Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Rebecca (1940)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Rebecca (1940)

In Alfred Hitchcock's Best Picture-winning gothic romance-drama, his first American film that was based upon the 1938 Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name, it told about a humble, shy and meek new bride, recently married to a dashing, rich, but distant aristocratic nobleman who owned an ancestral manor named Manderley. She began to be tormented by the "haunting" presence and memory of the brooding man's first wife - his unseen, former deceased wife named Rebecca.

This black and white film received eleven Academy Award nominations - and won for the nominated director his first and only Best Picture Oscar, beating out strong competition in 1940 from The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, The Philadelphia Story, and Hitchcock's own Foreign Correspondent. With his Best Picture win, David O. Selznick became the first producer to win consecutive Best Picture Oscars. The film also won an Academy Award for Best B/W Cinematography (George Barnes), and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Actor (Olivier), Best Actress (Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson with her sole career nomination), Best Director (Hitchcock's first nomination in this category), Best Screenplay, Best B/W Interior Decoration, Best Original Score (Franz Waxman), Best Film Editing, and Best Special Effects.

  • the opening scene revealed the film's ending - the ruins of an estate known as Manderley; the second Mrs. De Winter (Joan Fontaine) in voice-over described her flashbacked dream: ("Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon it. Nature had come into her own again, and little by little had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers, on and on while the poor thread that had once been our drive. And finally, there was Manderley - Manderley - secretive and silent. Time could not mar the perfect symmetry of those walls. Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly it seemed to me that light came from the windows. And then a cloud came upon the moon and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it. I looked upon a desolate shell, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls. We can never go back to Manderley again. That much is certain. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back to the strange days of my life which began for me in the south of France...")
  • while vacationing in the south of France at Monte Carlo, wealthy, grieving widower Mr. George Fortescu Maximilian "Maxim" De Winter (Laurence Olivier) contemplated suicide by jumping to his death; he was apparently depressed by the drowning death of his wife Rebecca
  • Maxim courted a young blonde woman (Joan Fontaine) at the resort who was the paid companion of matronly and wealthy socialite Edythe Van Hopper (Florence Bates); unexpectedly, he impulsively proposed marriage to her as she was about to depart from France; he asked her to make a choice between leaving for America or returning with him to his estate at Manderley in Cornwall, England; she didn't understand his veiled marital proposal (delivered off-screen from the bathroom), thinking he wanted to hire her for some other purpose (Woman: "You mean you want a secretary or something?" Maxim De Winter: "I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool")
  • once the newlywed couple arrived in Manderley's great front hall, the stern, domineering and unsmiling housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) made her first appearance to the second Mrs. De Winter; they were greeted by an army of over fifteen servants standing as if posed for a picture; the young bride met the unsmiling, severe, ominous, dark-haired, and slightly hostile housekeeper Mrs. Danvers as she appeared from the left in front of the lineup: ("How do you do? I have everything in readiness for you"); they both stooped to pick up the young woman's dropped gloves
  • in a chilling scene, Mrs. Danvers toured the closed-off bedroom of deceased first wife Rebecca with the second Mrs. De Winter; the room was maintained as a shrine to her existence, since the sinister Mrs. Danvers seemed to be obsessed by the beauty, elegance and intelligence of the former wife; she opened the curtains to the bedroom and went through Rebecca's intimate belongings; she opened the woman's closet: ("This is where I keep all her clothes"), selected a fur coat, seductively held it and caressed it next to her own cheek (with a lesbian-fetish interest) and then brushed it by the cheek of a nameless, horrified, and recoiling second Mrs. de Winter, stating: "Feel this. It was a Christmas present from Mr. de Winter. He was always giving her expensive gifts, the whole year round. I keep her underwear on this side..."; she also showed off an embroidered pillowcase on the bed (monogrammed with an "R") and its "delicate" sexy nightgown inside - one of Rebecca's most intimate articles of clothing: "Did you ever see anything so delicate. Look, you can see my hand through it"
  • in another striking scene, the second Mrs. De Winter courageously summoned Mrs. Danvers and demanded that all of Rebecca's monogrammed stationary and personal effects be destroyed immediately; when Mrs. Danvers protested, she stood up to Mrs. Danvers and asserted her controlling authority as mistress of the house: "I am Mrs. de Winter now"
  • the 'second' Mrs. De Winter was cruelly set up by Mrs. Danvers' seemingly-innocent suggestion that she take inspiration from the stairs-hall portrait of one of Maxim's ancestors (Caroline de Winter) with a fluffy white dress, similarly worn by Rebecca at the previous costume ball about a year earlier
  • after following the advice, the radiant new bride glided down the stairs in a copy of Rebecca's white ruffled dress for the fancy ball and was told harshly by Maxim to take the dress off: ("What the devil do you think you're doing?...Go and take it off. It doesn't matter what you put on. Anything will do. What are you standing there for? Didn't you hear what I said?")
  • in the following scene, Mrs. Danvers inflicted cruel torment upon the second Mrs. De Winter; she suggested that she would never be able to take the previous wife's place: "I watched you go down just as I watched her a year ago. Even in the same dress you couldn't compare...You tried to take her place. You let him marry you. I've seen his face, his eyes. They're the same as those first weeks after she died. I used to listen to him, walking up and down, up and down, all night long, night after night, thinking of her. Suffering torture because he lost her...You thought you could be Mrs. De Winter. Live in her house. Walk in her steps. Take the things that were hers. But she's too strong for you. You can't fight her. No one ever got the better of her. Never. Never. She was beaten in the end, but it wasn't a man. It wasn't a woman. It was the sea"
Mrs. Danvers' Torment of the 'Second' Mrs. De Winter

Mrs. Danvers: "You can't fight her. No one ever got the better of her. Never. Never."
Mrs. Danvers: "You tried to take her place"
  • Mrs. Danvers urged the second Mrs. De Winter to jump to her death from the second story window: "Why don't you go? Why don't you leave Manderley? He doesn't need you. He's got his memories. He doesn't love you - he wants to be alone again with her. You've nothing to stay for. You've nothing to live for really, have you? Look down there. It's easy, isn't it? Why don't you? Why don't you? Go on. Go on. Don't be afraid!"; commotions and distractions from explosive flares and shouts of the discovery of a sunken boat ("Shipwreck! Ship on the rocks") following a storm at sea prevented the tormented wife from losing her sanity and jumping; it was the sailboat in which Rebecca had presumably drowned
Mrs. Danvers' Torment of the 'Second' Mrs. De Winter

"Why don't you go? Why don't you leave Manderley?"

Mrs. Danvers Urging Suicide: "Why don't you? Go on. Go on. Don't be afraid!"
  • the haunted Mr. De Winter dramatically confessed to his wife that Rebecca's body would be found there in the boat because he had planted it: ("I put it there"); he also revealed in the film's major plot twist - to her shock - that he actually despised Rebecca: ("You thought I loved Rebecca? You thought that? I hated her!...But I never had a moment's happiness with her. She was incapable of love, or tenderness, or decency"); the second wife replied with disbelief - and relief: "You didn't love her? You didn't love her?"
  • Maxim reenacted the troubling event of Rebecca's actual death in the boat house for his second wife - he summarily recounted how his marriage with Rebecca was a miserable and "rotten fraud"; after their marriage, Rebecca had persisted in carrying on her private, sexually perverse and promiscuous lifestyle, but in public to maintain the family's honor, she had agreed to act as the perfect wife; as Maxim spoke, the camera panned through the room, pausing on various key objects (such as the divan and the ship's tackle coiled up on the floor); it followed Rebecca's actions while he reconstructed them
  • in the sequence, Maxim described how the conniving Rebecca had attempted to have him murder her by telling him that she was pregnant with another man's illegitimate child - possibly due to her affair with her own cousin and sleazy playboy Jack Favell (George Sanders); during their fearsome taunting and quarrelling, Rebecca accidentally tripped over some ship's tackle on the boathouse floor, fell, and struck her head - and was mortally wounded; Maxim would have deliberately taken her life had she not died accidentally during their argument
  • Maxim finished the story of how he panicked and then confessed that he had covered up the act; he took Rebecca's body to her boat, went into the ocean and deliberately sank it by creating a hole in its hull, and then escaped and watched it sink in a cove; afterwards, he lied - claiming that Rebecca was lost in a storm at sea and drowned; and further, when a different body conveniently washed up at Edgecoombe, he identified it as the body of his late wife; when the boat was discovered with Rebecca's body, an inquest was held and it appeared that Maxim would be charged with the murder
  • the night before a coroner's inquest into Maxim de Winter's first wife's drowning death, the second Mrs. de Winter was worried about how her husband might lose his temper at the hearing; she lovingly asked to be there at his side, as they stood together in front of the huge fireplace: "Promise me that they won't make you angry...No matter what he asks you, you won't lose your head...I want to go to the inquest with you....I promise you I won't be any trouble to you. I must be near you so that no matter what happens, we-we won't be separated for a moment"
  • as Maxim examined his new wife's face, he realized that Rebecca's continued haunting presence had aged her, and noticed how she had lost her youth and matured in spite of his wishes; they shared a very mature, heart-felt embrace and some kisses after he confessed to her: "I don't mind this whole thing, except for you. I can't forget what it's done to you. I've been thinking of nothing else since it happened. Ah, it's gone forever, that funny young, lost look I loved won't ever come back. I killed that when I told you about Rebecca. It's gone. In a few hours, you've grown so much older"
Kisses In Front of Fireplace Before the Coroner's Inquest: "Ah, it's gone forever, that funny young, lost look I loved won't ever come back"
  • the film's second twist was also unexpected; Rebecca had apparently lied about her pregnancy; on the day of her death, Rebecca had a secret meeting in the London office of her physician Dr. Baker (Leo G. Carroll); Favell had assumed that they were meeting to discuss her illegitimate child; the coroner's interview with Dr. Baker revealed that Rebecca was shocked to learn in the office of that she was NOT pregnant with a child, but was suffering from terminal, inoperable, deep-rooted cancer; she knew that she had little time left before her death and wished to spare herself from a possibly lengthy and unglamorous death
  • Rebecca's last words in the office revealed that she was determined to suicidally end her life immediately and not prolong her life for a few months more; after hearing the bad news, she responded to Dr. Baker: ("Oh no, doctor, not that long"); her final intended revenge was to provoke Maxim into killing her in the beach house (taunting him with the deceitful news of a pregnancy by another man and carrying a child that would someday inherit his possessions) to try to destroy him as well; she deliberately goaded Maxim into killing her, but then she fell and accidentally died
  • in the final sequence, devoted and faithful housekeeper Mrs. Danvers was crazed by the truth that was revealed about Rebecca - that Mrs. De Winter actually had terminal cancer; she carried a lighted candle through the darkened hallways and set Manderley on fire, determined to burn the cavernous mansion; as the master of the house Maxim de Winter drove home from London and proceeded up the long driveway to Manderley, the sky was brightly lit by the flames of the mansion - he exclaimed: "That's not the Northern lights. That's Manderley!"; outside the mansion, he and Mrs. de Winter found each other and embraced, while they watched the great house burn behind them; Mrs. de Winter told her husband that Mrs. Danvers was unable to relinquish Manderley to the new couple: "It's Mrs. Danvers. She's gone mad. She said she'd rather destroy Manderley than see us happy here"
  • the deranged Mrs. Danvers died in Rebecca's bedroom where she was consumed in the blazing inferno as the flames burned her and the memories of her beloved mistress; she was last seen through a West Wing window, remaining trapped inside Rebecca's bedroom as the burning roof caved in on top of her; the movement of destructive flames approached an embroidered, monogrammed "R" on the pillowcase
Manderley's Destructive Flames

"She said she'd rather destroy Manderley than see us happy here"

The Mad Mrs. Danvers in Flames

The Fire Burning the Monogrammed "R" on the Pillowcase
  • Maxim was acquitted of Rebecca's murder, and her death was ruled as a suicide

Opening Flashback: Ruins of Manderley

The Disconsolate Mr. Maxim De Winter (Laurence Olivier) Contemplating Jumping to His Death in Monte Carlo

Maxim's New Young Demure and Self-Conscious Acquaintance (Joan Fontaine)

(Off-screen) Wedding Proposal by Maxim De Winter

Newly-Married Bride Going to Manderley with Maxim

The Entrance of the Stern Housekeeper Mrs. Danvers

Tour of the Bedroom and Rebecca's Intimate Belongings

To Mrs. Danvers: "I am Mrs. de Winter Now"

Portrait of One of Maxim's Ancestors

New Bride Wearing Rebecca's Dress (To Match the Portrait)

Mr. de Winter's Shocking Revelation About Rebecca: "I hated her"

Rebecca's Physician Dr. Baker (Leo G. Carroll) Telling About Rebecca's Terminal Illness and Her Desire to Kill Herself


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