Edwards, Kyle Dawson. “Brand-Name Literature: Film Adaptation and Seiznick International Pictures’ ‘Rebecca’ (1940).” Cinema Journal, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Spring, 2006), pp. 32-38.
Nearly one third of films from the Classical Hollywood era were novel adaptations. The film adaptation of Rebecca demonstrates how the flourishing of novels on screen results from a tangled combination of literary, commercial, historical, artistic, and social factors. Filmmaking is by nature a collaborative art form, and the particular quality of the novel adaptation perfectly demonstrates the extent to which these multiple sources of inspiration can manifest themselves in film.
Adapting famous novels such as Rebecca to the silver screen has numerous advantages: the story can be streamlined with the assumption that much of the audience is familiar with the plot, an audience faithful to the novel can be assumed to be “built-in,” and the film is lent a certain degree of literary prestige. When adapting a novel to film, however, a great difficulty is deciding what aspects of the literature to keep and emphasize, as literary subtleties treasured by the reader often fail to translate well to film.
It is important for studios to profit both financially and symbolically, which is achieved by establishing a unique brand that allows the studio to cultivate relationships with prospective and current employees, industrial counterparts, and movie-going audiences. In constructing a brand, the first step for a studio is to identify and characterize the targeted audiences and adapt the quality of the film as well as the publicity to appeal to these intended spectators. Seiznick International Pictures, the studio that made Rebecca, was a small studio that could not rely on the vertical integration employed by the larger studios. Rather, they had to depend on theater chains which were often owned by competitors to spread and display Seiznick films. Due to this disadvantage, Seiznick directed enormous energy at crafting a distinctive brand concept, one which would be stable and positive regardless of the success of individual films. Thus, they introduced more commercial tie-ins than any other studio, marketing expensive products like furniture, wallpaper, clothing, and cosmetics. The “Rebecca line” of makeup, for example was advertised as lending the ability to transform any woman into the beautiful, mysterious seductress, Rebecca herself.
Seiznick International Pictures had met with great success for Gone With the Wind, and so focused on emphasizing the continuity between that film and Rebecca in order to convince audiences of the consistently high level of quality. The studio also had to comply with the Production Code, forced to make adjustments to the plot such as portraying Maxim’s murder of Rebecca as an accident. Thus, based on the crafting of a particular brand-concept, clever marketing toward a specific demographic, and compliance with the Production Code, Rebecca was a wild success for Seiznick International Pictures.