The Lady Vanishes (1938)
(Released: 2007 by The Criterion Collection)
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
“You got us involved in this fantastic plot; you might at least trust us!”
Indeed, if there’s one filmmaker I can “trust” to involve me in a “fantastic plot”, it’s Alfred Hitchcock! And, needless to say, he earns that trust with “The Lady Vanishes”!
In the remote Balkan enclave of “Bandrika” (…actually, what is clearly a “village” of MODEL buildings – hotel, railroad station, trains, etc.) an avalanche (of “model snow”) has covered the model tracks, delaying a departing model train. Sure, it was 1938, but no effort is made, with any means of camera trickery, to convince us that the setup is anything BUT a model. Hitchcock probably didn't feel the NEED to trick us thusly.
|All that's missing is the Christmas Tree!|
After an evening of somewhat comedic vignettes involving the characters, the train is cleared with the new day – and the travelers are off. During this time, Iris befriends Miss Froy, sharing a compartment and tea in the dining car with her… until the governess suddenly DISAPPEARS – and no one on the train will admit to ever having seen her.
|Wherefore art thou, Mrs. Froy?|
Iris convinces Gilbert of this baffling disappearance of an elderly woman off of a speeding train, and the pair set out to solve the mystery.
Limited, as the film is, to the confines of the train and its coaches; Hitchcock delivers a taut, suspenseful, and claustrophobic masterpiece, expertly balanced with more than a touch of lightheartedness and comedy than one might expect in such a film.
Gilbert’s line “Feint heart never found old lady!”, and Iris and Gilbert momentarily assuming the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, while snooping about the baggage car and the magician’s props therein, are examples of said lightheartedness.
Other Items of Note:
Per the DVD's Commentary Track, this was Alfred Hitchcock’s final British film before departing for
(...or maybe not. See the conflicting commentaries discussed later on in the review -- and an additional discussion of same in our Comments Section). Hollywood
Credited with “Continuity” is “Alma Reville”, who either was (or would be) Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock.
Iris Henderson is a rare case of a brunette heroine in a Hitchcock film. Oddly, the most prominent blonde is the elderly Miss Froy.
“The Lady Vanishes” was reworked years later as “Into Thin Air”, a 1955 episode of the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS American television series. See THIS REVIEW, which discusses the episode.
|Perhaps I'm not the ONLY lady who "vanishes"!|
As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.
There is no Theatrical Trailer to be found anywhere on this two disc set. Of course, not being an American film, it is entirely possible that one may not exist.
|Stop looking! There's NO Theatrical Trailer!|
It’s from The Criterion Collection: Read all about who they are and what they do so well! They originated the COMMENTARY TRACK, and set the standards for Extra Features for cryin’ out loud! Every DVD enthusiast has something to thank them for!
The Film: There are no delays on THIS train! You’ll be on the edge of your “reserved seat” from beginning to end… certainly once the train trip begins.
· Margaret Lockwood as “Iris Henderson”.
· Michael Redgrave as “Gilbert”.
· Dame May Whitty as “Miss Froy”.
· Paul Lukas as “Dr. Hartz”.
· Naunton Wayne as “Caldicott”.
· Basil Radford as “Charters”.
· Cecil Parker as “Eric Todhunter”.
Travers as “(Mrs) Todhunter”. Linden
· Mary Clare as “The Baroness”.
· Philip Leaver as “Signor Doppo”.
· Catherine Lacy as “The Nun”
· Josephine Wilson as “Mme. Kummer.
|Pick out as many as you can, folks!|
Menus: The Main Menu is done in a nice orange color, similar to the packaging. Vague images of passing scenery are dimly filtered through the bright orange color. The ongoing sound of the traveling train is pervasive in the background, with no jarring whistle sounds. It is just the clacking of the train itself in an endless loop, which becomes oddly relaxing and tension building at the same time.
|Clickety-Clack! Clickety-Clack! You'll never want your money back!|
Subtitles: Are easy to read, in white lettering over the Black & White picture images – and you may very well need them to best understand all of the quickly-spoken British dialogue.
It’s the Criterion Collection! Of course there are a great host of Extra Features!
Commentary Track by Film Historian Bruce Eder:
Eder opens the proceedings with a hearty “Good Ev-ven-ing!” His observations include:
· “The Lady Vanishes” was Hitchcock’s final British film – and his most complex effort to that point in time.
· The “Bandrikan” language used in the film is compete gibberish.
· The forced hotel-stay sequence, through which the audience is introduced to the main characters, runs for the first 20 minutes of the 01:36:15 film – and is the most gradual opening of all the Hitchcock thrillers.
· Echoes of various elements of “The Lady Vanishes” are found in many later Hitchcock films such as: “Rear Window”, “Vertigo”, “The Wrong Man”, “The Birds” (I guess he means the magician’s loosed pigeons!), “Torn Curtain”, “The Trouble with Harry”, “Rope”, “Saboteur”, and “Strangers on a Train”.
Eder adds that “The Lady Vanishes” has influenced television shows ranging from Murder She Wrote, to The Big Valley, to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea!
Joe’s Note: Can’t speak for the first two – but I sure recognized the bit that turned up in VOYAGE! In fact, I was surprised to find that
I can’t discuss it in any detail without spoiling a key element of “The Lady Vanishes”, but I will say that the VOYAGE episode (“Escape from Venice”) was written by Charles Bennett – who was a screenwriter for, and associate of, Alfred Hitchcock.
Though, Bennett had no listed credit on “The Lady Vanishes”. More on the relationship between Hitchcock and Charles Bennett can be found in THIS REVIEW of Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent”.)
· On the characters of Charters and Caldicott,
Eder observes: “Some viewers, over the years, have suggested that Charters and Caldicott represent a vaguely hinted gay couple.” But Eder regards them more as “…overgrown schoolboys, who have never outgrown their enthusiasm for the game of cricket.”
|Well... That's another fine mess, etc. etc.|
Eder notes the confined set of the train (“The movements of the characters are dictated by the setting, in which they’re trapped.”), and observes that he would better this in “Lifeboat”.
· “Hitchcock once said that the key to suspense is to inform the audience of something which the characters are unaware – and let the action play out.”
· Hitchcock’s “Blackmail” was the first all-talking British feature.
· Finally, Variety thought “The Lady Vanishes” was “too British for American audiences”. Clearly, they were wrong.
Other Extra Features Include:
"Mystery Train: Alfred Hitchcock and The Lady Vanishes": Hosted by Leonard Leff: (Runs 33:29)
- Leff reveals the location of the Hitchcock Cameo, for those who missed it. I’ll offer no spoilers on this.
- “The Lady Vanishes” is a key component of what is known as the early Hitchcock “Thriller Sextet” which includes: “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “The 39 Steps”, “Secret Agent”, “Sabotage”, “Young and Innocent”, and “The Lady Vanishes”.
|We're part of a SEXTET... Imagine that!|
- “The Lady Vanishes” was filmed using only one rail coach to represent an entire train. The rest were transparencies and miniatures.
- Leff describes “The Hitchcock Formula”: A man, a woman, an urbane villain, and “The McGuffin”.
- “The McGuffin” is defined as something important to the characters – not us. “The McGuffin” sets in motion the chase, and the chase generates the suspense.
|I'll have the "McGuffin Extra Value Meal" -- and Super-Size the drink!|
· Alfred Hitchcock called his writers “Constructionists”, and invented the character of “Signor Doppo” the Italian magician (…presumably for the fun and suspense that resulted from the “baggage car search sequence”).
· In seeming conflict with the Commentary Track, Leff says that, after “The Lady Vanishes” Hitchcock made “Jamaica Inn”, and then moved on to the states.
Hitchcock/Truffaut: (10:06) Excerpts from a 1962 audio interview, with focus on “The Lady Vanishes”. A translator moderates the pair, adversely affecting the general “flow”.
“Crooks Tour”: (01:20:54) A 1941 British spinoff comedy film, featuring the characters of Charters and Caldicott. The opening credits sequence features cartoonish drawings of the pair in “round the world” settings – traveling in a plane, a rickshaw, on a camel, etc.
|Click to ENLARGE for reading!|
Hawtrey Charters and Sinclair Caldicott journey from the Arabian Desert, to
Hungary, to in a grand comic-misunderstanding involving Nazi spies, the British Secret Service, and Charters’ indignant sister “Edith”, keeping a “stiff upper lip” all the way. London
|Click to ENLARGE to see the title illustration cartoons.|
Among the cast is frequent American television guest star Abraham Sofaer (Star Trek TOS, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Kolchak the Night Stalker, and many more) as a Arab conspiring with the Nazis. Hitchcock had no involvement with this film.
A very enjoyable film, for what it was! This interesting curio, created as a result of the success of “The Lady Vanishes”, is something I would NEVER otherwise be aware of, if not for the diligence of the Criterion Collection. Kudos to them for unearthing it!
Stills Gallery: Click you way through stills, posters and promotional materials from the production of “The Lady Vanishes”.
Enclosed Booklet: 20 pages (!) plus wrap-around cover, commemorating “The Lady Vanishes”.
It’s Hitchcock – and a baffling mystery to boot. There are many fun and interesting characters – two of whom merited a spinoff feature of their own. What’s not to love?
“The Lady Vanishes”, as presented by The Criterion Collection, is highly recommended for enthusiasts of Alfred Hitchcock, mystery, suspense, espionage, the period immediately leading up to WW II, old trains, collections of eccentric characters, and just about anything else.