Joan Fontaine

joan fontaine rebecca

I was already in love with movies before someone showed me Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca at the tender age of nineteen, but something about it opened up a whole new world of cinema to me. You’d think it was the film’s acclaimed director or the mastery with which he brought Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic novel to the screen, but no, I can’t claim anything as respectable as that. Instead, it was the smiling woman pictured above who helped ease my way into black & white cinema. Joan Fontaine earned an Academy Award nomination, the first of three, for her performance as the second Mrs. de Winter, and she went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for her very next film, Hitchcock’s Suspicion. (She’s the only actor, male or female, to have ever won an Academy Award for one of his films.) I watched both in rapid succession before devouring several more of her films including Jane Eyre, Letter From an Unknown Woman, Ivy, and Kiss the Blood Off My Hands. More than simply her beauty and acting talent, I was enamored by the way she balanced timidness with a barely concealed inner wisdom and feistiness. The next several years saw me tracking down and checking off ever more obscure titles on her filmography until only a dozen or so remained. It wasn’t quite an obsession, but a friend did buy me a framed 8″ x 10″ b&w photo of the actress that I still have to this day. Joan Fontaine passed away […]

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Criterion Files

Every week in October, Criterion Files will be bringing you a horror movie from the archives of classic cinema or the hallways of the arthouse. This week’s entry takes a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s Hollywood debut, Rebecca (1940). While some would argue (and by “some” I mean Cole Abaius) that Hitchcock only made two films that could uncontestably be identified as horror – Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) – Rebecca is an interesting point of inception for themes covered throughout the auteur’s American career and is a film that engages in literary forms of the horror genre. Especially when seen as a ghost story.

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Burt Lancaster plays Bill Saunders – a man who accidentally kills a man in a bar brawl. On the loose, he takes up with Nurse Jane Wharton (Joan Fontaine). When someone recognizes him, the black mail is on, and Saunders has to choose between the woman he’s come to love and his own life.

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Let me start with one very important commandment that must be obeyed in the world of film: Thou shalt not remake Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind, 2001 a Space Odyssey (to name a handful of classic films) and anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Anything. Even if one day a reel containing a commercial shot by the man shows up, it cannot be remade.

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