Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Cousin Rebecca

I realize that, as I said in one of my first posts on this Blog, that I jump around a lot. From my last post's take on a current Sci Fi oddity, The Lobster to this post on a 1952 Gothic/Noir classic is a vast jump. Or is it? The Lobster takes place in a non-specific region that looks remarkably like the countryside surrounding Belfast, and My Cousin Rachel in Cornwall. See, there is a logic to this that can be sussed out, if one is just patient.

Full disclosure, I love love love Hitchcock's masterpiece Rebecca. I love the Daphne DuMaurier penned story, the sterling cast, and even the back story about how Joan Fontaine was so terrified of being chosen for what was a top, top role that she almost wet herself. But mostly I love Hitch's masterly reading of the Gothic Noir. So, I really wanted to see "that other Rebecca" aka My Cousin Rachel.

Well, the comparison might fail immediately with the relatively unkown Henry Koster -- unknown to me at least, although he did direct the delightful Harvey and some other classics. But not every film can be directed by Hitch, nor should it. Cousin has a similarly excellent (and, by some accounts, even more popular) DuMaurier novel as its source material. Check. It has two excellent actors in the leads: a young Richard Burton in his first "American" film and the glorious Olivia DeHavilland, one of the finest, if not the finest American actress of her generation. Check. And, it has a backstory.

What is the backstory? Among other things, Burton and DeHavilland did not get along at all well during filming. What else is new - I don't know much about how easy or hard to work with DeHavilland was (except I have read that she was a true professional) but we all know that Burton was notoriously difficult. In any case, what is really mind blowing is that, given they didn't like one another, these two turned in performances that were truly first rate. In some scenes they even had to pretend they were in love. Or that one was in love with the other (no spoilers, as always with my reviews).

Perhaps because of this, or in spite of it Burton and DeHavilland are just perfect. He as an erstwhile heir to a lonely Cornish manor and she the possibly scheming possible gold-digger (again, not spoilers) who may or may not have murdered her husband.  Rachel features a somewhat less complicated set of side-plots than Rebecca, so the supporting cast, while wonderful has much less to do. In Rebecca, George Sanders nearly steals the show as a local Lothario trying to seduce the eponymous heroine; in Rachel that role seems taken by the appropriately dastardly George Dolenz as Guido Rainaldi.

In a master-stroke of production design, a film that was nearly entirely shot in Century City (at the famous 20th Century Fox sound stage, which is still there) looks very much like it was shot at a lonely manor house in the Cornish coast. And, similarly with the home and surrounding countryside in Rebecca, the scene and setting nearly become another character in the narrative. I believe that is a trademark of DuMaurier, but I have not read her novels so I wouldn't know.

What I do know is that this "other Rebecca" more than holds its own, due to great source material and sparkling lead performances. By the way, I watched this on Amazon Prime, which has a great transfer of an excellent print - in glorious HD. If you like your gothic with a noirish cinematic twist you will love this film.