Cast & Crew
Olivia De Havilland
In the mid-1800s, orphan Philip Ashley is reared by his cousin Ambrose in a mansion on the Cornish coast of England. Ambrose is devoted to Philip, but when the youth is twenty-three, Ambrose decides to visit Italy to revive his flagging health. Philip and neighbor Louise Kendall bid farewell to Ambrose, who does not return in the spring, as he had planned. Instead, Ambrose writes to Philip that he has met a distant cousin, Countess Rachel Sangalletti, a half-English, half-Italian widow. Philip is distressed when he receives additional letters describing Ambrose's marriage to Rachel and his subsequent illness. Finally, Ambrose writes that he does not trust Rachel, who he suspects is trying to kill him. Although Louise's father Nicholas informs Philip that a brain tumor killed Ambrose's father, Philip dismisses his supposition that a tumor is making Ambrose delusional. Philip travels to Italy, but by the time he arrives, Ambrose has died and Rachel has left. A servant's description of Ambrose's death and Rachel's friendship with an Italian lawyer, Guido Rainaldi, heightens Philip's suspicions, and he confronts Rainaldi. The lawyer assures Philip that Ambrose died from a brain tumor, and that the doctors had feared that the tumor would make him paranoid. Philip is still uneasy, even after Rainaldi reveals that Ambrose left his estate to him, to be kept in trust until his twenty-fifth birthday. Philip then visits Ambrose's grave and vows that whatever pain Rachel inflicted on him will be repaid in double. Later, after Philip returns home, Rachel comes to England with Ambrose's possessions. Kendall, who is the executor of Ambrose's will, asks Philip to look kindly upon Rachel, as she is now penniless. Philip offers to let Rachel stay at the Ashley mansion, although he rudely does not greet her until long after her arrival. The headstrong Philip is astonished by how young and lovely Rachel is, and by how much she knows about the Ashley family. After a few days, Philip has been won over by Rachel's graciousness and confesses his former hatred of her. Rachel forgives him and soon after, Philip tells Kendall that he is giving Rachel £5,000 a year. Kendall protests Philip's generosity, but Philip insists that as Ambrose's widow, she is entitled to it. Meanwhile, Rachel stays on at the mansion, and encourages Philip's infatuation with her. At Christmas, Philip gives Rachel a valuable family necklace, but Kendall insists that she return it. Philip, angered at being treated like a child, is even more upset when Kendall alleges that Rachel is overdrawing her bank account to send money to Italy. Philip, who has become obsessed with Rachel, refuses to hear anything bad about her, and tries to be pleasant to Rainaldi when he visits. Later, Rainaldi reveals to Philip that Ambrose had written a new will leaving everything to Rachel, but that he died before signing it. On the day before his twenty-fifth birthday, Philip asks Kendall to write a document transferring the Ashley estate to Rachel. Despite Kendall's misgivings, at midnight, Philip presents the document to Rachel along with the family jewels. Rachel thanks Philip passionately and implies that she will marry him, but the next night, when Philip announces their engagement, she denies it. Rachel rejects Philip's next proposal, and coldly states that her earlier passion was due to his gifts. Enraged, Philip begins to strangle Rachel but stops before doing her serious harm. Soon after, Philip talks with Louise, who reveals that Rachel interrogated Kendall about the remarriage clause in Philip's document, stating that she will forfeit the Ashley estate if she remarries. When Philip returns home, he learns that Rachel, afraid of his temper, has invited a minister's daughter, Mary Pascoe, to stay with her, and that they are planning a sunken garden near a chasm on the estate. Later, Philip becomes gravely ill with meningitis, and Rachel nurses him, giving him tisanes and other herbs. During his delirium, Philip imagines that he and Rachel are married, and when his fever breaks, he calls himself her husband. Philip's recovery progresses over several more weeks, until finally, he learns from a gardener that Rachel is returning to Italy. Rachel, who was meeting with Rainaldi in the nearby town of Plymouth, returns and when Philip confronts her, admits that she will leave soon. Rachel then reveals that they are not married, and the disappointed Philip notices that she has a recent letter from Rainaldi, postmarked in Plymouth, even though she had told him that the lawyer was in Italy. Determined to read the letter, Philip breaks into Rachel's room, but the packet he retrieves contains only poisonous seeds. Horrified, Philip becomes convinced that Rachel killed Ambrose and tried to poison him. On the day of Rachel's departure, Philip confides his suspicions to Louise, and while Rachel goes to inspect the sunken garden, they sneak into her room to find Rainaldi's letter. The letter indicates that Rachel might be innocent, however, and that she genuinely cares for Philip. Philip then realizes that in order to reach the garden, Rachel must cross a bridge that the builder had deemed unsafe. Philip runs to the site but arrives too late, for Rachel has fallen to the rocky ground below. After Philip rushes to her side, Rachel sadly asks him why he did it, then dies. Later, as he stares at the sea, Philip ponders his torment over Rachel's guilt or innocence.
Olivia De Havilland
J. M. Kerrigan
Anna Maria Angelini
Rev. Kenneth W. Cary
John De Cuir
Bruce Fowler Jr.
Joseph La Shelle
Walter M. Scott
Augustus Montague Toplady
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Supporting Actor
My Cousin Rachel
In his U.S. film debut, Burton plays Philip Ashley, whose wealthy cousin Ambrose leaves his estate to him rather than Ambrose's own wife Rachel. Ashley finds himself falling for Rachel, even as he suspects her of murdering her husband and using Ashley to get the fortune she was denied. It's the familiar Du Maurier mix of mystery and romance that had worked so well for Alfred Hitchcock in Rebecca (1940) and director Mitchell Leisen in Frenchman's Creek (1944), both of which starred de Havilland's sister Joan Fontaine.
Burton received mostly rave reviews as "an actor of great potential," as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (despite being the male lead and the story's narrator) and a Golden Globe Award as Most Promising Newcomer. The picture also received Oscar nods for Best Cinematography, Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Costume Design (all then still separated out into the black-and-white category) and a Golden Globe nomination for De Havilland for Best Actress-Drama.
Such was Du Maurier's standing as an author of best-selling fiction that the property almost didn't make it to the screen, thanks to her agent's demands. According to an August 1951 report in Daily Variety, the purchase price for a seven-year lease on the screen rights to the story was set at $100,000 and 5% of the gross - and this before the story was even published in serial form in Ladies Home Journal later that year. Most studios passed on what they considered the "out-of-this-world" asking price. Despite strong competition from producer David O. Selznick, who wanted it as a property for his wife, Jennifer Jones, Twentieth Century-Fox finally secured it for $80,000 with the promise of an additional $20,000 if the studio optioned perpetual rights.
British director Carol Reed was once considered to guide the production before George Cukor came on board, planning to cast Vivien Leigh in the lead. (Producer-screenwriter Nunnally Johnson wanted to lure Greta Garbo out of retirement to play Rachel.) Cukor and Johnson clashed over Johnson's adaptation. Du Maurier herself was unhappy with it and offered her own screen treatment of the story, but Johnson prevailed and Cukor left the production, replaced by German-born director Henry Koster. Koster had directed a string of Deanna Durbin musicals in the late 30s and early 40s and had most recently helped James Stewart to an Oscar-nominated performance in Harvey (1950). Together, Koster and Burton would follow My Cousin Rachel with the big-budget biblical tale The Robe (1953).
Perhaps Cukor's biggest contribution to the picture was Burton. According to some reports, Cukor had seen him perform in the play Montserrat in London and snagged him for this film. Years later, Burton penned a note to Cukor saying if the director hadn't seen him on stage and brought him to Hollywood, he likely would never have met and married Elizabeth Taylor. Known for sleeping with almost all of his leading ladies (except his Broadway Camelot co-star Julie Andrews), Burton mused that thanks to Cukor he might have ended up marrying De Havilland. Other sources say it was Du Maurier who approached Burton for the role.
Director: Henry Koster
Producer: Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Editing: Louis Loeffler
Art Direction: John De Cuir, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Olivia de Havilland (Rachel Sangaletti Ashley), Richard Burton (Philip Ashley), Audrey Dalton (Louise Kendall), Ronald Squire (Nick Kendall), George Dolenz (Guido Rainaldi)
By Rob Nixon
My Cousin Rachel
The film's title cards read "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Olivia de Havilland in Daphne Du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel." Throughout the picture, voice-over narration by Richard Burton as "Philip Ashley" is heard intermittently. In Du Maurier's bestselling novel, which appeared as a serial in Ladies Home Journal (Nov 1951-March 1952), Philip Ashley narrates the story as he is about to be hanged for "Rachel's" murder. According to a August 1, 1951 Daily Variety article, Du Maurier's agent announced that the purchase price for a seven-year lease on screen rights to My Cousin Rachel would be $100,000, plus 5% of the world gross. The article reported that "all studios...nixed [the terms] as 'out of this world.'" When Twentieth Century-Fox acquired the rights in early September 1951, a Variety article reported that the purchase price was a flat $80,000, plus another $20,000 if the studio decided to option the perpetual rights. Variety noted that the studio's only competition for the rights came from independent producer David O. Selznick, because the "high price asked by [Du Maurier's agent] scared off other studios despite assurance by story editors that [the] book will be a bestseller and is surefire pic material."
According to a February 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, after the book's publication in the United States, "at least two British production companies and one in this country...made overtures" to Twentieth Century-Fox to buy the screen rights. Contemporary sources note that George Cukor was originally set to direct the picture, and in May 1952 Daily Variety reported that Cukor withdrew from the project after failing to reach "agreement on [the] story's interpretation" with producer-screenwriter Nunnally Johnson. According to modern sources, Cukor, who wanted Vivien Leigh to star in the picture, was unhappy with Johnson's screenplay, as was Du Maurier. The author reportedly volunteered her own screen treatment of the story, but Johnson was not interested and Cukor left the production.
Modern sources also report that Johnson sought to sign Greta Garbo for the lead, that Selznick pressed studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck to cast Jennifer Jones as "Rachel" and that Carol Reed was considered to direct the picture. Hollywood Reporter news items include Earl Spainard, Kathy March, Ed Mundy and Christy Olsen in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Nicholas Koster, who plays "Philip" as a boy, was the son of director Henry Koster. According to an American Cinematographer article, background footage for the picture was shot on location in Cornwall, England.
Richard Burton, who made his American screen debut in the picture, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, and received a Golden Globe as the Most Promising Newcomer of the year. Although the Los Angeles Examiner critic called Burton "terribly, terribly tweedy," he received mostly excellent reviews. The Los Angeles Daily News reviewer stated "young Burton registers with an intense performance that stamps him as an actor of great potential." The production also received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (B&W), Art Direction (B&W) and Costume Design (B&W). On September 7, 1953, Olivia de Havilland co-starred with Ron Randall in a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story. In 1982, the BBC produced a four-hour serial based on Du Maurier's novel, which was directed by Brian Farnham and starred Christopher Guard as "Philip" and Geraldine Chaplin as "Rachel."