Based on Daphne Du Maurier's novel, a young woman marries an older widower but feels haunted by his late wife and her housekeeper.
Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) stands on the edge of a cliff, but a young woman (Joan Fontaine) shouts for him to stop. At Monte Carlo he meets again this paid companion of Edythe Van Hopper (Florence Bates), who says that Maxim's wife Rebecca drowned, and he is a broken man. Maxim takes her out. When she tells him they are going to New York, he invites her to Manderley as his wife. She tells Maxim she loves him, and they marry.
At Manderley Mrs. de Winter meets cold Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) and other servants. Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny) manages Maxim's estate. Mrs. de Winter breaks a ceramic figure and hides it. She meets Giles Lacy (Nigel Bruce) and Beatrice Lacy (Gladys Cooper), who says that Maxim adored Rebecca. Maxim and Mrs. de Winter walk to the cove, and she follows the dog to the cottage, finding Ben (Leonard Carey) there. Maxim gets angry at her. She asks Frank about the cottage and Rebecca. Mrs. de Winter tries to look beautiful in a new dress. She admits she broke the ceramic ornament so that Mrs. Danvers won't blame a servant. Maxim begins to regret he married her, saying she should have married a young man. While he is in London, Jack Favell (George Sanders) meets her. She looks at Rebecca's room, and Mrs. Danvers shows her Rebecca's clothes, suggesting that Rebecca haunts the house. Mrs. de Winter tells Mrs. Danvers to get rid of Rebecca's things and asks Maxim to let her give a costume party. Mrs. Danvers helps her choose a dress; but Maxim tells her to take it off. Mrs. de Winter asks Mrs. Danvers why she hates her. Mrs. Danvers says that she can't replace Rebecca and tells her to leave or die.
Frank tells Maxim that Rebecca's boat was found. Mrs. de Winter finds Maxim in the cottage. He says Rebecca won; they found her body in the boat. Maxim admits he put it there and tells her that he hated Rebecca because she was incapable of love. Maxim threatened to kill her and Jack, and she taunted him her child would not be his. Maxim tells his wife how Rebecca died by accident; but he put her in the boat and scuttled it. Col. Julyan (C. Aubrey Smith) has Maxim identify Rebecca's body, and he admits he made a mistake before.
At the inquest crazy Ben says he saw nothing. A boat-maker says the boat was scuttled. Maxim is questioned and gets angry, but Mrs. de Winter faints. Jack joins Mrs. de Winter and Maxim in the car for lunch. Jack shows them Rebecca's letter and implies he wants money. Maxim summons Col. Julyan and accuses Jack of trying to blackmail him. Jack suspects Maxim of murder, and Maxim hits him. For the motive Jack asks Mrs. Danvers who Rebecca's doctor was. Jack says that Rebecca was in love with him and was pregnant with his child. Dr. Baker (Leo G. Carroll) says that Rebecca had cancer but said she would die sooner. Maxim thanks Col. Julyan and tells Frank that Rebecca wanted him to kill her, but he didn't. Maxim and Frank return to find Manderley on fire. Mrs. de Winter tells Maxim that Mrs. Danvers wanted to destroy it, and Mrs. Danvers dies in the fire.
This suspense drama has the audience experience the
anxiety of the new wife and undergo her changes as she learns
the first marriage was different than she had thought. By not
naming the second wife, the audience identifies with her and compares
her to the first wife.