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!