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My Cousin Rachel


CaveGirl
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Sadly before I had noticed that TCM was showing “My Cousin Rachel” this month I had ordered the dvd which arrived yesterday. Not wanting to wait, I immediately watched it, hoping it would be as pleasing as I had remembered. It did not disappoint.

Somewhat akin to the unresolved questions in “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, “My Cousin Rachel” probes these same dilemmas and though falling in line with many Gothic exercises there are also some touches with noirish connections, like voiceover narration, deceptions, moody black and white cinematography, a femme fatale, a duped male, the desire for acquisitions and questionable circumstances surrounding the femme’s husband’s death and her motivations at romancing his ward.

Written by Daphne du Maurier, daughter of the great, Gerald du Maurier, the book was a huge success before 20th Century Fox decided to have Henry Koster at the helm for filming this masterpiece. For those who have never been privy to the pleasure of seeing this fine film, let me digress and give a not abbreviated synopsis. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Curtain opens on the Cornish countryside, with a man hanging at the crossroads. Philip Ashley [Richard Burton] is told by his guardian, Ambrose [John Sutton] that “This is what one moment of passion can do to a man. Death is the price of murder.” Residing in a palatial country estate on the banks of the cliffs in Cornwall, Philip is raised by his loving cousin ever since the unfortunate demise of both his parents at an early age.

Before his twenty-fifth birthday, Philip is informed by his erstwhile avuncular ally that Ambrose is planning a trip alone to Italy, to somewhat improve his recently waning health. A time period ensues with no communications being that this is set in the 1820’s, until the announcement of the marriage of Ambrose to a cousin of the Coryn family named Rachel [Olivia de Havilland], also known as Countess Sangalletti. Shortly thereafter, two frightening missives arrive composed by an apparently distressed Ambrose, alleging an evil plot to do away with him by his wife, Rachel which so alarms Philip that he departs immediately for Italy.
 

On his arrival Philip finds that Ambrose has left this earthly vale of tears and that coincidentally Rachel too has vacated the villa premises. Thinking something is terribly askew, Philip inquires as to Ambrose’s will and his possible inheritance, only to be told by Rachel’s friend and solicitor, Rainaldi that he, Philip is still the sole heir to his cousin’s home and fortune.
 

Wanting no social intercourse with his newly installed “cousin” Rachel, Philip is chastised by her attorney and his godfather in Cornwall, for not being more circumspect about giving Rachel some small part of the estate, pointing out that normally she would have been the logical choice to inherit, as the wife of Ambrose. Philip being still convinced that Ambrose met his ghastly end due to some machinations by the femme fatale, refuses to meet with her, when she travels to his environs. He is informed by his godfather, that a tumor on the brain could be the culprit, and such things might have influenced the somewhat erratic letters sent home, accusing Rachel of wrongdoing. When Philip finally encounters the older, but most beauteous and charming Rachel, he is immediately smitten and begins to doubt the veracity of the previous letters. After confronting her with them, to prove his love he rips them into pieces and frantically throws them in the fireplace, to prove his allegiance.
 

A romance ensues during which Philip presents Rachel with the family jewels, a symbolic gesture which needs no further explanation. He also decides to give her an annuity, which is quite generous, which she manages to overdraw twice in a three month period, leading to a suspicion that Rachel might be sending the money abroad to Rainaldi. Reports of her former libidinous life as Countess Sangalletti, as one of unbridled spending and flagrant disregard of the moral standards of the time, assail Philip but to naught, as he now directs his attorney that on his twenty-fifth birthday, he intends to turn over the entire estate to Rachel, who he assumes will be his wife. As Philip’s godfather and attorney point out as a warning “Some women impel disaster and whatever they touch turns to tragedy” but such attempts do not dissuade the forfeiture of the inheritance by Philip.
 

At his birthday celebration, when Philip announces his engagement to Rachel, she soundly rebukes him and tells him later that he may take her answer to the offer of marriage to be “No, and you may take that to be final and forever.” When quizzed as to the bestowing of the new will and all the heirlooms on Rachel the night before in a romantic scene reminiscent of the Romeo and Juliet balcony one, when Philip was seemingly assured of her reciprocal love, Rachel’s simple answer is “That was last night…and you’d given me the jewels.”
 

I will go no further, for the striking and conflicting denouement which has many possible interpretations. I can only say, beware of any countess bearing cups of tisane, which I assume in most innocent instances is comprised only of something like tea with herbs and spices, concocted for health, pleasure and hopefully not other modes of operation which involve homicide.

If you’ve already seen this film, whose side are you on?

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I'm on the side of Rachel.   To me Philip is pathetic.    Rachel may be a gold digger but a fool has grant access to the mine for a gold digger to get the gold.

He is rather a pathetic, whiny creature, James.

 

Even if one thinks Rachel is duplicitous, she would be a lot more fun to be around than the naive Philip.

 

Might be worth drinking some of that tisane.

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I am enjoying this film.

 

While Richard Burton's charactor is a naive spoiled rich kid, he certainly looks gorgeous. 

 

The gothic atmosphere and shady charactors make this a fun mystery story. I think it's well acted by all and beautifully photographed.

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Great synopsis by Cave Girl!  It's been years since I watched this but it all came back.

 

When I first read and then watched this I wanted to like it as much as "Rebecca," but it didn't capture me in the same way.  I love a good gothic but Rachel's character didn't invite sympathy the way Joan Fontaine's did in "Rebecca."  I wonder if Olivia was sorry she didn't get the more famous role?  I love both actresses, but I agree the casting directors  got it right here.  Joan could play timid and round-shouldered like no other.

 

I guess I have to side with Philip, besotted fool though he may be.  I think, before I can root for a gold digger she'll have to be more fun and vivacious than Olivia was in this.

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Wow.  I found this to be a very odd film.  Loved the production value and it was great seeing Richard Burton "back in the day" when he looked good and actually did a few quality films.  But, for me, there are no heroes in this film which is somewhat of a problem. Philip is a neurotic, obsessive weirdo, Rachel is (or is she?) a fortune hunting murderer.  They deserve each other!

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Wow.  I found this to be a very odd film.  Loved the production value and it was great seeing Richard Burton "back in the day" when he looked good and actually did a few quality films.  But, for me, there are no heroes in this film which is somewhat of a problem. Philip is a neurotic, obsessive weirdo, Rachel is (or is she?) a fortune hunting murderer.  They deserve each other!

 

Yes, one of the major criticism was that the true nature of Rachel isn't spelled out.    Yea, that 'is she or isn't she' adds drama and creates tension but it should have come to some type of conclusion before 'The End'.

 

Why not have a "The Heiress" type of ending:  I can see Rachel pounding on the door with Burton finally gaining a back bone and ignoring her.    :lol:

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Why not have a "The Heiress" type of ending:  I can see Rachel pounding on the door with Burton finally gaining a back bone and ignoring her.   

 

Preferable indeed.

 

While watching this movie I saw flashes of Joan Fontaine's face in Olivia's expression a few times, bringing the comparison of REBECCA to my mind as well.

 

While I see resemblance between the two sisters, in this movie Olivia DeHavilland reminded me very much of Anne Baxter. Round pretty face, but mostly the low calm voice. Anyone else see the resemblance?

 

*SPOILERS*

 

My biggest question about the ending is: IF Rachel was poisoning Philip (like she presumably did to Ambrose) why didn't she just complete the deed? If receiving the jewels is all she wanted, why poison him at all? She already had them.

 

She DIDN'T want the house? She left it to Phil to go back to Italy, didn't she?

 

It wasn't exactly clear, but maybe that's the way they wanted it to end.

 

But still, overall I enjoyed this movie. Richard Burton sure looked great in those stretch riding pants!

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While I see resemblance between the two sisters, in this movie Olivia DeHavilland reminded me very much of Anne Baxter. Round pretty face, but mostly the low calm voice. Anyone else see the resemblance?

 

You, too?  I saw the same thing in some early scenes; it was the first time I really noticed a resemblance.  I thought it ironic considering the supposed feud they had.  (In an interview I heard recently, Olivia claimed that it was overblown by the media).  While both played tough women, good and bad, Olivia's seem to be stronger while Joan's were softer; perhaps it was her more traditionally feminine appearance.  (I'd rather have looked like Olivia).

 

For some reason I can't post this in my own box rather than TikiSoo's.

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