Hitchcock’s first American film is what I’d call a dark melodrama consumed with mystery, more so than a conventional thriller as I’ve seen it previously described. His inaugural work under Selznick and an adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier novel (one of three they collaborated on) is a grim tale driven by romance, privilege, and deceit. Laurence Olivier plays a widowed aristocrat who marries a young impressionable woman within two weeks of their very introduction. It should be noted that perhaps the finest subtlety that I’ve ever seen in any film is that our leading lady is never named, instead it is Olivier’s first wife Rebecca who is revered throughout the film as her legacy and reputation seemingly takes precedence to the point that the new spouse is left anonymous. Nonetheless the unidentified woman played by Joan Fontaine is one of the shining lights of the film, who together with Olivier captures the tension and hostility that would coincide with a relationship built on deception.
The film’s best performance however is played by Judith Anvers, the sinister housekeeper who is infatuated with the late Rebecca and would never let another woman take her place. Meanwhile as the plot unfolds and the film’s secrets come out you can’t help but admire the overall presentation, as the performances and the storyline only amplify each other while showcasing the phenomenal direction of a man about to take Hollywood by storm. Although this was the first of five times Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director (he never won), this film won Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and was nominated for nine other Academy Awards as well, including Best Actor, Actress, and Actress in a Supporting Role respectively.