October 21, 2007

Smackdown 1940: Judith Anderson, Rebecca

Mrs. Danvers, the sinister housekeeper of Manderley, is something of a cartoon character. She's the utlimate Evil Lesbian, driven to madness by her devotion to the late Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers floats through the mansion, sneaking in and out of scenes in silence, a gaunt spectre in black. She's so ominous and terrifying a presence that at the first mention of her name, the storm clouds open and it begins to pour.

She's not the most expressive character; her face is cold and stony and her voice is a flat monotone. To her credit, Anderson finds subtle ways to shade her delivery of Mrs. Danvers' dialogue. During the first long scene with Joan Fontaine in Rebecca's room, there's just a hint of softness in her voice as she lovingly describes Rebecca's clothing and daily routine, the barest tease of a smile as she fondles Rebecca's negligee. And when she begins to suggest that Fontaine should think about ending her own life -- "listen to the sea...so soothing" -- that monotone becomes almost seductive.

Anderson is appropriately creepy and menacing in the role; she's playing the monster in this horror show, and she dives into the role with no hint of vanity. But like most movie monsters, Mrs. Danvers isn't a fully rounded character; she's meant to be scary and nothing more. Anderson gives her a bit more complexity than the script provides, but even with her hard work, she can't make Mrs. Danvers any more than a cardboard cutout.

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