Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Joan Fontaine's screen test for Rebecca (1940)

Just thought I'd post this, in case other Hitchcock/Joan Fontaine aficianados hadn't seen it yet:

Credit to braniki1.

Wow. This reminds me why Fontaine's Mrs. De Winter is one of my favorite performances.

I don't claim to be as consummate a fan of hers as, say, The Self-Styled Siren. The only other performances I've seen of Fontaine's that have gotten to me like Mrs. De is her Jane Eyre and the parts of Constant Nymph where she doesn't try too hard to sound fragile and adolescent--she has an unfortunate tendency toward bleating when she's upset there. In other roles, like her Oscar winning turn as Lina in Suspicion, and when she unfortunately played opposite the crazy-beautiful late Liz in Ivanhoe, I find her "grand lady" bit comes off as bordering on bland and stuffy.

She often needs a shy, gentle character with moody depths to accurately tap her talent. For all that I wish I was Vivien Leigh and kinda sorta worship the ground her kittenish feet walked on, I was ultimately very, very unimpressed by her own screen test for Mrs. De Winter. As everyone has discussed to death, Viv would have made a spectacular Rebecca if that raven-haired babe had shown up in the movie, but someone mousy and insecure? Vivien handled the gentle and soft-spoken Myra beautifully in Waterloo Bridge, but she was still supposed to knock 'em dead with her looks and be comfortable enough in front of people to dance ballet. But shy to the point of tongue-tied? It's awkward even to contemplate.

What I love so much about Fontaine in the role is that she didn't go the hand-wringing, wide-eyed, icky-sweet route a lot of actresses might have gone. There's something so direct and realistic about her performance, that it makes you want to cringe in empathy.

To change the subject all whiplash-like, anybody know who's filling in for Maxim in the vid? That ain't Larry O's sexy tones. His sexy, sexy tones. Dang, were Fontaine and Leigh lucky dames circa 1940 (well, maybe not Fontaine so much. He was apparently a bit of a pill to her during filming, on account of wifey not making the grade).

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