One of Hitchcock's final low-budget British films was the 1938 The Lady Vanishes. Featuring a witty script delivered by a cast of quirky characters, the film is one of Hitch's minor known works but nonetheless, still classic Hitchcock.
We begin in a European mountain inn, where travelers await clearance of an avalanche-covered rail line so they can move on to their various destinations. The inn is filled to capacity and it is here where weíre introduced to the cast: Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), a young socialite returning to London to marry a man she doesn't love; Mrs. Froy (Dame May Whitty), an elderly baronness; Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave), a brash musician; Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas) a sophisticated brain surgeon; Mr. and "Mrs." Todhunter (Parker & Travers), an adulterous couple posing as honeymooners; and Caldicott (Wayne) and Charters (Radford), two die-hard cricket fans obsessed with getting back to Manchester for the big game.
Granted, the beginning gets off to a slow start and the opening sequence features some rather obvious miniature models. But the pace quickly escalates as the travelers board their delayed train and the trip to England commences. Onboard, Iris and Mrs. Froy keep one another company in one of the passenger cars. Iris dozes off for a few minutes and when she awakens, discovers that Mrs. Froy is nowhere to be found. When Iris begins to seek her out, not only do the other passengers admit to have never seen her, but even claim that such a person doesnít exist. Considering they are on a moving train, Iris believes a plot is against her and turns to a doubting Gilbert for help. When the conspiracy becomes evident, the two find themselves waist deep in a deadly game of encoded messages and espionage.
The Lady Vanishes is an intriguing tale of romance and murder. The key to the film's success is in its location - a moving train. While itís easy for people to vanish into thin air, itís a rather difficult task when one is in constant motion. This is what makes Iris's task of finding Mrs. Froy vexing. If this isn't enough to drive Iris insane, the casual attitude of the supporting cast makes her begin to even doubt herself.
The supporting cast does an excellent job in keeping the film relatively upbeat despite the mounting anxiety Iris undergoes in her search. The characters played by Wane and Radford proved so popular, they would make another ten films together. It was their constant banter about their beloved cricket that provides a perfect foil for the movie to shock its audience. The "so-called" honeymooners, who are involved in a minor conspiracy of their own making, are sandwiched perfectly between the buffoonery of Wane and Radford and the desperation of Iris and Gilbert.
The Lady Vanishes has a classic Hitchcock set-up (a protagonist that the audience knows is telling the truth but whom no one will believe), masterful use of point-of-view shots, and a deftly blend of suspense and comedy. Francois Truffaut, during his interview with Hitch, stated that he found himself so absorbed by the characters and the story that he has yet to figure out whether the train was moving or not.
RATING: 6.5 (of 10)
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