Censorship of Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 Movie

Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca was published in 1938, and, two years later, Alfred Hitchcock directed a movie based on the best-selling novel.  Hitchcock had to make several changes to the book’s content in order for it to meet the standards of the Production Code of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America.  Joseph Breen, the head of the Production Code Administration, explained his concerns to the film's producer, David O. Selznick, in a four-page letter:

“We have read the temporary script ... and I regret to inform you that the material, in our judgment, is definitely and specifically in violation of the Production Code.... The specific objection to this material is three–fold: (a) As now written, it is the story of a murderer, who is permitted to go off "scot free"; (b) The quite inescapable inferences of sex perversion; and (c) The repeated references in the dialogue to the alleged illicit relationship between Favell and the first Mrs. de Winter, and the frequent references to the alleged illegitimate child–to–be.” (Berenstein 17)

It is clear that when Breen says “sex perversion” in the second comment, he’s referring specifically to the hints of Rebecca’s nonheterosexuality, as he references other potential forms of “sex perversion” (the incestuous extramarital affair between Rebecca and Favell) in his third comment.  He elaborates on the film’s “sex perversion” in a follow-up letter:

"It will be essential that there be no suggestion whatever of a perverted relationship between Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca. If any possible hint of this creeps into this scene, we will of course not be able to approve the picture. Specifically, we have in mind Mrs. Danvers' description of Rebecca's physical attributes, her handling of the various garments, particularly the night gown [in the first bedroom scene with Maxim's new bride]." (Berenstein 18)

In the final cut of the film, all of the scenes mentioned by Breen in  his second letter take place just as he describes them, even though changes were made to accommodate his other objections to the movie’s
content (Berenstein 18). 


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