Criterion’s 2-disc set was fairly packed with special features, which made it a shame to lose when Criterion lost the rights for the film to MGM. The supplements here are primarily text notes but even then there was a large quantity of information on the film’s production that I deeply valued, and unfortunately a lot of the material on this edition has not made it on to the new Criterion Blu-ray edition.
The first disc only offers a couple of features, limited to alternate audio tracks: an isolated music and effects track along with an audio commentary recorded by film scholar Leonard Leff, originally for Criterion’s LaserDisc edition for the film. Leff’s track can be a little dry unfortunately, not helped by the fact he is obviously reading from notes, but it has some really fascinating and engaging passages found within it. While he covers a lot about the film’s themes, the camera work, the editing, and even the model work (as well as making comparisons to the original novel) his track is most interesting when he gets into the sparring that occurred between Selznick and Hitchcock over the direction of the film: Hitchcock wanted to make his own film using the general story and themes found within the book, expanding on certain ideas about the characters, while Selznick pretty much wanted a word-for-word adaptation of the book. Though this aspect is still covered ad nauseam throughout the rest of the disc’s supplements this aspect still makes the track worthwhile.
The second disc is a single-layered DVD containing the remaining supplements. It has been divided into 4 sections: "Dreams," "Fruition," "Ballyhoo," and finally "Broadcast". I will go through each section in order.
First, under "Dreams" we find material related to pre-production. Dreaming of Manderley is a navigable text supplement with photos on author Daphne du Maurier and her early life and literary career with a focus on Rebecca naturally. It’s a well written essay loaded with details on her primary influences for the book. Following this is then another text supplement, Picturization of a Celebrated Novel, which offers a comparison between key sequences from the novel and the film that differ between one another, even quoting passages directly from the novel. This is all interesting though some of the changes are more subtle. There is one large change, though, that had to do with the production code of the time, and it does change one character and outcome rather drastically. Short of getting the actual novel as a supplement this is another great and thoughtful inclusion.
The Search for “I” next presents (in another navigable text feature) the correspondence between Hitchcock and Selznick over the casting of the film’s heroine. The notes go over each actress up for the part, most complete with glamour shots, and the reasons as to why they would or would not work (some of the rejections are cruel). It was interesting going over the concerns but disappointingly the concerns over Vivien Leigh (who Laurence Olivier was fighting for while Hitchcock and Selznick were resistant) are missing from here (other features here guess she probably came off too phony and couldn’t pull off the unglamorous role). This will not be the only bit of correspondence found here but like the rest it’s an incredibly fascinating read.
We Intend to Make Rebecca presents some of the more heated exchanges between Selznick and Hitchcock. As I mentioned prior Hitchcock wanted to change the story around while Selznick was intent on adapting the novel word-for-word. In the correspondence here Hitchcock throws around ideas he’s toying with, including (but not limited to) actually showing Rebecca (and I was amused that even Hitchcock wasn’t fully on board with this, including a literal “Ugh!” to the thought). Selznick wasn’t having it, though, and there are some long-winded rants here about the director’s ideas and his treatment for the film, Selznick bringing up his past successes (he does this constantly throughout all of his correspondence). Also here are concerns from Val Lewton pertaining to the production code and what was unacceptable in the story, including a rather large plot point that’s pretty much central to the entire story. Again, there are more correspondence pieces to be found here but this one especially fascinating, but surprisingly still not the best one.
Location Research is a simple collection of photos taken for possible locations to shoot the film, including in Monaco and Northern California (it’s mentioned elsewhere that the war prevented the film from being shot in England). Each photo is accompanied with a description of the photo. But one of the best features in the “Dreams” section would be a collection of screen tests that not only includes Fontaine’s, but also includes ones featuring Anne Baxter (one with and another without a blonde wig), Margaret Sullivan, Loretta Young, and Vivien Leigh (including one where she appears with Olivier). I thought these were great and they accompany the Selznick/Hitchcock notes well since you can see what they were talking about in a few cases. Leigh, though, is obviously wrong for the part, unable to pull off the timid aspects of the character. She would have been more suited to play Rebecca herself. Each one lasts between over 2-minutes and 9-minutes for a total of about 40-minutes.
Lighting, Make-UP and Costume Tests presents video footage of the various titled test. "Make-Up and Lighting Effects" presents split screens of the different actresses (Baxter, Sullivan, and Leigh) accompanied by a commentary by Leff explaining the techniques and the tight schedule. "Costume Tests" presents Joan Fontaine trying on many of the costumes and outfits seen in the film or intended to be used in the film (I don’t recall a couple). You can also see Fontaine isn’t in the best of moods and is really going through the motions, the notes mentioning that at the time Selznick was putting a lot of pressure on her leading to fatigue. Each video runs about 3-minutes.
The next section, "Fruition," looks at elements related to the actual film’s production. Memos From DOS is another collection of writings from David O. Selznick, which seem to refer to some of the problems he had with Hitchcock's methods, particularly in how much time his techniques can take up (at least from his point of view). One of them is even a letter he wrote to Hitchcock but never actually sent, and another is to a representative to write and warn Du Maurier about a change they had to make.
Following that is a number of still galleries: A Curious Slanting Hand is a short collection of five photos that shows the process that went behind creating Rebecca’s cursive handwriting and the famous “R” monogram; Wardrobe Stills is a collection of photos used by the wardrobe department (using stand-ins) showing how the colours of the fabric would look in the black and white film; and "Set Stills" present a lot of shots of the sets used for the film accompanied by text notes.
Deleted Luncheon Scene is a subsection that goes over a deleted scene in the film. There is a memo from Selznick to Hitchcock about his problems with the scene and you also get a copy of the scene from the script. I don’t think the scene was all that important but this section is great simply for getting another look at Selznick’s management of his film and his general frustrations with some of what Hitchcock was doing. He goes bonkers over the general playing of the scene (though admits he is aware this scene still needs to be properly edited) but then shows frustration at one of the scene’s little details. It’s a shame the scene appears to be lost but just getting the memos makes it worthwhile.
And finally, another great feature is "How Did You Like the Picture?", a collection of scores and comments tallied from test screenings (general concensus was it was "Very Good"). Some of the comments are a amusing, particularly in what should have been cut out, with one audience member saying 30-40 minutes should have been trimmed.
The third section, "Ballyhoo," focuses on events following the film’s release. Passion! Frustration! Mystery! looks at some of the publicity and advertising for the film, and features photos, posters, and ads. There's even photos for store window displays tied to the film hocking perfume.
The re-issue trailer follows as does a less-than-2-minute collection of footage from the 13th Annual Academy Awards with commentary again by Leff. This footage shows the table where the cast and crew of Rebecca sit, and Hitchcock goofs a little bit by playfully blocking Fontaine as the camera passes by.
Criterion then presents 8-minutes’ worth of excerpts from the interview between Hitchcock and filmmaker François Truffaut. In this excerpt (naturally) Hitchcock talks about Rebecca and what it was like working with Selznick, who had more control of his films than Hitchcock liked (he states that Rebecca is not a Hitchcock film). Hitchcock also talks about a particular shot he was trying to pull off in Rebecca, the one he would eventually pull of in Vertigo with the dolly/zoom of the camera. Another great excerpt from that interview.
Also included are two audio interviews recorded by Leff in 1986, one featuring Joan Fontaine and the other Judith Anderson, running 20-minutes and 10-minutes respectively. Both pretty much recall working on the film and what it was like working with Hitchcock, Anderson also talking about the art of acting in a more general manner.
Under the last section, “Broadcast” we then get 3 Radio broadcasts of Rebecca ,one for the Mercury Theatre and 2 for the Lux radio theatre. Each one has a text introduction and a list of players. Each one lasts about an hour and is chapter indexed (the audio playing over the chapter listing). These are actually decent adaptations but the Mercury Theater one (starring Orson Welles) is probably the more interesting one. The latter two Lux Radio ones (recorded in 1941 and 1950) are adaptations of the film while the Mercury one, made in 1938, is an adaptation of the book, made well before the film (this radio play is mentioned in one of Selznick’s letters to Hitchcock, pointing out a “successful” adaptation of the book), and since Welles wasn’t held back by the production code he leaves in a plot point altered in the film.
The release then features a booklet containing a couple of essays: Robin Wood provides a short one for the film while Criterion reprints a 1997 piece by American Cinematographer editor George E. Turner, who provides a write-up (almost in a bullet list kind of form) about the film’s production.
Though most of the material is text in nature Criterion’s original edition for the film was quite satisfying. It was especially fun to get a firsthand look at the friction between Hitchcock and Selznick as well as a wealth of great material on the film’s general production and legacy. A really solid edition. 8/10