Ask 100 people what the best movie of all time is, and you're likely to get 100 different answers. The art of storytelling - whether on the screen or on the page - is subjective nearly beyond reason. Every nuance of a story affects the listeners enjoyment, from the setting, to the characters, to the basic plot. And the right combinations of these elements - along with the right conditions - can create a perfect storm known as a blockbuster.
Movies, and books before them, could become popular for a lot of reasons. However, intrinsic to any story's popularity is an intriguing tale that keeps the listener glued to it.
Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) was a prolific writer of compelling stories. The author of many popular novels, she had an artists ear for words and a creative upbringing (her parents were both actors and her grandfather a famous caricaturist) that contributed to her ability to spin a suspenseful yarn. Literary critics of the time (she was at her publishing height in the 1930's through the 1950's) admonished her work as being too lightweight as she wrote in the style of the old gothic tales, such as Jane Eyre. However, a good story is a good story and, when it's all said and done, du Maurier's works still stands up today. As if the world needed any more convincing, one just needs to look at he list of du Maurier books that have been made into blockbuster movies.
Alfred Hitchcock was tapped to direct three of the films adapted from her work: Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds. And, while all three are considered classics and one could successfully argue that The Birds is the most ingrained in our popular culture, my favorite - by far - is Rebecca.
The genius of Rebecca is in the telling of the story. The title character, Rebecca, never makes an appearance in the story and the lead character is never given a name. Every character is shrouded in mystery and the chilling story unfolds around the poor, unnamed narrator. There's the mysterious husband who's harboring a secret that causes him untold grief and guilt. There's the menacing housekeeper who makes our narrator feel unwelcome in her new home. Then, all around, there are the whispers and the gossip that drive our heroine to the brink of insanity. While the twist at the end is more satisfying in the novel (blame it on movie censors of 1936) the movie brings the entire story to life in a way that is rarely seen in Hollywood.
For years, Rebecca was unavailable on DVD. However, since 2008, there have been a few versions released. There's a remastered single disc version with a booklet included, a multi-disc set of remastered Hitchcock classics that includes a number of extras for each film in the collection, and one that I can't find online anywhere - but is available on Netflix - that has the bonus disc to end all bonus discs. If you have a Netflix subscription, I highly recommend getting that version for the extras. It chock-full of insights into Hollywood circa 1936 with notes, memos, and letters written between Hitchcock and the producers of the movie (the best of which is a blistering lecture by David O Selznik given to Hitchcock regarding the screen treatment that Hitchcock delivered). There's a nice short history on du Maurier and her influences for the book that include photos of various houses and excerpts from her diary. And, best of all, you can see screen tests of a variety of actresses who were trying out for the part. It's a slice of Hollywood-history-heaven.
So, if you ask me what the best movie of all time is, I'll ask you "in which genre" (because you can't really pick just one...) But, if you ask me to list my top five films of all time, Rebecca is firmly ensconced there - pretty close to the top. :) I hope you'll watch this classic story and enjoy it as much as I do. And, if you're even a little bit of a Hollywood history buff, definitely pick up one of the bonus discs and check out the screen tests. They really give you a sense of the difference an actor can make to a role.
Dreaming of Manderlay,