Thursday, February 18, 2016

1008. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, from the story The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
Main Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty, Paul Lukas, Cecil Parker
Click here to view the trailer

Note: If you've yet to check out the "TSZDT" and "Criterion" links here on the blog, you're missing out! Okay, so I haven't updated the "Criterion" page in a couple weeks, but I'm actively working on the "They Shoot Zombies, Don't They" list, so everyone who was clamoring for me to tackle another list, got their wish. This is a list that I'm having a blast with so far, as me and my wife are doing it together, which makes it all the more fun. Anyway, check 'em out. Now then...


I actually started writing this review earlier this morning, then decided that I just wasn't in the mood to do a review and called it quits. Now, tonight, I'm taking my second crack at it. No matter how hard I try to tell myself that I'm "done writing reviews", something always keeps me coming back - probably a desire to see my blog be complete. Anyway, I watched The Lady Vanishes about a week and a half ago, not realizing it was in another edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. After a few days I DID realize it and it's taken me this long to get around to it. Also I've just discovered two new channels on cable: Laff TV and Antenna TV, both of which air old sitcoms, so I'm writing this in between glancing over my shoulder to catch glimpses at a Night Court rerun. Bear with me...

I'd seen The Lady Vanishes a couple of times prior to seeing it last Tuesday morning and to be perfectly frank right off the bat, it's never been my favorite Hitchcock. The film begins with an avalanche that has blocked the railway line, stranding a bevy of would be passengers at a tiny, cozy, out of the way inn, where they're forced to spend the night while the track is cleared. Our main character is Iris Henderson (Lockwood), a well-to-do English tourist who, on her first night as an inn guest, complains to the manager about the loud music emanating from the room of musician Gilbert Redman (Redgrave). When the manager tells him to hush up, he takes it upon himself to politely harass Miss Henderson, until she finally agrees to let him play his tunes. There's also two cricket enthusiasts who desperately want to get back to England so that they can see the last days of the Cricket championships. The following morning, as passengers are preparing to board the train, now that the railway line has been cleared, a planter "falls" from a second story balcony, crashing into the head of Miss Henderson and nearly concussing her. Despite the suggestions of a friend to not board the train and instead see a doctor, Iris Henderson decides to board and is put into the care of Miss Froy, who promises to look after her. The two make fast friends, swapping stories over a cup of tea in the dining car, before getting back to their quarters, which they're sharing with others. After falling asleep, Miss Henderson awakes to find that Miss Froy has disappeared and when she starts asking questions, it seems that no one remembers ever seeing a Miss Froy. In fact, the only one that actually does believe her (although he too doesn't remember a Miss Froy aboard the train) is the man she made quick enemies out of the night before - Gilbert Redman. A doctor who is riding the train back to England, writes Miss Henderson's visions of a woman named Miss Froy off as a mere side effect of her being hit in the head.



Since returning to the blog, post-1001, I've tried my best to make the very few reviews I've written be good ones. I've put a lot of time and effort into the six reviews between #1001 and now, but I have a feeling my streak stops here. I just don't have a lot of insightful, intelligent things to say about The Lady Vanishes. It's not a bad movie, by any means. However, it's not a very great one either - and, in fact, by Hitch's standards, it definitely falls into the lower echelon in his catalog of films.

The film DID have me in the beginning, setting up a pretty brilliant little plot, that makes you hope the pay off is worthy of the original idea and that it won't leave you disappointed. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was disappointed, but the movie definitely took some turns that I'd rather it hadn't taken. For starters, I wish Hitchcock had left us more in the dark. For a little while longer, anyway, make us think that, "perhaps, Miss Henderson is simply imagining Miss Froy"...have her keep throwing out possible clues and have them keeping getting shot down by the other passengers as mere coincidence. That's not how it transpires, however. Instead, we pretty much know right away that Margaret Lockwood's character is of sane mind and that indeed, she wasn't just imagining a Miss Froy. By the end, they're throwing out words like "spy" and "espionage" and I'm sort of allergic to those words and genres when it comes to movies, with very few exceptions.

Another thing that's always irked me about classic films is the fact that man and woman seem to fall in love too quickly and without much reason. Here, Lockwood and Redgrave's Henderson and Redman, respectively, go from bitter enemies at the inn to close friends aboard the train, to lovers by film's end, without any explanation of why on Earth they'd actually want to be together. I guess back in the old days, complete strangers just got together and got married and it was all a big "hurrah". That's just something that's always sort of irked me about classics, and I wanted to get the gripe down on paper.

In conclusion, you could do a lot worse when looking for a Hitchcock movie ("Spellbound" and "Notorious" come to mind), but you could also do a LOT better (a dozen or more movies come to mind), which makes it hard to give The Lady Vanishes anything even resembling a glowing review. The film is something straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, but then also adds a splash of something resembling an Ian Fleming story, only fifteen years before Fleming would be a success. It's a murdery, mystery, clue driven film, that, by film's end, adds in a dash or two of spy and espionage stuff. My eyelids are getting  very heavy, so I ask that you bear with me, while I close this off early.

RATING: 6.5/10  If you want good Hitch, try out Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, Psycho, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew.....nevermind, there's a lot of better stuff, find it if you haven't already.

February 18, 2016  10:45pm


  1. First off .. Welcome back Andrew, good to see another review from you.
    Second, thanks for it being a personal favourite .. and sorry it just didn't do it for you.
    I really, really like this one .. such characters and so much period atmosphere.
    I guess it has too many things about it that you are not so keen on for it it hit your spots - Looming war, European politics, spies.
    Oh I easily see why people could mock this one .. the oh so obvious use of model trains, the slightly corny script, and, as you quite rightly point out, the 'fall madly in love' after an hour or two together. The daft way of moving a code across Europe... it's crying out to be mocked..
    But .., for me, the tension (yes, I do think it's there), the magnificent collection of dodgy foreigners, all potentially the bad guy, the humour .. makes all the above part of it's considerable charm.
    So sorry, a disagreement, but totally forgiven seeing that we got to air this one. It's an ex book one is it? Such a loss...
    Amanda.. any chance of a back up here?

    1. Actually, I think it was added AFTER my edition, meaning it may still be in THE BOOK. I liked it, but I can name probably fifteen other Hitch films off the top of my head that I like better.

  2. I think this one was played more for comedy than suspense, at least that is how I saw it and quite liked it for that. In comedies strange and silly things happens and we usually go along with that. The almost homoerotic cricket fans were a hoot.

  3. I'll back you up Ray; I loved it too! I agree with what Andrew said about old movie romances but that's kind of why I loved it so much haha.


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