For Reel

My Cousin Rachel (1952)
March 20, 2016, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Henry Koster
2.5 Stars
My Cousin RachelAlready an accomplished British thespian on stage by the early 1950s, Richard Burton made his debut in Hollywood with this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s other gothic romance novel involving a mysterious death and a cavernous mansion perched on a mountain by the seaside. He plays a neurotic who comes to be obsessed with the wife (Olivia de Havilland) of his late guardian cousin, who may or may not have poisoned him in order to claim his inheritance. If the picture attempts to revel in the ambiguity regarding Rachel’s true intentions, Burton has a stranglehold on the material, his performance so large that de Havilland’s understated work becomes an afterthought. While Hitchcock’s Rebecca played as a bonafide gothic melodrama in the best sense, My Cousin Rachel has the look and feel of the genre but little of the sense of cohesion. Director Henry Koster was a fairly indistinct director-for-hire but capable enough, however he allows Burton’s unhinged performance to carry the tone of the picture, coasting on hysterics and a ceaseless crescendo. If the ambiguity of the source material could have been an asset, the film doesn’t often enough convey the paranoia in a compelling visual sense. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle’s high-contrast shadows provide a satisfying atmosphere–the film’s night sequences are mostly lit by candles and LaShelle preserves the harsh lines of light on the actors’ faces and bodies–but the film is too hysterical to approach seriously, and frankly too dull to find other visceral pleasures from.