This is a stab at an iPhone obituary for Joan Fontaine, whose death at age 96 was reported today. (I’m sitting at a Pete’s Coffee across the street from the Aero, where Michael Mann‘s digitally reconstituted Thief will screen at 7:30 pm.). I heard of her departure a couple of hours ago, and like everyone else I flashed back to Fontaine’s vulnerable, haunted performance as Laurence Olivier‘s young second wife in David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rebecca, the 1940 melodrama that launched her as a big-name actress.
Fontaine won a Best Actress Oscar for playing another vulnerable, haunted wife (this time betrothed to Cary Grant‘s disreputable Johnny Aysgarth) in Hitchcock’s Suspicion, which opened the following year. But Fontaine seems a bit trapped in this possible-murder tale in more ways than one. Suspicion is a somewhat flawed film because of a notorious cop-out ending. She seems a fool for forgiving and supporting Grant at the end. Rebecca is the better crafted effort, I feel, not to mention spookier (it’s a kind of ghost story) and more atmospheric. Fontaine is much more anguished and aching in it. She carries a greater load on her back.