[Film Review] My Cousin Rachel (1952)

My Cousin Rachel poster

Title: My Cousin Rachel
Year: 1952
Country: USA
Language: English, Italian
Genre: Mystery, Romance, Drama
Director: Henry Koster
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson
from the novel by Daphne du Maurier
Music: Franz Waxman
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Richard Burton
Olivia de Havilland
Audrey Dalton
Ronald Squire
George Dolenz
John Sutton
Tudor Owen
Argentina Brunetti
Rating: 6.3/10

My Cousin Rachel 1952

A vintage film adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s novel by director Henry Koster, as a much anticipated follow up for it star Olivia de Havilland after her second Oscar win in THE HEIRESS (1949). However, MY COUSIN RACHEL now is mostly remembered as a stepping stone introducing British thespian Richard Burton to the Hollywood. At the age of 27, he upstages an almost one-decade senior Olivia de Havilland in this mysterious romance.

Philip Ashley (Burton), is an orphan raised by his elder cousin Ambrose (Sutton) living in Cornwall, he is devastated by the sudden death of Ambrose from brain tumour in Florence, who has just married to a widow Rachel (de Havilland) whom Ambrose meets there during the winter season. Which makes thing worse is Philip receives two letters from an ailing Ambrose before his ultimate death, implicates Rachel for his illness. So apparently it could be Rachel’s sinisterly hatched plan to inherit Ambrose’ well-heeled property. However, in his will, Ambrose leaves the estate to Philip, thus, one hanging question remains, will Philip becomes Rachel’s next prey?

Both the source novel and the film play well the trumping card, aka, the true colour of Rachel, is she a cold-hearted schemer or just an unfortunate woman shrouded by tragedies, or perhaps she lurks in between. Casting Ms. de Havilland, who is so distinguished in her meek, genial persona, as Rachel, is to maximally establish the contrasting nature of the character, her demure, understanding front is poles apart from what Philip conceives, he hopelessly falls for her almost instantly, his indignation melt away completely to a degree he even grants her the entire estate and family jewellery. She takes them all but inexplicably refuses his marriage proposal. Then Philip falls sick, all the ominous trappings – poisonous seeds, a second will, Rachel’s secret connection with her Italian lawyer Guido Rainaldi (Dolenz) – start to push the story into a conventional climax, a young man’s doomed infatuation with an elder femme fatale, only this time, a blunt twist quickly alters the finale, leaves a pungent gusto of ambivalence in the mouth.

Burton harvests his very first Oscar nomination here, but nonsensically as a supporting actor, sometimes these flagrant category frauds keep reminding us we shouldn’t take Oscar too seriously (mostly for the nomination process), it is a game of campaign and inside-dealing, whoever has watched this film, knows that Burton has the most screen-time and the story entirely revolves around his character, such an ignoble stigma is just too glaring to ignore, sadly, the fashion of delegating leading performance to the supporting group is still rampant now, just name a few, Jamie Foxx in COLLATERAL (2004), Hailee Steingeld in TRUE GRIT (2010) and Helen Hunt in THE SESSIONS (2012). Nevertheless, Burton is radiant with passion and eloquent line-delivery, despite the romantic chemistry hasn’t been convincingly justified, it is hard for audience to concur with Philip’s obsession with Rachel, while there is an attractive and sensible ingenue Louise Kendall (Dalton) around, whom he can merely treat as a young sister. After all, there is little to be found naturalistic in this much contrived drama about the mystic side of human or more specifically, woman’s psyche.



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