Without a doubt, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca is a film that is both enticing, and filled with references that filmmakers and artists use still to this day. The film has many innovations for the medium at the time that Rebecca was produced, including the use of a female as the main protagonist instead of just vasolined eye candy (something that I thought was unheard of before Varda’s Cleo 5 to 7). However, instead of using this space to talk about the surface-level phenomena that Hitchcock uses within the film, I’m going to take my initiative and speak about some interesting parallels that I saw between Rebecca and another film classic.
I do not know if this tale was used as a reference for Hitchcock while making Rebecca, a reference the screenwriter used, a reference for the original author, Daphne de Maurier, or just not a reference at all. I also do not know if it is the other way around, Rebecca influencing the many film adaptations of this tale post 1940, but Hitchcock’s Rebecca has numerous parallels to the children’s classic tale Beauty and the Beast.
Before I go into explanation, I must warn everyone reading that the Beauty and the Beast adaptation that I will refer to while analyzing is the 1980’s Disney film that most people associate Beauty and the Beast with. However, I must remind everyone that the tale came about in the 1700’s, so it is plausible that either Rebecca was partly inspired by the tale Beauty and the Beast, or what was depicted in the Disney classic film as the tale Beauty and the Beast was partly inspired by Rebecca.
To start off the comparison we must look at the two castles, Madalay and the Beast’s castle, which both see little to no visitors. Both huge, both isolated, and both inhabited by a man who could be seen as deceitful and reliant upon his housekeepers. The ‘beauty’ of the two stories, Rebecca and Belle, reside in the East Wing of the castle while her lover, take it the Beast or Mr. Dewinter, resides in the West Wing. Both have libraries, where the beauty can go to enjoy her studies and conduct work, Also, amongst the housekeepers, there is a dominant female (Mrs. Potts vs. Mrs. Danvers), a regal doorman (Lumiere vs. Butler in Rebecca), and a dog that seems to follow the beauty around the castle. There is also a huge rose vase in the middle of Mr. Dewinter’s room, like the sacred rose in the compared tale.
However, it would be completely ignorant to just look at the superficial levels of the characters, and the castle, and just claim inspiration. The feelings and actions of the characters in Rebecca also reflect the nature of the characters in Beauty and the Beast. Firstly the beast, Mr. Dewinter, makes claims that Rebecca should have “never come back”, and he even gets angered when Rebecca comes to the great hall, reminiscent of the great hall in Disney’s film, wearing a dress that is reminiscent of his dearest Rebecca’s (I still believe he loved Rebecca and inflated their arguments) gown, which is extremely similar to the gown worn by Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Rebecca often says things like, “I want things to be the way they used to be!” which often is Belle’s same attitude. There is also Gaston, a man coming inside through a window that is trying to seduce Rebecca.
All of this put together leads me to believe the story of Rebecca could plausibly be a sequel to the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast. Since the plot of Rebecca revolves around the second Mrs. Dewinter trying to emulate Rebecca, that could explain the parallels between her story and Belle’s story. If the second Mrs. Dewinter is Rebecca, and Rebecca is Belle, then the second Mrs. Dewinter’s story would be paralleled with Belle’s story. There is even a “Kill the Beast!” scene during Mr. Dewinter’s stint of guiltiness during the trial. The only major difference between the two pieces of work is that Mrs. Potts, Mrs. Danver, has “gone crazy” between the two time periods that the diegesis of Beauty and the Beast and Rebecca take place. And Mrs. Danver’s going crazy is completely plausible because she was obsessed with Rebecca, just as Mrs. Potts was obsessed with Belle.
The tale came first, and then de Mauriers novel, then Rebecca, then the film adaptations of Beauty and the Beast. I’m not arguing that Hitchcock’s film was partly inspired by the tale, or that the tale’s film adaptations were inspired by what was depicted in Rebecca. I am arguing that the plots and depictions of the two stories have plausible bidirectional influences. Beauty and the Beast is a tale that has been around for centuries, and there have been numerous adaptations of it, and numerous works inspired by it. Putting the years aside, it is safe to say that today, Hitchcock’s 1940 film could be released under the title Rebecca: A Real Life Sequel to Beauty and the Beast.