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By Lee Gardner | Posted 1/16/2008

It's Low Self-Esteem Theater time as a never-named timid young commoner (Joan Fontaine) meets the lordly Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), who's still trying to move past the drowning death of his wife Rebecca a year earlier. After Maxim impulsively marries her and whisks her back to his opulent pile of an estate on the English coast, the second Mrs. de Winter finds herself living under the inescapable shadow of the first Mrs. de Winter. Rebecca's things and her monogram litter every room, she cast some sort of spell over sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), everyone measures Mrs. de Winter against her predecessor, and, of course, Rebecca still haunts Maxim's heart. Director Alfred Hitchcock reportedly lied to newcomer Fontaine that everyone on the set of his 1940 American debut hated her, and she radiates insecurity and vulnerability in the first half of the movie; he unfailingly frames her dwarfed by towering doorways or gaping fireplaces that look set to swallow her up. But things are not quite as they appear, and a turn in the plot offers Mrs. de Winter a chance to win-or lose-everything she always wanted. Daphne du Maurier's Gothic melodrama seems like somewhat unlikely material for Hitchcock, but he does a masterful job of tempering its sweeping flavor with his carefully controlled visual style. The grandest chick flick ever made.

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