Plot: Philip (Richard Burton) has been exchanging letters with his cousin Ambrose (John Sutton), who confided concerns about his wife Rachel (Olivia de Havilland). Ambrose detailed how dysfunctional his marriage was and that Rachel would torment him, but when Philip arrives to visit, he discovers Ambrose is dead. While he is convinced that Rachel was involved, he is told that his cousin had a tumor and while he still doubts, he tries to move on. He soon encounters Rachel and when he reveals the letters to her, she details how Ambrose changed over the course of the relationship and now certain she wasn’t responsible, Philip burns the letters. As he finds himself drawn to Rachel and her mysterious persona, will he find a potential love in his cousin’s widow or will he simply be her next victim?
Entertainment Value: The narrative of My Cousin Rachel is a familiar one, as a young man faces potential manipulation from a more worldly woman, but this is a fun drama with some good atmosphere and suspense. The premise might be one we’ve seen before, but how it all unfurls feels fresh and the movie has plenty of unpredictable moments to soak in. I like how the story unfolds, but the real draw of My Cousin Rachel is the atmosphere, which is masterful at times and really ratchets up the tension when it needs to. This kind of gothic romance is a lost art, so seeing it done with such skill is a real treat and this movie nails that vibe. The visuals are excellent, with crisp, stark black & white photography and superb production design, the kind of locales and little touches that add so much to the film’s eerie atmosphere. This is still more melodrama than horror or thriller, but My Cousin Rachel has some genuine dread and even creepiness, which is a testament to how the atmosphere was crafted. The finale leaves a little to be desired, but the overall movie is well executed and My Cousin Rachel should appeal to anyone who appreciates eerie romances.
This is one of Richard Burton’s earliest appearances, but he shows no signs of nerves or inexperience, in a role than landed him an Oscar nomination. He has all the required elements for Philip, handling the dramatic scenes with ease, showing passion in the romantic moments, and conveying an intense presence that veers into melodrama at times, but not too much. Just enough to have that little extra fire, which I think really elevates the performances. I’ve read stories about how Burton didn’t get along with Olivia de Havilland during the production, but it doesn’t show on screen and the chemistry is quite good. She more than holds her own, in an intense and driven performance that exudes immense charm. The role needed her to be intoxicating, the kind of woman that men would fall for on first sight and she makes it happen, a terrific and charismatic effort. The cast also includes John Sutton, Ronald Squire, Audrey Dalton, and George Dolenz.
The Disc: This visual treatment from Twilight Time looks fantastic, with a super clean print and detail that really stands out. The visuals here are so beautiful and this transfer captures that magic, thanks to excellent fine detail, natural grain, and no digital issues to mention. A substantial upgrade over previous home video editions. The extras include the film’s theatrical trailer, a radio show version of My Cousin Rachel, and the film’s isolated score. The movie’s score is beyond superb, so this supplement should delight fans of the movie and film scores in general.