|The 39 Steps|
When David O Selznick brought Hitchcock to Hollywood in 1940, he at last found the fertile ground in which his genius was able to flower. Larger budgets meant the kind of production values Hitchcock’s visual talent thrived on; his first Hollywood film, Rebecca (1940), might on the face of it seemed like material better suited to the talents of someone like William Wyler but, in spite of considerable interference from Selznick, Hitchcock managed to bring a great deal to Daphne Du Maurier’s Gothic romance through his formidable mise-en-scene. He transformed the conventions of the heroine in distress into something far darker and more sinister. Joan Fontaine as the gauche and affectingly insecure heroine becomes under Hitchcock’s confident guidance her own worst enemy and victim of a sinister plan to drive her out of her mind. Laurence Olivier invests his character of Maxim De Winter with a marvelous brooding melancholy and ambiguity in his intentions towards Fontaine; but it is Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers in a dominant, virtuoso role who steals the film. An openly lesbian character who has been in love with the first Mrs De Winter, she becomes one of the most concrete and literal centres of oppression in Hitchcock’s work but the overwhelming atmosphere of threat was soon to become one of Hitchcock’s most characteristic trademarks.
To be continued tomorrow.... The first instalment of this series can be found if you click here