Written by Films

Rebecca

Netflix has a new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca on the service. While this isn’t a review of that film, I can say that it’s probably just “OK” rather than anything special. And that’s a shame because I’m an enormous fan of director Ben Wheatley, and he has a decent cast – with a delicious Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers.

But the film did make me want to go back to look again at the 1940 Hitchcock version with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. While it might not be a top-tier Hitchcock title, it’s definitely worthy of another look.

But there’s a problem. It’s really hard to get hold of.

To start with, it’s not on any of the streaming services. I looked at Netflix thinking that perhaps they’d licence it to put alongside their version? But they don’t have a lot of pre-2000 films at all and it’s not there. Nor is it on Amazon Prime Video. Interestingly Amazon does let you watch both its inferior recent version of Utopia alongside the Channel 4 original.

Hitchcock’s Rebecca is not available to buy in Apple’s iTunes Store, and nor can you get it on Google Play Movies.

What about DVD or Blu Ray?

I tend to still prefer those avenues since physically owning a disc tends to allow you to skip around licencing issues. Who knows which streaming service will have an old film at any given moment?

But we know that physically media sales are dying, and the number of titles staying “in print” are declining. There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the UK still producing copies, and Amazon’s pricing via third party vendors reflects that.

I could buy a Fremantle release for £24.60 plus delivery on DVD, that price reflecting the scarcity of stock. Cheaper is a French release at £11.10 through another third party. The French have perhaps revered Hitchcock even more than the British and discs look like they’re still in print on the other side of the Channel.

It would be quite nice to get a Blu Ray though. Well that same French release has an HD edition on Blu Ray, but I couldn’t find someone who’d send it to the UK. Amazon.fr has copies fairly priced by they won’t post to the UK.

In the US, there seem to be two Blu Rays available. An MGM release that would cost me £29.30 plus £5.38 duties. And then I’d also need to go out and buy a multi-region Blu Ray player, since it’s probably region locked to Region A, and in Europe we’re Region B. The same issue would come with what is likely to be the best release available, the US Criterion Collection edition which I could buy on Amazon for £26.46 plus £1.26 delivery. I’d probably pay that if I could actually play the disc. Criterion editions are feature packed and usually have exceptional scans of prints. Sadly the UK arm of Criterion only releases a subset of their US library – often for rights reasons. Rebecca is not in their UK catalogue.

In case you were wondering, there are an awful lot of Hitchcock boxsets out there, and I thought that maybe it would be included in one of those. Indeed, I own a lovely Blu Ray set of mostly his post-war films on Blu Ray. But while I could find sets of his later films, and sets of his very early [existing] films, I couldn’t find any from that middle period.

And that’s your lot.

I did also check various third party used sites. CEX seemed to have a UK DVD for £4, and there are copies on eBay, although many seem to be homebrew versions based on “public domain” copies. I’m not sure if the film truly is in the public domain or not (there’s a ropey copy on YouTube too), but in my experience the prints for these public domain copies are pretty lousy, and who knows how well or badly they’ve then been encoded.

eBay seems to actually have far more copies of a 1996 ITV version, especially since copies were once given away with the Daily Mail.

I assume some studio somewhere is sitting on the rights to this film, and probably has an HD copy, as used for the various Blu Ray editions that have been released. While I understand that printing a few thousand physical copies might not make an awful lot of sense in 2020 – although I’d buy one – they’re surely “losing” money by not either licencing it to streaming services or just sticking in on Amazon/iTunes/Google Play and selling it for a few pounds. Unless someone can explain otherwise, the costs to listing a film on these digital platforms are basically nil. It’s not like having to pay warehouse space to store crates of shiny discs.

I simply don’t believe I’m the only person who has just seen the Netflix version and wanted to revisit an earlier famous version!

Take my money!

I’ve written about this before – that somehow we’re entering a dark age of film availability. That was a couple of years ago now, and things really haven’t changed. I still regularly find that films from the relatively recent past just haven’t dropped onto the various digital download stores or streaming platforms. While they were once available on DVD, they aren’t any longer. I guess that only Disney has done a decent job with its archive. (Although good luck finding Song of the South, the first film I was taken to as a toddler!)

While I was searching for Rebecca, I thought that perhaps I’d look for some other, more famous Hitchcock films from the same early Hollywood era. Spellbound with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck is also largely missing in action, with the exception of some pricey US Blu Ray releases. And the absolute classic Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman is in the same boat.

There are some reasonably priced Blu Rays via French and Italian labels, but no digital/streaming editions available of either.

In 2020 in the UK, it’s really quite hard to watch some films by one of Britain’s finest and most famous directors, featuring some of the greatest movies stars of all time. Remarkable.

[For the record, I’ve ordered the Italian release of Notorious on Blu Ray, while I’ve also ordered Rebecca and Spellbound DVDs from CEX, where they insisted I spend more than £5 to be worth their while!]