Saw the Criterion DVD of Rebecca yesterday. Still holds up as a great romance and near-great Hitchcock. Lawrence Olivier's performance as Maxim de Winter looks today like the stuff of parody; all that mannered, huffing English emoting. Judith Anderson was note-perfect as Mrs. Danvers, and George Sanders -- well, no one ever played George Sanders better, did they? The perfect rogue, delivering every line with perfect timing.
Now, about Joan Fontaine. I thought she was great, but I found it odd that everyone kept referring to her as "plain." Of course, that was the story, she was the second Mrs. De Winter and was supposed to be the inferior to Rebecca, who had what we're told are the three things a man wants in a wife: beauty, brains and breeding. The unnamed Fontaine character, of course, is supposed to be deficient in all these things, so in the context of the movie she's not that pretty. This, however, is pure suspension of disbelief, since any viewer with eyes in his head can tell that Joan Fontaine is a radiant beauty. Once you get past that you see a really fine performance of this lost little creature overwhelmed by the de Winter world.
I bounced around a bit on the "added material" disc. Of particular interest were the screen tests for the lead role. Both Margaret Sullavan and Anne Baxter were heavy contenders for the role, and both would have worked out -- Sullavan, especially, since there really was a certain planness to her. Vivien Leigh's test was pure Scarlett O'Hara -- she seemed less vulnerable that a little bit mad, wily, off-kilter. Loretta Young's test was a botch; thank God she didn't get the role. Interestingly, Joan Fontaine's test was not leagues beyond her competitors; in fact, it was nothing special. Presumably she had whatever x factor that Selznick and Hitchcock wanted, and I suspect that the fine performance she gave was molded and crafted along the way.