parents to settle a gambling debt, although he claims he had no idea she would care. Aysgarth’s old friend Beaky (played by Nigel Bruce) arrives for a visit, and immediately tells Lina stories about Aysgarth’s past that he hopes would amuse her, but instead fills her with dread.

Aysgarth’s job doesn’t last long, and Lina learns through a chance meeting that he had been fired weeks earlier after stealing 2,000 pounds. Beaky goads him into talking about what happened with the money, expecting to hear a good yarn, but Lina’s obvious discomfort keeps Aysgarth from telling much of a story.

After Lina’s father dies, leaving them little money and an imposing portrait,

Aysgarth convinces Beaky to invest in a scheme he has to buy and develop property. Lina worries that Aysgarth is going to lose Beaky’s money, and advises him against investing. Aysgarth is furious with his wife for interfering, and over a game of “Anagrams” (it looks like an early form of “Scrabble”) she has a vision of Aysgarth killing Beaky.

Soon, Aysgarth sets out for London while Beaky goes to Paris to withdraw his money for the investment. Two policemen — inept, as usual in a Hitchcock film — arrive to tell Lina that Beaky died while in Paris. She suspects that her husband may have done it, but does not betray him to the police.

At a dinner with friends, one a mystery novelist, the other a coroner, Aysgarth continues to evoke feelings of paranoia in his wife when he talks blithely about murder. Lina collapses, and Aysgarth brings her home, then serves her a glass of milk which she is too afraid to drink. She announces that she is going to visit her mother, and Aysgarth insists on driving her there, but his reckless driving along a cliff road nearly kills them both. They pull over, and Aysgarth demands to know why she’s been acting so strangely. It is only then that Lina realizes that he, too, is under a great strain. He resolves to pay his debts, even if it means going to prison, and together, they drive back home, united by their determination to see their difficulties through.

“Suspicion” was based on the 1932 novel “Before the Fact,” in which Aysgarth really is a killer. But that was too much for the board of censors, who insisted that the star of the movie had to be a good guy. The script’s ending was changed so that Aysgarth was not a killer, but an irresponsible person considering suicide as a way out of his problems. It is left to Fontaine, at the movie’s finale, to do the heavy lifting of explaining everything — Aysgarth’s motivations, his mysterious disappearances, even his plan to kill himself. It’s an exposition heavy moment in an otherwise fleet footed movie, and that ending reminds me of the coda to “Psycho,” in which the psychiatrist explains Norman Bates’ psychosis.

In fact, Aysgarth continually keeps Lina in the dark, refusing to confide in her or explain his actions. This, combined with her very limited knowledge of men, helps stoke her paranoia.

Cary Grant would work with Hitchcock again in another three films; “Suspicion” also features Dame Mae Whitty, Sir Cecil Hardwick and Leo G. Carroll. Nigel Bruce, best known as Sherlock Homes’ sidekick, Watson, is a lot of fun as the dim-but-trusting Beaky.

“Suspicion” also features more of Hitchcock’s arresting images and camera work, including the fantastic moment in which Aysgarth brings a glass of milk up a dark flight of stairs to his wife — the milk was illuminated from within by a tiny lightbulb. The sequence in which Lina imagines that Aysgarth is out to kill Beaky is similarly striking, as it superimposes their struggling figures onto a photograph of the cliffside land Aysgarth wants to develop.

Earlier this year, it was announced that Will Smith was developing a remake of “Suspicion.” Whether it can measure up to the original – or reinstate the novel’s ending, in which the male lead really is a killer – remains to be seen.

Next, we’ll look at a tale of World War II that echoes an earlier Hitchcock film: “Saboteur.”

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