Monday, 2 December 2013

My Cousin Rachel (1952) - ★★★★★

Director: Henry Koster
Writers: Daphne Du Maurier (Novel), Nunnally Johnson
Stars: Olivia de Havilland, Richard Burton, Audrey Dalton, Ronald Squire, George Dolenz, John Sutton

DID SHE OR DIDN'T SHE? - My Cousin Rachel is one of the darkest and most mysterious films I've ever had the pleasure to watch, making it one of my all time favourite movies. It boasts what is arguably the greatest performance ever by Olivia de Havilland, and the role that secured Richard Burton's rise to fame. It's an exquisitely made film, with both beautiful and brooding cinematography that perfectly illustrates the story. An impressive score by Franz Waxman, along with the magnificent suspense and performances, made this one of the most entertaining and depressing films I've ever seen. What makes this a masterpiece is the way it will forever keep you guessing.

Set in the early 1800s, Philip Ashley, a man who was orphaned at an early age, (Richard Burton) is raised by his older cousin, Ambrose. When Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence, he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. In almost no time at all, the new widow - Philip's cousin Rachel (Olivia de Havilland), turns up in England. At first Philip intends to question Rachel on the suspicious circumstances of his beloved cousin's death, but her beauty, sophistication, kindness, and mysterious ways attract him like a spider to a fly. As we learn more about the disturbing tale, we're left to ponder throughout the film whether she did have a hand in the death of Ambrose. But even more pressing is, what is she doing with Philip? 

I saw this film years ago with my mother, and it just blew my mind. When it finished, I was left in awe. I had to ponder the events, and come up with a conclusion. In the end, I found there was no definitive way to determine what Rachel's motives were. You're left to decide whether she was an evil, manipulative witch; or whether she was just misunderstood and a victim of circumstance. It had me in a constant state of suspense... and suspicion. Henry Koster and writer Nunnally Johnson did a superb job at adapting the source material, but it was Olivia de Havilland's performance that MADE this movie one of the most sweeping mysteries in cinematic history.

I firmly believe that Olivia was robbed of an Oscar nomination in 1952. She delivers one of the finest performances I've ever seen in My Cousin Rachel. She had all the venom of a viper, and the softest touch of a marshmallow. At times it's hard to hate her, but mostly, it's hard to love her. She convinces you that she's evil in one scene, then has you second-guessing in the next. Just when you think you've figured her character out, the film throws a curve-ball and you have to think back and wonder what made you feel that way. There were moments of what seemed like disdain and annoyance in her eyes, but I may have misinterpreted them... and that's the way the film wants you to think. You're supposed to see her as either innocent or guilty, and be shocked by the revelations that come later. None of this would have been possible had it not been for de Havilland's powerful performance.

As for Richard Burton, he played the part of a young, naive, stubborn fool perfectly. We all know what Burton is capable of, and My Cousin Rachel showcases his greatest acting chops. I loved the ferocity in his eyes and voice when he realized that Rachel may have been deceiving him, and I loved the way he changed his tone when he saw how sweet and beautiful she was. He had a crackling chemistry with Olivia, which made the sparks fly in their dark, mysterious romance.

If you liked Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rebecca', which won Best Picture in 1940, then you will most likely love My Cousin Rachel. On a cliff-side mansion by the sea, where a most unconventional romance is taking place, there is a mystery to be unfurled. This movie is truly unforgettable, and will probably spark debate between family members and friends. I know what I think, but the truth is, you can never be certain.

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorites from a novel by my favorite author Daphne DuMaurier. She always keeps you guessing which is transformed on the screen brilliantly by Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton In his debut film role.

    The book and the film ARE excellent, and I recommend both highly