The Criterion Collection had a half-price sale last week, so I scooped up three DVDs: "Rebecca," "Fritz Lang’s M," and "The Golden Age of Television." While I was waiting for them to arrive, I re-read the book Rebecca, which is so, so good.
One of the bonus features of "Rebecca" was screen tests for other actresses who wanted the role: Vivien Leigh, Anne Baxter, Loretta Young, and Margaret Sullavan. Joan Fontaine was perfect, of course, but I was interested to see the other tests, especially Sullavan’s, since she is the person I usually imagine as the second Mrs. de Winter when I’m reading the book. (I tend to picture Paul Henreid as Maxim.) So I was surprised when I watched Sullavan’s screen test and felt right away that she would be wrong for the part. I can’t quite explain why. She smiled a little too much, but it was more than that. She didn’t seem nervous enough, maybe?
Next up, Vivien Leigh. That one was a big no. She very much wanted the role, and she was Olivier's first choice, as he was in a relationship with her at the time. George Cukor, who was a close friend of hers, reportedly laughed when he saw her screen test. She's just too pert. I saw Scarlett O'Hara in a sweater set.
After that, Anne Baxter. I was surprised at how much I liked her screen test. I think she was Hitchcock’s first choice at one point. She was in a very dark wig, which I thought was a minor distraction, but she had the mannerisms down.
I saved Loretta Young for last. No way, I thought, is she even going to come close. Well, I was wrong. I would put her in third place, behind Fontaine and Baxter. Not quite right, but she captured the timidity pretty well, I thought.
Another interesting addition was an insert in the DVD case with a sample of the memos that flew back and forth between Hitchcock and Selznick during the making of the film. I knew Selznick was a compulsive memo writer (fueled by Benzedrine) and liked to interfere with his directors. Hitchcock wanted some changes which Selznick didn't think would be beneficial to the story, which as Selznick pointed out was very well known by now, from the best selling novel. Selznick imagined the movie as a "picturization" of the novel, and wanted to stay as true to it as possible. Hitch wanted to add and change some things that would make the story more "suitable" as a movie, in his opinion. In the end, I sided with Selznick on this one.