December 4, 2010

The movie we watched last night.

"Rebecca."

I'd seen it before, but others here hadn't. I'd forgotten some of the details, but I remembered the key surprises. So I wallowed in the old-fashioned acting, especially Joan Fontaine moving her eyebrows asymmetrically in a way that only a comic actress today would use...

"Rebecca" won the best picture Oscar in 1940, beating "The Grapes of Wrath." I guess people preferred watching the melodramatically exaggerated travails of rich people in gigantic houses more than they liked watching the melodramatically exaggerated travails of poor people in gritty hovels.

50 comments:

Robert Burnham said...

I think they call that "escapism"...

America's Politico said...

The Last Night I watched the tape of Nov. 2008 election. I am pumped up. We will repeat to demonstrate once again what will be do the the GOP, with Palin or Huckabee or Romney or ANYONE ticket.

Oh yes, we are going to win. You can count on it. All our volunteers are set up in all states in preparation for 2012 Obama-Biden II. If the I was successful, then the II will be majorly successful.

This is the movie that is selling advance tickets now, for Nov. 2012. Get in the line, everyone!

Strick said...

A bit harsh on audiences that were trying to put the Depression behind them by 1940. Besides, the Oscars were a split decision that year, with John Ford winning for best director for The Grapes of Wrath.

Terrye said...

I liked the movie, but I liked the book better. duMaurier was a favorite author of mine when I was young. If I remember correctly the first sentence in the book was "I dreamt last night that I was at Manderlys again."

Or something like that. I also liked the novella The Birds and The Jamaica Inn.

Hagar said...

In 1940 the movies were still seen as a sort of stage plays.

Terrye said...

And remember, Rebecca was not rich. She was a poor girl, dependent on others...she fell in love with a English gentleman who had a secret. And the people of the time not only had a depression to contend with, they had looming war...maybe they wanted to think about something else.

lemondog said...

America was still in the midst of the depression and on the precipice of a world at war.

former law student said...

more than they liked watching the melodramatically exaggerated travails of poor people in gritty hovels.

Yes, Admiral Ford was well known for his melodramas (The Searchers, The Quiet Man, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon). The Okies were historically a nomadic tribe who loved camping, and who reacted to the Depression and the Dust Bowl by going on an extended picnic.

Terrye said...

lemondog:

Well it is not 1940 today, and most people would not want it to be.

My grandparents were from Oklahoma and they spent part of that depression in the migrant camps in California after they watched their farm blow away. And while we are on the brink of war, we can not look back 20 years and remember WW1 and millions dead...we can look back a mere two decades and recall an influenza pandemic that was said to have killed as many as the war. Stalin is not carrying out his purges sending millions to the Siberian gulag, Hitler is not on the rise and the Empire of Japan is not waging war in Asia.

People think they have it bad today, but it was a lot more bleak back then. People were just a lot tougher in those days and they understood that you took your happiness where you could find it. I do believe that.

HDHouse said...

".....more than they liked watching the melodramatically exaggerated travails of poor people in gritty hovels."


How delightfully condescending. Would madame like her martini up tonight? Brie?

John Lynch said...

R

Joan said...

Terrye: no, Rebecca was the rich bitch. The new wife (whose own name we never learn) was the poor mousy girl elevated to the manor, only to be haunted by the ghost of her manipulative predecessor.

The movie was great, but the book was better... but in 1940 it just wouldn't do to have the handsome leading man actually murder his wife, would it?

So far I've managed to avoid all forms of The Grapes of Wrath, I'm not exactly sure how. I'll get around to seeing/reading it eventually. I finally read Jane Eyre last spring. The good thing about classics is they're readily available.

William said...

The Carol Burnett parody was much better than the movie.

steve said...

A nice trivia question for that movie would be to name the Joan Fontaine character. Through the whole movie she is only referred to as the second Mrs. De Winter. We never learn her first name or maiden name

edutcher said...

Unemployment at the beginning of 1940 was 15%. It only dropped 5 points with the passage of the peacetime draft and the induction of millions of Americans.

People spent the Depression watching Shirley Temple, Fred and Ginger, Clark Gable, and Cary Grant. They knew what poverty looked like. They wanted to believe they'd see the end of it some day.

PS Terrye, you're right about the opening line.

PPS Daphne DuMaurier was the wife of the commanding general of Britain's airborne troops in WWII, Robert Browning.

ET1492 said...

Just a few days ago I watched Don't Look Now which was based on a story by the same author. Pretty spooky. I liked it. Haven't seen or read Rebecca. I like Hitchcock, but I'm thinking I might read this one first.

former law student said...

Don't Look Now which was based on a story by the same author.

Also Hitchcock's The Birds

Ilona said...

Gah.. Rebecca is a lovely movie.. and Joan's acting as someone without any balance or refuge in the film is awesome..

Post is definitely dripping with something which has crept into some posts over the last year.. very unattractive.

EK said...

I love Hitchcock, but I was never a big fan of "Rebecca." In fact, I don't recall the 1940s being an especially good decade for Hitch--except for "Notorious," which is outstanding.

Clyde said...

From what I've heard, the movie version of The Grapes of Wrath understated how bad things were for the Okies. I both watched the movie and read the book a few months ago, and the book was darker, with a less upbeat ending.

For anyone who is curious and has some time on their hands, I'd recommend visiting the Library of Congress' searchable photo archive.

Documenting America

Recommended search: California Migrants

And the color pictures on the site are especially interesting because most of the imagery we've seen from the depression is in black and white. I especially liked the pictures from Pie Town, NM, and the state fair in Vermont.

Darcy said...

One of my all time favorite films. Suspenseful, creepy, romantic, charming...it has it all.

Joan Fontaine at her loveliest, I think. She had an "effortless beauty" - actually almost "disheveled, but beautiful" look in this film. And you can't go wrong with Olivier. Dreamy.

chuck b. said...

I haven't seen Rebecca since college where it was assigned viewing for some class. The teacher gave us small quiz to make sure we saw it, and one question was something along the lines of "Describe the conditions at Manderlay the first and last time Rebecca saw it." It was raining the first time and burning the last time. I was confused by the question so I got the answer wrong, and now it's the only thing I remember about the movie Rebecca.

I think I made this same comment the last time you watched Rebecca.

I watched Possessed last night, with Joan Crawford and Van Heflin. I enjoyed it, but would only recommend it to fans of noir cinematography, melodrama and/or 1940s film-making in general.

chuck b. said...

And next time you watch Mildred Pierce, see if there's a documentary about Joan Crawford on the flipside of the disk. It's excellent.

Darcy said...

@EK "Notorious" IS better. I like both. But the chemistry between Bergman and Grant in "Notorious" is exquisite. Very adult themed for that era as well. Kind of shockingly. There was a kissing scene that had some censorship challenges, I believe.

Roadkill said...

Dame Judith Anderson, playing the creepy and manipulative housekeeper Ms Danvers, is what made the movie popular. Other performances were ok, but hers was superb.

SPQR said...

Am I the only one who thinks George Sanders was one of the classiest actors around?

Ralph L said...

Who wouldn't prefer to hear George Sanders talk piffle?

Wasn't the older neighbor played by Rathbone's Dr. Watson?

Ralph L said...

I'd like to know what sort of nuns make sheer nighties.

Gene said...

The Okies were historically a nomadic tribe who loved camping, and who reacted to the Depression and the Dust Bowl by going on an extended picnic.

LawStudent, you are confusing poor people with a movie about poor people. Americans caught in a national disaster deserve our help and respect. A movie about those same people only deserves our respect if it works artistically. The movie Grapes of Wrath didn't work for me. Apparently it worked great for you. That's fine. That's what makes a horse race.

blake said...

Didn't George Sanders commit suicide out of ennui?

Big Mike said...

In chapter 7 ("Through the Night with a Light from Above") of The Glory and the Dream, William Manchester's history of the US from 1932 to 1972, Manchester says that the US was undergoing a wave of anglophilia during 1940. This may have tipped the scales choosing between two of the all-time best films ever.

PaulV said...

Edutcher, In 1940 US economy was recovering from economic decline caused by increased taxes passed in 1937 because of exports of war material to Allies that started in 1938 because of prospect of war. Look it up.

blake said...

I think it's funny that Robert Burnham wrote "I think they call that "escapism"..." and America's Politico chimes in with his "Yay, Obama 2012" stuff.

Terrye said...

Joan:

Yes, you are right. Rebecca was the one who died on the boat. Joan Fontaine played the plain girl. How could I forget that?

blake said...

I think people misuse the word "melodrama". I'd have to see the movie again, but Ford wasn't exactly into melodrama. Arbuably, Victor MacLaglen's performance in The Informer bordered on the lugubrious, but I'd mostly identify Ford, Hawks, Curtiz--all the tough aviator/directors--as leaning toward the stoic.

John Gardner mentions Grapes of Wrath in The Art of Fiction to say that GoW fails to achieve greatness because the opposition to the Okies is all so one-sidedly evil.

I see his point, but at the same time, I the artistic choice to make the forces opposing the Okies like forces of nature (insurmountable, impersonal, destructive) was a valid one artistically.

Steinbeck wrote later that the Fresno county sheriffs had set a trap for him to get him alone in a room with a girl who would claim he tried to rape her.

CBCD said...

During the filming of Rebecca, Hitchcock told the 21 year old Joan Fontaine that the rest of the cast didn't think she was a good actress. He did this to heighten the sense of insecurity of the 2nd Mrs. DeWinter.

dreams said...

I really like the young Joan Fontaine in Rebecca and Suspicion. I like her sister Olivia de Havilland in GWTW and The Snake Pit, plus Robin Hood with Errol Flynn.

former law student said...

Some good contemporary documentation of the Okies' situation here:

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/
afctshtml/tsme.html

Hearing the voices of the good local Republicans resenting the "Communist" Federal migrant worker camps made me smile. "We like our Mexicans," a rancher said; white people need not apply.

The great humanitarian Fred Ross ran the government labor camp described in both the book and the movie, by the way.

Quaestor said...

Rebecca is one I've neglected, but that'll be put right soon enough. I just dropped that title into my Netflix queue and bumped it up to No. 1. I'll know what the fuss is all about by Wednesday next. I've never really liked The Grapes of Wrath, probably because I've never warmed up to the Steinbeck corpus (A teenage girl breastfeeding a starving old geezer... yeech... I mean, wtf?)

Regarding Rebecca, some of the IMDB reviewers have classified this as a Gothic horror, or approximately so. If that's your cup o' tea may I recommend the 1963 Robert Wise opus The Haunting (Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, et al.) Now that's a humdinger -- the only movie that has ever really scared me, and I mean scared, as opposed to merely shocked or repulsed, which is just about what the most that run of the mill horror movie can achieve. Just the thought of that movie give me chills. See it and never look at wallpaper fearlessly again.

Quaestor said...

Fred Ross, great humanitarian, labor camp administrator... hmmm...

Any relation to Rudolf Höss, another famous labor camp administrator?

Terrye said...

Questor:

East of Eden was my favorite Steinbeck novel. I think it is much better than Grapes of Wrath.

Quaestor said...

I once took an American Lit class that was basically a commentary on the prof's doctoral thesis, which argued that Steinbeck and Faulkner were the poles of the axis of American prose in the 20th century. We read a lot of Steinbeck, including East of Eden, many essays, some of his journalism and screenplay or two. His style just never clicked with me. Aced the course, but it was Trojan labor.

Gene said...

Blake: I'd have to see the movie again, but Ford wasn't exactly into melodrama.

I think Ford's most melodramatic production was actually his documentary on the Japanese air attack on Midway, for which he shot some live footage (getting wounded in the process). He pulled out all the stops in the music book when it came to portraying brave Americans and perfidious Japanese.

At first the Navy balked at releasing it (even though it is quite entertaining) on the grounds it was too over the top. Among other things Ford hired actresses to play the roles of moms and girlfriends and then wrote their lines.

If you accept it for the cheerfully inspired propaganda that it is, it's worth a visit to YouTube.

Quaestor said...

And a big hello to America's Politico. Long time, no see. I see you jumped right into the thread with yet another totally off topic screed.

A word of advice, if I may? (sotto voce) Get yourself another schtick. The prospect of 23 months of the same old same old sets my teeth on edge. Some people can get away with monotony, but let's face it -- Philip Glass you ain't.

Ralph L said...

I read East of Eden overnight in college. Was incest involved, or am I thinking of Absalom, Absalom?

Allison said...

--The movie was great, but the book was better... but in 1940 it just wouldn't do to have the handsome leading man actually murder his wife, would it?

Are you trying to say something about 1940? Because in 1941, Fontaine was in Hitchcock's Suspicion, where Cary Grant plays her husband, and she thinks he's trying to kill her.

blake said...

No incest in East of Eden. Evil mother.

For my money, his "little" stuff was better. Especially "Travels with Charlie In Search of America."

BJM said...

@RalphL

Italian nuns actually do make lace and do delcate hand stitchery on contract...they don't how the lace and fine handwork is used...thus the beautiful lace on fine Italian, French and Swiss lingerie.

Our rented summer house was near a convent, the path to the village skirted their gardens and we'd often see nuns sitting in the shade doing handwork. That particular order makes the Pope's undergarments.

Everything the Pope wears is handmade, of course. The Vatican can't call up a factory and order 1-miter, golden, size 7-1/14.

BJM said...

I always thought that, unlike her sister, Fontaine had limited range. Hitchcock used her to great effect, but her later movies were forgettable.

Having read "Rebecca" during the impressionable, hormone-fueled pre-teen years, I prefer the book too. Judith Anderson's performance makes the movie.

Ralph L said...

The abbey up the hill from my brother's in CT has Oreo cows. I saw two beefy nuns in full habits stuffed in a Camry last week. My brother says the Xmas trees they sell are terrible.