Aug 18, 2014

Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Alfred Hitchcock found himself in a pretty interesting spot before having made The Lady Vanishes. He needed a film to fulfill a contract he had with producer Edward Black, who then offered him a project by the name of The Lost Lady which was based off of a book called The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White. This would later become The Lady Vanishes and had previously been a failed production. Roy William Neill had begun filming it in Yugoslavia but once officials found out that they were portrayed in a negative light, the team was kicked out of the country. Hitchcock was smart to set to set TLV in a fictional location. After all, everyone was all tense due to the brewing of a World War.

At the same time, the call of the United States was coming strong across the Atlantic. Alfred Hitchcock was adored stateside and Hollywood wanted him to be making movies for them. Beginning in 1939, producer David O. Selznick successfully signed Hitchcock to a seven-year agreement, ensuring his talents would remain in the US. This was following the release of The Lady Vanishes which ended up being a huge success financially and critically. The rest is history.


Genre: comedy, mystery, thriller
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by: Edward Black
Written by: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder
Music by: Louis Levy, Charles Williams
Running time: 96 minutes
Production company: Gainsborough Pictures
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Gaumont British Picture Corporation of America, Nederland NV, etc.
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Cecil Parker, Linden Travers, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford, Mary Clare, Emile Boreo, Googie Withers, Sally Stewart, Philip Leaver, Selma Vaz Dias, Catherine Lacey, Josephine Wilson, Charles Oliver, Kathleen Tremaine



Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) arrives with her two friends at the Gasthof Petrus inn located in Bandrika (fictional as I said). That night she gets disturbed by some noise coming from upstairs. A gentleman by the name of Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) is found to be the noisemaker and he finds even more ways to antagonize Iris. The next day on her departure, she gets hit on the head by a planter. Luckily a friend from the night before, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), insists she will take care of her during the ride. After a nap on the train, Miss Froy has apparently vanished without a trace.


To me what sticks out as very strange about The Lady Vanishes which is clearly a mystery/thriller, is that it's also a comedy. The marriage of genres doesn't seem like something that would work at first glance but somehow it does. The comedy that's contained is very gentle and is smoothly integrated into the tense atmosphere of TLV. A lot of that comedy is found in the characters Charters and Caldicott who are played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne respectively. The two are cricket afficiendos and somehow became a huge sensation, spawning appearances in additional films, radio shows and TV. The rest of the comedy can be found in the great performance from Michael Redgrave who does a great job alongside Lockwood.

Speaking of Lockwood, Alfred Hitchcock uses her to great effect. As the main character, Iris is strong-willed, adventurous as establish and is easy to have sympathy for. The real intrigue is built up once Miss Froy is gone and no one on the train seems to remember having seen her anywhere. Is Iris crazy or is it one big conspiracy? Everything seemingly becomes a clue and motivations of individual characters are well explained without dawdling. The suspense is palpable til the very end of the film.

It's hard to believe that a movie can be so tense with hardly any music. During crucial scenes there's never any music at all and it's just not needed. The Lady Vanishes feels tense because of the mounting confusion being felt by Iris and the performances of all the actors. Even with the light comedy, The Lady Vanishes is a tightly knit thrill. 

Taking place almost entirely on a train, The Lady Vanishes is a great Hitchcockian thriller in the truest sense. How many times do we hear that from thrillers these days anyway? You got to go back to the source to really find them and TLV delivers in every way. Even the comedy which is 76 years old still works. There's an action sequence near the end that looks a tad outdated but that's the only criticism I can really find for the last British production of Alfred Hitchcock. Fifteen years into his craft and soon on his way to Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock is without a doubt a master of mystery and suspense. 




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