#230: Rebecca

Abuse, grief and queer villainy

june gloom
3 min readFeb 19, 2024

This review was originally posted to Twitter on February 6, 2020.

Initial release: March 21, 1940
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Relationships are messy. Relationships among the landed gentry are messier still. Add a recent tragedy (the truth of which is yet to out) and lingering resentment and you’ve got a recipe for disaster in Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film.

A young woman (who spends the whole movie without a name) meets a dashing, but depressive (and kinda controlling) aristocratic widower, Maxim de Winter. After a whirlwind romance they marry, and Maxim takes his new wife home to the old family manor, known as Manderly. The heroine is meek and timid as a mouse, and seems to be genuinely a little afraid of the house staff, especially the prim and proper head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers, for her part, is awfully fixated on Maxim’s previous wife, Rebecca, going so far as to maintain Rebecca’s rooms exactly as they were when Rebecca died in a mysterious sailing accident. Her preoccupation borders on the fetishistic, and her treatment of the heroine is increasingly icy and manipulative — even attempting to drive her to suicide. She’s a sinister villain in that banal way, creepy and unpleasant. She constantly compares the deceased Rebecca to the heroine. Maxim is upset by any reminders of his former wife, and Mrs. Danvers goes out of her way to trick the heroine into pushing that button repeatedly.

As slow burn films go, this is a slower burn than most; cishet romance is generally a drag for me in general, and Maxim is a little controlling and engages in subtle and not-so-subtle negging throughout most of the film, only stopping once the truth about Rebecca comes out. The heroine has been dropped into a churning pond of high society, and the rest of the fish — Danvers especially — smell blood. She doesn’t belong in this world and she knows it; most of the film is about her attempting to cope with an increasingly hostile environment. But halfway through the film, Hitchcock begins to turn up the heat, as the film goes from a boilerplate high society drama/romance snoozer to something more psychological, as the pressure from Danvers — and the heroine’s own paranoia — begin to weigh more heavily.

Filmed during the war years, Rebecca is representative of Hitchcock’s WWII era films — somewhat looser and more straightforward than his later work (or, indeed, the 1927 silent thriller The Lodger, his first big hit.) It relies heavily on gothic literature tropes and ends somewhat suddenly and incoherently. It also pushed the Hays code quite a bit; an extremely sexually charged scene (for the era, anyway) involves Mrs. Danvers fondling Rebecca’s clothes and fondly recalling how she would help Rebecca undress for a bath after the latter would return home from parties. There’s a lot to be said about scenes and characters like this in classic film, but all it really does is add to a long list of everything Hollywood has done to diminish and denigrate the very same queer people who helped make Hollywood what it is today.

And yet as provocative as the film could be, it’s still a low-energy outing that’s big on visuals but short on suspense, taking entirely too long to get going for not very much payoff. Hitchcock clearly needed a few years to really develop his style after the Hollywood move. While Hitchcock has crafted a number of classic films and is rightly considered the “master of suspense,” you’re better off with his later films. The old saying goes that it’s easier to use a hammer than invent one, and in 1940, Hitchcock was still working with clubs.




june gloom

Media critic, retired streamer, furry. I love you. [she/her]