My Cousin Rachel (1952): Richard Burton’s American Debut, Co-Starring Olivia De Havilland

For his American screen debut, Richard Burton received his first Oscar nomination (in the Supporting Actor category) as Philip Ashley, young English madly in love with the widow of his guardian (played by Olivia De Havilland), even though he suspects she was responsible for her husband’s death

This melodramatic version of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel, adapted to the screen by writer Nunnally Johnson (who later became a director) and directed by Henry Koster, is handsomely mounted (the film was noinated in several technical catgeories).

In a reversal of “Jane Eyre,” here it’s the hero who arrives at the home of a mysterious woman, Rachel (De Havilland), the widow of a Cornish man of property (John Sutton), who died in suspicious circumstances.

Philip Ashley, the dead man’s cousin probing his relative’s demise, immediately suspects Rachel, and he goes on suspecting her even after he falls in love with her.

Deviating from the period’s inheritance laws, Philip turns over his cousin’s estate to Rachel, but she refuses his entreaties of marriage. He soon falls ill, and there are rumors that Rachel had poisoned him.

Oscar Nominations: 4

Supporting Actor: Richard Burton

Cinematography (black-and-white): Joseph LaShelle

Art Direction-Set Decoration (black-and-white): Lyle Wheeler and John DeCuir; Walter M. Scott

Costume Design (black-and-white): Charles LeMaire and Dorothy Jeakins

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

This was the first of Richard Burton’s seven (unsuccessful) nominations.  He lost to nthony Quinn, who won for “Viva Zapata.”

The technical awards went to Minnelli’s inside Hollywood melodrama, “The Bad and the Beautiful.”

Credits

Running time: 98 Minutes.

Directed by Henry Koster

Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson

December 25, 1952.