Dreaming in Hitchcock Movies

“Dream dream, filling up an idle hour
Fade away, radiate”
– Debbie Harry, Dreaming

I’m one of those persons who are quite fascinated by dreams. From the most ordinary ones to the most extraordinary ones,  I saw them in all their colours. When I can remember my dreams, I write them in a little notebook to make sure I don’t forget them later. Actually, this is also a way to stimulate my subconscious and the more I work on them, the more I can remember them. I sometimes read my dream notebook and I have some fun reading stuff I didn’t remember.


Dreams inspire art; paintings, songs, and, of course, cinema. So I thought, why not discussing the dreaming world in movies. I cannot talk about ALL the movies with dreams. So, why not focusing on the dreaming world in Hitchcock’s films?!


Spellbound (1945)

“Good night and sweet dreams… which we’ll analyze at breakfast.” – Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), Spellbound

When one thinks of dreams in classic films, I’m pretty sure the first scene that comes to his or her mind is the one created by Salvador Dalí for Spellbound. Well, when Dali, the master of surrealism, accepts to direct a dream scene, you know it’s going to be a winning result. Dali’s painting themselves seem to be inspired by dreams or, at least by something that mysteriously poped-up of his mind for whatever reasons. I must admit, I didn’t do any dreams where the objects were weird and misshapen like in Dalí’s paintings, but the importance here is the symbolism of this dream.


In the 40s, psychoanalyse was a subject that was very “en vogue”. With Spellbound, Hitchcock had for desired to direct the first movie on the subject. Like he explained to François Truffaut, he consulted famous psychoanalyst during the making of his film. The Master of Suspense also explained that he had for break the tradition of blurry and confused dreams that we usually see in movies. That’s why he wanted to work with Dalí. This one would create a visually very clear dream with clear and acute traits.


So, in a movie about psychoanalyze, dreams are of a high importance. If I’m not mistaken, Dali’s sequence originally laste around 20 minutes, but it was cut to only a few. Not to mention that some of Dalí’s ideas were a bit difficult to shot as Hitchcock explained to Truffaut.  In a way, there’s something interesting about that. Have you ever heard that, even if your dreams sometimes seem to last forever, they only last a minute or a few seconds? In Spellbound, JB (Gregory Peck)’s dream is of a central importance since it helps Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) and Professor Brulov (Michael Chekhov) to understand him and to help him regain his memory. It is said that dreams all have a meaning. Well, Spellbound‘s dream sequence is the perfect example of that.


I feel that, in classic films, you had some of the most weirdly illustrated dreams. Of course, we all remember Spellbound’s dream for these curtains with painted eyes that are cut by a man with a giant pair of scissors. This is maybe the most iconic part of the sequence. Objects also have weird forms and proportions. For example, one can think of this crooked wheel or this giant table where a game of card is being interrupted by a man without a face. My personal favourite part of the dream is when Gregory Peck is running down a slope and followed by a pair of big wings (we only see their shadows). There’s something very beautiful in this shot that fits perfectly the dreaming world. Of course, we learn later in the film what is the meaning of all this.


Vertigo (1958)

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere. ” – Madeleine (Kim Novak), Vertigo

The scene designed by Dalí isn’t the only memorable dream sequence from an Hitchcock’s film. In 1958, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart)’s nightmare had something truly terrifying. The mix between Bernard Herrmann’s score and the flashy colours create a haunting moment. Interestingly, Vertigo was the first film to use computer graphics, these being designed by Saul Bass. Those weren’t only used in the opening titles but also in the nightmare scene. The script doesn’t try to reveal the “meaning” of this dream like it is the case with Spellbound. However, the symbols are clear enough to understand that it reflects a part of Scottie’s life that begins to haunt him more and more.


Vertigo‘s dream sequence is also the proof that this film used Technicolor to its full potential. I must admit, the first time I saw this scene, I felt slightly uncomfortable, but I think it is meant to be. What particularly frightened me is this moment when Scottie advances toward’s Carolotta’s tomb where a hole has been dug to put a coffin. I was only expecting to see Carolotta’s rotten corpse lying there, but, luckily, there wasn’t anything of the sort. I remember my sister coming in the living room right during this dream sequence and saying “Ah, that’s scary!” before leaving. But once you are more “used to it” you find it somehow fascinating. I love the short moment were Galvin Elster, Carlotta Valdes and Scottie are next to a window and the first two just stare at Scottie with a very cold look. The nightmare scene is also in perfect harmony with the music and, therefore, there’s something very choreographical about it.


Rebecca (1940)

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – Mrs. DeWinter (Joan Fontaine), Rebecca

It’s with this iconic sentence that Daphné DuMaurier introduced her most acclaimed novel, Rebecca. Of course, Hitchcock had to use it in his Oscar-winning film. “I” De Winter (Joan Fontaine)’s dream evokes the memory she has of Manderley, the place where she used to live with her husband Max DeWinter (Laurence Olivier). In her dream, Manderley is burnt and now a desolate place. This is also a vision of reality and the rest of the film is a long flashback that will help us understand the mystery and the fatal faith of this rich domain.


This dream scene at the beginning that introduces the film is filmed in a subjective point of view. It is seen through the narrator’s eyes, the second Mrs. DeWinter. Joan Fontaine’s enchanting and smooth voice adds a certain tranquility to the sad vision of the abandoned place. It’s interesting how this dream that is so calm is abruptly interrupted by a crash of waves in the following scene. This sequence wasn’t directed by Dalí, but we still can admire its beautiful black and white cinematography that gives it a vision of poetry.


Marnie (1964)

“You Freud, me Jane? “ – Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), Marnie

Just like Spellbound, Marnie has psychoanalysis as a central subject. The main character, Marnie, is a cleptomaniac and also has a phobia of the colour red. Interestingly, in opposition to the previous movies, we actually never see Marnie’s dreams. We only see her dreaming. It is obvious that those are nightmares. To highlight her fear of red, these scenes are filmed with a red flashy lightning which makes the dream even more threatening than it already is. But what is the symbolism or this red that Marnie is so afraid of? The Devil? Violence? Blood? Marnie’s dreams always start with something knocking and the furious first notes of Bernard Herrmann’s score. Marnie constantly evokes her mother in her dreams and it seems that she is associated with some bad memories. Just like Spellbound, these dreams will help us to discover the truth about the title character. However, here the subject of psychoanalyse wasn’t as developed as it was with Spellbound.



These are, I would say, the essential Hitchcock’s dream scenes. However, one can observe that some of his scenes, although they portrait reality and not a dream, are almost filmed like a dream because of the light, the colours, the blurry image, the way it is shot, etc. A few examples would be the weird trial scene in Dial M for Murder (Margot Wendice is living a real nightmare); the flashback scene in I Confess (which has a very clear and white image); when Margaret Lockwood’s faint in The Lady Vanishes; in Vertigo when Judy comes out of the bathroom metamorphosed into Madeleine, etc. François Truffaut even said to Hitchcock that, for him, many of his films, such as Vertigo and Notorious, looked like filmed dreams.

Dream scenes in movies give the occasion to the film crew to explore a different way to illustrate something. Of course, all dreams are different so, according to each movie director, a dream scene can be very different. We observe that Hitchcock’s dream scenes are mostly nightmare or, in Rebecca‘s case, the vision of something sad. Most of the time, these reflect the past of a character, a trouble hidden in his or her subconscious or a difficult situation.

Which Hitchcock’s dream scene fascinates you the most?




– Truffaut, François. Hitchcock/Truffaut. Gallimard. 1993.




Something’s Wrong with Rebecca’s Wins


Rebecca is the only Hitchcock’s film that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Produced by David O. Selznick (who had also won the Best Picture Oscar the previous year for Gone With the Wind), this film also won the awards for Best Cinematography, black and white (George Barnes) and…that’s all… Rebecca was also nominated for Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison), Best Actor (Laurence Olivier), Best Actress (Joan Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Film Editing (Hal C. Kern), Best Music, original score (Franz Waxman), Best Production Design (Lyle R. Wheeler) and Best Visual Effects (Jack Cosgrove and Arthur Johns). Now, it’s a pity that among all those 11 nominations, Rebecca won only two of them. Even if the film won THE Oscar (Best Picture) I always felt it was snubbed on many levels. Well, it’s a known fact that Hitchcock himself was a snub one, having won a total of zero Best Director Oscar. I think this timeless film would have deserved much more, but, today, I’m going to concentrate on only one of them: Joan Fontaine’s Oscar Snub.

Joan and Hitchcock at the 1941 Oscar Ceremony. Looks like he says to her “We should have won these Oscars Joan…”

This text is, of course, part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club. We’re at week 2: Oscar Snub, where all participants will explain why some film or some person should have won a certain Oscar. I’ve always dream of writing something about Rebecca, so this is the perfect occasion.


Rebecca was released in 1940 and is still today considered to be one of the greatest adaptations of a Daphné Du Maurier’s novel. The author herself was much satisfied with the final product. Rebecca tells the story of a young paid companion (Joan Fontaine) whom, during a trip to Monte Carlo with her employer Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates), meets Maxim De Winter (Laurence Olivier), famous owner of the notorious Manderley. The young lady learns that he had lost his wife the previous year. After few times spend together, the young lady falls in love with him. They get married and she becomes the new Mrs. De Winter. In Manderley, she has to face Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), the cruel governess who adored Rebecca. She also has to fight Rebecca’s souvenirs that seems omnipresent and who doesn’t want to leave her and Maxim at peace.


This year, the other nominees for the Best Actress Oscar were Bette Davis for The Letter, Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman, Katharine Hepburn for The Philadelphia Story and Martha Scott for Our Town. The Oscar went to Ginger Rogers. Now, I don’t say that she didn’t deserve it, especially because I haven’t seen this film, but if I had the power to give the Oscar to Joan Fontaine, that’s what I would have done. Giving the Oscar to two people isn’t something impossible. In 1969, both Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand won the Award.

Happily for Joan Fontaine’s lovers, the lovely actress finally won the award the next year for her other brilliant performance in Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941). She is the only actress/actor who ever won an Oscar for an Hitchcock’s film.

Joan and Gary Cooper with their respective Oscars at the 1942’s Oscar Ceremony

A great quality among films produced by David O. Selznick is the actors’ choice. I never felt one of them was miscast. Can you imagine someone else as Vivien Leigh in the role of Scarlet O’Hara? Can you imagine someone else than Joan Fontaine in the role of Mrs. De Winter? The actress choice for this role was, of course, something thrilling, but the final decision couldn’t have been better.

Let’s take a look at her screen-test…

Have you ever seen someone lovelier than Joan as Mrs. De Winter? She was perfectly able to embody Mrs. De Winter’s emotion just like they were described in the novel. Joan has always been able to prove us that she could move from one emotion to another very easily. That was primordial for Mrs. De Winter’s role has she is someone whom happiness can vanish as quickly as she appears. One of the best scenes to prove that is when she goes down the stairs dressed up as Caroline De Winter. She then has a glorious smile, but lost it very rapidly when she realized Maxim doesn’t like the idea at all. In the same line, a moment that has always captivated me in the film is when she asks to Mrs. Danvers to get rid of Rebecca’s furnitures. The governess tells her “But these are Mrs. De Winter’s things”, to what she answers “I am Mrs. De Winter Now”. This is something we wouldn’t have expected from her character. The voice she uses has lost its innocence, is much more serious and much deeper. It can make us think of the voice used by her sister, Olivia de Havilland, at the end of The Heiress when she has realized the truth about Morris (Montgomery Clift).

To be appreciated, a film has to transmit something to the public. Many elements in Rebecca do that, but we have to give most credits to the actor’s performance, especially Joan’s one. Her performance is so honest that we can feel her emotions has well. Also, how can we not be found of this adorable smile of hers. She had to play someone shy, a little clumsy, but absolutely adorable. Joan did that perfectly and the evolution of her character through the whole film impresses us as well.


Even if Joan’s off-screen chemistry wasn’t perfect with Laurence Olivier (because this one would have preferred his wife Vivien Leigh to get the role), it’s difficult to see it on-screen. Mrs. De Winter is very much in love with Maxim and we can feel that love through Joan Fontaine’s amazing performance. Her opposition and fear of Mrs. Danvers was as well perfectly done.

What I also love about Joan in this film is her voice. When we heard her narrating the film at the beginning, it’s a beautiful music to our ears. How can we forget her enchanting voice saying this famous opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again?” A good actor has to know how to act with his body, his look and his voice (except for a silent film actor, that goes without saying) and with her performance in Rebecca, Joan Fontaine was able to prove us she could do all that.

Just listen at the 3 first minutes of this clip to see what I mean. But you can watch the entire clip if you want to! It will not only make you realize how perfect Joan’s voice was, but will also make you appreciate Joan non-appreciation of Mrs. Van Hopper. Some of the facial expressions she makes worth their prize.

We, unfortunately, can’t go back and change the course of history, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that Joan deserved this Oscar. She is one of my absolute favourite actresses (number 4!) and this is mainly due to her memorable interpretation of Mrs. De Winter. It’s this role that made her a legend of the silver screen.

My favourite picture from the film


One more time, a big thanks to our three hostesses for having organize this event. To read more “Oscar Snub” entries, I invite you to click on the following link:

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Oscar Snubs


Joan Fontaine

A Message for Joan Fontaine

Today, I’m happy to celebrate the 97th birthday of the incredibly talented actress Joan Fontaine

As I am a big Hitchcock’s fan, it’s the movies Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941) that made me discover this star. Joan Fontaine is the only actress who ever won an Oscar for a Hitchcock’s film. That was for her clever performance in Suspicion. She was also nominated for Rebecca and The Constant Nymph (Edmund Goulding, 1943), but didn’t win. I also had the chance to witness her talent in Jane Eyre, September Affair, The Affairs of Susan and The Bigamist. My favourite performance of her is the one in Rebecca. She was perfect as Mrs. De Winter.

Joan Fontaine was really like an angel. I saw some interviews with her and it’s the type of person you want to be friend with. She seemed to be kind and peaceful too. Joan was well known for her love of animals. For her, they were marvelous friends. We also know Joan Fontaine for being Olivia de Havilland’s sister, another great star. Unfortunately, there always was a big rivalry between the two sisters, but let’s not talk about it. I don’t want to talk about sad things on Joan’s birthday.

Joan left us on December 15, 2013. Her memory will always be in our hearts. Wherever she is now, let’s honour her the best we can on this beautiful day.

Happy birthday Joan Fontaine! 🙂

Joan Fontaine