Rebecca (1940) is a suspenseful, mysterious story about what begins to seem like a Cinderella story. This Alfred Hitchcock film tells the story of a young girl who falls in love with the wealthy, prominent Maxim de Winter, and within weeks becomes his wife and, in turn, the mistress of his extravagant Manderley estate in London. Her greatest challenge arises when she learns that she is fighting to win the admiration of Manderley staff and friends who professed strong dedication to Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. Surrounding such a thrilling plot were specific editing techniques that certainly had a strong impact on my viewing experience. Two of the most noticeable techniques included the continuity style of the film as well as the dissolves between scenes, which contributed the most to my movie experience.
Rebecca definitely gave the impression of more of a Hollywood continuity editing style, paying attention to specific views over general perspective and creating more of a narrative story with smooth camera movement. There are specific scenes that I empathized with Mrs. de Winter, the protagonist, because of the smooth transition between cuts. For example, when Mrs. de Winter presents herself to her guests at the masquerade ball at Manderley, she slowly walks across the hall, peers down at her husband and guests, and makes her way to the staircase. Even as she proceeds down the stairs, there are a few cuts to shots from her point of view as she approaches the backs of her husband and guests. Throughout this entire scene, the audience is aware that Mrs. Danvers’ suggestion that Mrs. de Winter wear that particular costume is probably ill intentioned, which provides a great deal of anticipation. However, another contribution to the suspense of her introduction was how the cuts were so clean and continuous. Such smooth transitions, even from different points of view, kept me as a viewer in Mrs. de Winter’s perspective, anxiously awaiting the response of her husband to her surprise choice of costume. Another scene that utilized such smooth continuity was Mrs. Danvers’ immaculate display of Rebecca’s old bedroom to Mrs. de Winter. Once again, the shots in the scene blended together into an overwhelming experience that I experienced with the protagonist. Her reactions to Rebecca’s closet and her nightgown were continuous with the actions of Mrs. Danvers and my empathy for Mrs. de Winter was difficult to ignore. The directorial display of that beautiful yet eerily maintained room gave me yet another opportunity to experience the emotions of the main character. I was pleased to experience this type of continuity style because of the main character’s overall journey throughout the film. From the moment of Maxim’s sudden proposal, I was eager to find out what laid ahead for her. I felt like I was able to go through her emotional roller coaster, if you will, right along with her for the entire film.
More noticeable to me than the Hollywood continuity editing style was the heavy use of dissolve cuts between scenes. Although by the middle of the movie I felt that it was overused, I eventually discovered how well the dissolve worked with the message and an underlying motif of the movie. The slow dissolve between scenes already gave a mysterious vibe to the film like there was a dramatic secret that needed to be unveiled. It always made me feel like there was something I still did not know as a scene slowly transformed into another. Finally, when the Manderley estate was burned down, I noticed the long dissolve between the infuriating flames and the “R” imprinted on the pillowcase in Rebecca’s room. That final dissolve had such a strong impact on my thematic perspective of the film, especially with the motif of water and the sea throughout the movie. When Mrs. Danvers intimidates Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca’s room, she tells Mrs. de Winter to “listen to the sea,” the proven reason for Rebecca’s death. There is a dissolve to the harsh, powerful sea just outside of the room, an intriguing contrast to the dissolve at the end of the film that signifies the fiery end to Rebecca.
The plot to this movie was clearly a suspenseful one, with a thrilling story line that carries all the way to the last two minutes of the film. There were a variety of unexpected twists, a charming, charismatic protagonist, and an ending that still gave Cinderella to her prince safe and sound. What made the movie so intriguing to watch for me was how I could notice the way the editing allowed me to feel what I was supposed to feel. I was hopeful, frightened, concerned, and skeptical with the protagonist and, in the end, I was relieved as she hugged Maxim and Rebecca’s memory went up in flames.