The Reel Infatuation Blogathon: Laurence Olivier in Rebecca (1940)

Reel Infatuation 2017

Hi, everybody! I’m back with another blogathon entry! Unfortunately for my followers (but fortunately for me), I may be taking somewhat of a break from blogging in order to focus more fully on the college course hosted by TCM that I’ll be participating in from June 26th until August 7th, TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock. I couldn’t be more excited about it! I’ll be trying my absolute hardest to keep up my participation in blogathons during that time, and hopefully even provide you all with some more original content, but I thought I’d give you a heads up nonetheless. In the meantime I’ll be bringing you my entry today for the Reel Infatuation Blogathon. I didn’t get to participate in this one last year, but it was so entertaining to read the entries, and I simply couldn’t resist submitting my own this year as it’s such a wonderful idea! My thanks goes to Font and Frock and Silver Screenings for hosting, and I hope the blogathon’s a great success again this year!

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Theatrical poster for Rebecca (1940).

I must admit that when I asked myself who my biggest cinematic crush was, it didn’t take long for me to find the answer. Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Maxim de Winter in Rebecca (1940) has always given me butterflies, and Maxim is probably my favorite fictional character of all time. From the beginning of the film Mr. de Winter captured my attention as he stood on a precipice in Monte Carlo and as the nameless leading lady (played by Joan Fontaine) mistakenly believed that he was going to jump off of it. Perhaps it wasn’t such a mistake to think so considering the look of anguish on his face, and his expression made me wonder what sort of a life he had led in order to come to such a dramatic crossroads. We soon find out about Mr. de Winter through the lead’s boss, Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates), who speculates that Maxim is a “broken man” and likely desperately lonely after his wife Rebecca drowned while sailing the year before. Soon the young girl gets to know him better herself as Maxim takes an almost immediate interest in her, sweeping her off her feet by taking her dancing and out for drives while her boss is in bed with the flu. At first she believes that his outings with her are simply charity and kindness on Mr. de Winter’s part, but he quickly attempts to put that out of her mind by telling her that he wants to be near her and that she “blotted out the past more than all the bright lights of Monte Carlo”.

laurence olivier - rebecca 1940
Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter in Rebecca (1940).

Their dalliance almost comes to an end, however, when Mrs. Van Hopper tries to take her away to New York after hearing about her daughter’s engagement. Joan Fontaine’s character frantically tries to get a hold of Maxim on the telephone so she can say goodbye, and after no success she finally visits him in his room. There he gives her an ultimatum; either she leaves for New York with her boss or goes to his glorious estate, Manderley, with him. Still not believing that Mr. de Winter could possibly have any feelings for her, she asks “You mean you want a secretary or something?”, and I personally believe that no other character could make his reply sound as romantic as he did: “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool!” She eventually accepts his attempt at a marriage proposal and becomes the second Mrs. de Winter, and I think that the first twenty-seven minutes of the film that captures their romance and elopement could be the perfect film in and of itself. In all honesty, I would even go so far as to say that I could stop watching the movie right there and be just as willing to talk about how much I adore Maxim de Winter, but of course the film goes on, and after their long honeymoon he takes his bride back to his mansion (because obviously he has a mansion, what sort of dream man doesn’t?).

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A lovely photograph of the miniature built for Manderley, Maxim de Winter’s estate in Rebecca (1940).

Throughout the film Maxim proves to be the sort of husband who also serves as a mentor and even a father figure to Mrs. de Winter. His stern and experienced personality matches well with her shyness and naivety, and he attempts to guide her into her new position as his wife when he can. Still, Maxim most certainly isn’t without faults,  and in parts of the film he comes off as harsh and brutal to her and to everyone else at Manderley, but it’s easy to see that this is due to his inner torment over the passing of his first wife. While the second Mrs. de Winter remains emotional yet optimistic, Maxim is a broken but beautiful man who simply doesn’t know how he can go on living with himself as his past tortures him and proceeds to tear him apart. It’s delightful to see his character grow as he falls deeper in love with his new wife and as he allows himself to forget his past, and parts of his chilled exterior melt away over time. His complexity and his intriguing nature always makes it impossible for me to tear my eyes away whenever he’s onscreen, and the darker and more troubled side of him makes me see him as a challenge, and makes me want to tear down the walls that he has built up around himself just like Mrs. de Winter did. I have to admit that on top of that, Laurence Olivier’s dashing good looks and suave accent is like the whipped cream on top of such a well-rounded character. All in all, I think that a life with Maxim de Winter at Manderley would be absolute bliss, though I think if I ever got the chance to become Mrs. de Winter myself I would see about hiring a new housekeeper before walking down the aisle!

Five Top Five of November — Vivien Leigh

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Hey, classic film fans! I know it’s been quite a while since I have updated this blog, but I was unexpectedly ill. I know I was unable to do a couple of the blogathons that I signed up for, but I have one of them mostly completed and I’m back and announcing some original content for this month: my Five Top Five series! On five various classic film stars’ birthdays throughout November, I’ll be ranking my top five favorite films of theirs and offering my recommendations. I’m obviously starting today with the incomporable Vivien Leigh! I sincerely hope you all enjoy my lists, and if they’re well-recieved I may even make a Five Top Five for December!

5. That Hamilton Woman (1941)

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Birthday girl Vivien Leigh looking lovelier than ever in That Hamilton Woman (1941).

This was birthday girl Vivien’s third and final collaboration with her offscreen love Laurence Olivier, and quite easily the best of the three. Vivien portrays Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress to Lord Horatio Nelson, and ironically this was the only film that Leigh and Olivier made while they were actually married. The film has everything from romance to action, and loads of drama. While it truly is a masterpiece as far as art direction and cinematography go, it fails to capture the attention of the audience during its entire two-hour running time. The film can hardly be blamed, though, considering the fact that it takes place during the span of twenty-five years, and it was directed by Alexander Korda, who often sacrificed excitement in his films for the sake of asthetic. All in all, I would say that if you’re a diehard fan of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier and don’t mind some dull moments, I would strongly recommend giving this historical melodrama a go today!

4. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

I’m going to begin this one with an unpopular opinion: When it comes to Vivien’s most famous roles, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) has always ranked pretty low in my mind. Truthfully I would probably have placed it last on my list were it not for the fact that it’s truly a mesmerizing film with superb acting from everyone involved. Even in my youth I held a distaste for Marlon Brando’s role of Stanley Kowalski and Vivien’s infamous portrayal of Blance DuBois. Both seemed to be unlikable characters to me, but as time went on I learned more about the actors personal lives, and how separate they were from the fictitious characters that the two of them played onscreen. In fact, I would cite this film as one of the few that really served as hurdles for me in learning that just because a character in a film is unlikable, it does not make the film poor as a whole. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen this picture since I came to that realization, but I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely a fan of Vivien’s and wants to see her acting prowess in all its glory.

3. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

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Vivien and Warren Beatty make a steamy pair in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961).

Among Leigh’s final films we find another one of her gems in this Tennessee Williams adaptation. She plays the aging actress Mrs. Karen Stone, who accompanies her husband on a trip to Rome only for him to pass away during the flight. Karen ends up making the best of it once she sets her eyes on the youthful Italian Paolo di Leo in what was Warren Beatty’s first starring role. Despite the fact that Leigh has the lead, it’s difficult not to want to pay more attention to her character’s captivating lover, and it’s no wonder because Beatty beat out dozens of other actors for the part. This film has ranked among my favorites since I first watched it years ago, and I still believe that it truly shows how wrong some of the studios were in their reluctance to cast aging actresses. It’s even quite depressing to see her taking on such a brilliant and challenging part while knowing that she only starred in one more film after the completion of this one, but it’s a must for any fan of Vivien’s who wishes to scratch beneath the surface of some of her more glamorous parts.

2. Gone with the Wind (1939)

I know what you’re thinking. This is a perfect movie if there ever was one, and I quite agree, but there is one more film of Vivien’s that I find to be perfect as well that holds just a bit larger of a place in my heart. Still, I intend to give credit where credit is due, and Gone with the Wind (1939) is a masterpiece. Vivien is superb in her breakout role (one that she beat out hundreds of other legendary actresses for), and it makes me both sorry and glad that she took the part of the notorious Scarlett O’Hara because she was rejected for the role of Cathy in Laurence Olivier’s Wuthering Heights (1939). Her acting in this and many other of her great works show that she would have excelled in both parts, but the world certainly will never forget her Oscar-winning performance. Of course the supporting cast is incomporable as well, and the film won eight Academy Awards in all. No birthday marathon or salute to Vivien Leigh would be complete without this four-hour epic that truly defines what it means to be a classic.

1. Waterloo Bridge (1940)

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Vivien and Robert Taylor melting everyone’s hearts in Waterloo Bridge (1940).

Here’s a classic that I find is hardly talked about nowadays. In Vivien’s first film after making Gone with the Wind (1939), she portrays demure ballet dancer Myra Lester, who in an almost two-hour flashback gets swept up into a whirlwind romance with a British officer during World War I. A miscommunication leads the blissful couple into dark and dangerous territory, however, when Myra is led to believe that her fiancé is dead. It appears considering the release date that this was supposed to be an early source of comparison for World War II, and the absolute beauty of the story, screenplay, and cinematography makes it a tough act to follow. I think it’s a real shame that this film is among Leigh’s lesser known ones, and she pairs with Robert Taylor so perfectly that it makes me wish that the two of them had been onscreen lovers more often. It does take a couple of watches for the audience to really build connections and emotions for the characters, but I would absolutely recommend this flawless picture to any fan of romantic dramas and our birthday girl, as it is certainly among my favorites of all time.