Criterion’s previous DVD edition offered a very thorough set of features that covered just about every aspect of the production, even providing some of the heated correspondence between Selznick and Hitchcock over the path the film should take. The MGM edition was missing just about all of this, only carrying over a handful of the video and/or audio features from Criterion’s edition, while adding their own new material. The advantage here is we get some of the previous exclusive content back but disappointingly Criterion doesn’t carry over everything.
The supplements are spread over the release’s two dual-layer discs, the first disc starting again with an isolated music and effects track and then the same audio commentary by Leonard J. Leff that first appeared on Criterion’s LaserDisc. 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.
New to this edition is an interview between Molly Haskell and Patricia White who examine the film’s legacy and continuing appeal, looking at it a bit from a feminist perspective. They note the film’s ability at delving into certain anxieties women may feel and then talk a bit about the film’s fantasy feel thanks to Hitchcock’s touches, including the feeling of Rebecca’s presence. I guess ultimately it’s a supplement that looks to examine the film from a more modern perspective though it’s thankfully not self-important and avoids the obvious (they mention the film’s lesbian undertones though feel they’re so obvious it’s not worth mentioning). It runs about 25-minutes.
Criterion then interestingly actually ports over the making-of documentary that MGM made for their DVD and Blu-ray editions. The 29-minute documentary gathers together a large number of film critics and film scholars, along with Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary Stone, director Peter Bogdanovich, and, actor Bruce Dern. It starts out with Hitchcock’s move to the States, the adaptation of du Maurier’s novel Rebecca and the clashes that began to occur between the director and Selznick. There’s a lot about the adaptation and what each man wanted (Selznick wanted a true “picturization” while Hitchcock wanted a far more loose translation) and how the Hays Code managed to change one of the more important elements that was originally found in the novel. It also goes over some of the things Selznick wanted that Hitchcock thankfully ignored. In all it basically summarizes all of the text material found on the original Criterion DVD, and though it still lacks the “coolness” of reading the many letters written between Hitchcock and Selznick firsthand it still gives a general idea on the conflicts that arose.
Closing the first disc is then the film’s Re-issue trailer, tooting its Award wins.
The second disc starts with a new feature with Craig Barron providing yet another analysis of a film’s visual effects. The effects for Rebecca are incredibly subtle and this feature proves to be all the more fun because of the fact a lot of them don’t jump out at you. He goes over how a number of shots are pulled off, the use of matte paintings, and even the various models and puppets used. In further providing a visual aid the supplement also feature computer models to give an idea how particular shots were pulled off. Like Barron’s other features for Criterion it’s an incredibly fun and fascinating contribution, with a number of surprises.
In the previous DVD Criterion did provide a text essay on du Maurier’s career and the writing of Rebecca, and MGM also had a brief documentary about the author on their release. Criterion does replace both of those with a better feature, the 2016 French television documentary Daphne du Maurier: In the Footsteps of “Rebecca”. This gets more in-depth into du Maurier’s life than Criterion’s essay, delving into her other works and her relationships with her father, husband, and the influential women that came into her life. It’s very thorough and quite intriguing, while also having the added bonus of featuring footage from a rare interview with the author where she even shows her original manuscripts to the interviewer. Of all of the du Maurier features across all of these editions of Rebecca this one is easily the most comprehensive. It runs about 55-minutes.
The Search for “I” carries over a lot of the material process from Criterion’s previous DVD pertaining to the casting, some of it also appearing on MGM’s edition. Surprisingly Criterion does port over the correspondence between Hitchcock and Selznick on casting the film’s protagonist. 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.
This section also features a collection of screen tests. On top of Fontaine’s own test Criterion includes ones featuring Anne Baxter, 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 just 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. These all appeared on the Criterion DVD but only some of them appeared on the MGM editions.
Make-Up and Lighting Effects presents split screens of the lighting tests for a few of the actresses up for the part (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.
Also included from the original DVD 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.
New to this edition is an interview with Fontaine on an episode of Tomorrow, hosted by Tom Snyder. The 17-minute segment, filmed in 1980, talks about the film, working with Olivier (who didn’t want her in the film), the studio system at the time, and what it was like working with Hitchcock. She also talks about her sister, Olivia de Havilland and gets a bit into politics, specifically that she doesn’t like talking about them. It nicely expands on Leff’s discussion and Fontaine is yet again her charming, wonderful self.
Criterion then digs up another gem from the vaults of Tomorrow with a 44-minute interview with Alfred Hitchcock, filmed in 1973. He mentions his next yet-unnamed film (which is of course Family Plot) but he’s otherwise just there to chat about his work. Snyder tries to keep it pretty loose and not specific to any one film, more interested in just what Hitchcock looks for in a project and how he builds a scene. None of this is particularly new, especially after the Truffaut interview, but this one proves to be rather fun on its own merits. Hitchcock tells a couple of stories to his host, one of which being one he wanted to do adapt for an episode of his television show (I’m pretty sure I have heard about this one before, though can’t remember from where) but the best moment is probably when the director talks about Cockney rhyming slang and gets into an excessive amount of detail about it. Again, it’s quite a bit of fun.
The supplements then close with features that appeared on both the Criterion DVD and the MGM editions: Rebecca on the Radio, which presents three radio adaptations. Each one lasts about an hour and is chapter indexed. 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, and since Welles wasn’t held back by the production code he leaves in a plot point altered in the film. As a bonus this one also concludes with a phone interview with du Maurier. These are fun additions and I’m glad they manage to find themselves on each new release.
The booklet features a new essay on the film, its production, and this point in Hitchcock’s career by David Thomson. Criterion also includes correspondence between Hitchcock and Selznick over the adaptation of the film, Hitchcock wanting to do a loose adaptation, Selznick hell-bent on a very faithful adaptation. Val Lewton’s letter about concerns relating to the production code is also included, as is Selznick’s letter to a representative asking her to contact du Maurier and address a major change to the story. Unfortunately, other than the notes about casting, this is all that was carried over from the remaining correspondence from the old DVD, a number of other memos and letters being omitted. Robin Wood’s essay from the old booklet is also missing, as is a reprint of an article by American Cinematographer editor George E. Turner on the film’s production.
Unfortunately a number of other features are missing, some not-so-surprising, but others rather shocking. A lot of the other text features didn’t make it. On top of the du Maurier essay (replaced by the documentary here) and the Selznick memos, these extras are also missing: comment cards from test screenings, photos chronicling the development of Rebecca’s hand writing, advertising materials, set photos, costume photos, a whole section about a deleted scene featuring a script excerpt and more correspondence, a comparison between the novel and film, location research photos, and production photos. Since most of that is text, or a picture gallery at least, this isn’t a huge surprise, and in fairness some of the photos in those galleries appear in other supplements on this edition (though not all). But there are also other inexcusable omissions: the excerpt from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interview that appeared on both the Criterion DVD and MGM editions is missing (as is the Bogdanovich interview that appeared on the MGM), along with the footage from the 13th Annual Academy Awards. I don’t really understand the lack of these last two items but they’re still fairly significant omissions.
In the end the missing features are unfortunate and I’m not sure on the reasoning, especially since Criterion has been using the Truffaut/Hitchcock interview on other releases. Outside of that, though, Criterion has still put together some great material, easily besting the MGM editions. But because Criterion hasn’t carried over everything from both previous editions they may still be worth holding onto. 8/10