Classic Film Reviews: The Lady Vanishes

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Brenda Fellman

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The Lady Vanishes is a joyfully frivolous romp, that suddenly becomes a suspense-filled mystery, finally ending as an engaging thriller. While travelling on a train through Europe, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) a rich, young playgirl realises that the elderly lady she had meet seems to have disappeared from the train.

The Lady Vanishes is a forgotten gem and one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier films. This was one of Hitchcock’s last films to be filmed in England before making the move to Hollywood. The Lady Vanishes has a bit more of a comedic edge to it more than any of his later films.

Alfred Hitchcock had a tendency to stick with two main types of films. The first being a single individual fighting against staggering odds. In this trope, the main character is often falsely accused as in “The Wrong Man” or “The 39 Steps,” or enters a world of horrors that they can’t escape from as in “The Birds” or “Psycho.” Sometimes the main character finds themselves accidentally becoming part of a larger conspiracy in which they are required to partake in, such as in “North by Northwest” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

Hitchcock was fond of the reluctant hero or heroine. These were people who fall into dreadfully difficult circumstances that they did not plan for. In this way his movies, even those that would not be labelled as a horror films, still have that aspects one expects from a horror movie. The protagonist wants to scream out “this can’t be happening,” but barely has time to think as the rogue crop duster bears down on him trying to slice him in half.

The Lady Vanishes is one of the other type of Hitchcock film. In this second type, two would-be lovers throw themselves into intrigue partly out of boredom and partly to romance for one another. As in Rear Window, where a crippled photographer played by James Stewart and a pining Grace Kelly become voyeurs and then detectives, The Lady Vanishes’ Iris is on a journey to meet her fiancée where she begins to tussle and then solve a mystery with arrogant joker and folk musician Gilbert (Michael Redgrave).

Hitchcock takes the film’s starting sequences and instead of throwing the audience into the mystery straight off the bat, the first 24-minutes is a lighthearted introduction that nonetheless establish all the main characters, relationships and plot points that audience will need to understand what follows as the second act mystery starts.

The cast of the film were able to make the characters likeable and memorable. Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave have remarkable chemistry together, and every moment they share the screen sparks fly between their clashing characters. Slowly, by the end of the movie, it develops into true love. Dame May Witty is particularly appealing as one of the character roles for which she was known for.

The supporting cast is also unforgettable, like Naunton Wayne and Basil Redford playing two British gentlemen who’s conversations are secretive and confusing but when it is revealed what they have been talking about it turns out not to be as important as it was made out to be. Then there’s Paul Lukas as Dr. Hartz, a suspicious brain surgeon from Czechoslovakia. It seems that he has some dastardly plan even though he seems too be willing to help to find Miss Froy.

The Lady Vanishes is the sort of film that works on pace, craft, and charm. There’s really no reason for the story to have the convoluted and confusing path to its ultimate ending. Why was it necessary for British intelligence to go through so much trouble for information that could be just as easily be delivered by telegram, or diplomatic pouch? Why, would the bad guys cold-bloodily swipe a woman from a train, but leave a witness behind to blurt out that there’s been a disappearance? How come a name written on the inside of a train compartment window is erased by a blast of locomotive smoke across the outside of the window? But even with all these questions the story does what’s it’s supposed to do and keeps the audience entertained and wondering what’s going to happen next. The audience might even find that they are just as confused as Iris as she tries to figure out what’s going on, or if everything that happened is in her head or not. This movie has an interesting story and any one who is a big fan of mystery or thrillers will enjoy the twist and turns of this film.

The Lady Vanishes – Cast

Margaret Lockwood – Iris Henderson
Michael Redgrave – Gilbert
Dame May Whitty – Miss Froy
Paul Lukas – Dr. Hartz
Mary Clare – Baroness

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Classic Film Reviews: The…

by Brenda Fellman time to read: 3 min
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