Sep 14, 2014

Review: The Lady Vanishes (1979)

Remakes are always a risky proposition. Add in the fact that The Lady Vanishes is a remake of the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name and you've got a recipe for potential disaster. Tony Williams of Rank Organization which was one of the production companies defended the idea of remaking The Lady Vanishes because movies had changed a lot since 1938. The pacing had changed, the acting had changed and people cared about actors of the day. That all may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that Hitchcock's version had aged extremely well. Unless you bring something new and interesting into the equation, it's just going to be a wasted opportunity.

The suspense in the 1938 The Lady Vanishes was palpable and I still find it mind blowing that the comedy Hitchcock was able to squeeze in worked and is still funny to this day. I just really wouldn't associate comedy going well with suspense or mystery. You of course have the famous Charters and Caldicott characters who are a good source of laughs but even Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave display good chemistry and are able to provide some good comedy. It's pretty clear that this newer version of TLV has a lot to live up to.


Genre: action, comedy, mystery
Directed by: Anthony Page
Produced by: Tom Sachs, Michael Carreras, Arlene Sellers, etc.
Written by: George Axelrod
Music by: Richard Hartley
Running time: 95 minutes
Production company: The Rank Organisation, Hammer Film Productions
Distributed by: Rank Film Distributors, Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd., Regia Films Arturo González, etc.
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: £2,500,000
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Elliott Gould, Cybill Shepherd, Angela Lansbury, Herbert Lom, Arthur Lowe, Ian Carmichael, Gerald Harper, Jenny Runacre, Jean Anderson, Madlena Nedeva, Madge Ryan, Rosalind Knight, Vladek Sheybal, Wolf Kahler, Barbara Markham



Amanda Metcalf-Midvani-Von Hoffsteader-Kelly (Cybill Shepherd), an American heiress is staying at a hotel in Bavaria. She's with some friends and she's having a pretty fun and raucous evening. It's 1939 and her impersonation of Adolf Hitler is a bit much for the German soldiers who happen to be there. She's knocked out cold when she falls off a table and put to bed for the night. The next morning she rushes to make her train which is leaving for Switzerland. Her wild evening is still affecting her so a kindly old lady by the name of Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury) offers to help her. When waking up from a nap, Miss Froy has somehow vanished and not even the other riders in her compartment seem to remember having seen her.


The change to a pre-World War II setting instead of taking place in some made up country like in the original is OK with me. This is pretty much the only change that works for me. (Spoilers) What I don't like is that when the train is leaving, it cuts to a scene at the hotel where some German soldiers are asking about a guest who had stayed there. Right away it announces that Miss Froy is being hunted down which takes away from the mystery of why she's abducted in the first place. I liked not knowing why Miss Froy was taken away. There was some great tension that was built up by not knowing why she disappeared in the original and that's gone now. (End Spoilers) The movie tries to turn itself into some kind of constant chase movie that sadly lacks the mystery and suspense of Hitchcock's version.

Everything else in the movie is largely the same. All the same characters are back which even includes Charters and Caldicott who are played by Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael. Sadly they're not as funny, but they're not terrible by any means either. Angela Lansbury as Miss Froy is a nice choice and works for me, but sadly the two leads are a big drag. Cybill Shepherd plays a completely unlikable, screechy character who is a complete departure from Iris Henderson in the original. Her love interest Robert Condon who is played by Elliott Gould is also a big departure from the charming Michael Redgrave. 

Neither of the two are able to conjure up any sort of chemistry between themselves and their comedic moments fall flat pretty much every time. Amanda is grating and hard to have sympathy for while I'd say that Elliott Gould is going for a less funny version of Gene Wilder. They're not at fault for the suspense-less script or the unfunny material they have to deliver though. 

It's hard not to compare this version of The Lady Vanishes to the original. For a more modern movie, it feels more outdated than the movie that came out 41 years before it. There's very little suspense and it doesn't seem like director Anthony Page is really trying to make it suspenseful. There's more of a focus on action sequences which aren't particularly impressive or exciting. (Spoilers) The one thing I'll give this movie is that it improves on the final gun fighting scene between the train's occupants and their assailants. It's modernity is an advantage in this case. (End Spoilers)

The Lady Vanishes is not able to come close to the tight production that its 1938 predecessor was. It can't even be seen on the same scale in terms of suspense if we put Alfred Hitchcock's version on that scale. It isn't a terrible movie and although it should be judged on its own merits, it's extremely difficult not to compare it to the original. If we just look at The Lady Vanishes as it is while trying to keep the 1938 version out of it, it's unfortunately still an unfunny and unthrilling picture. 



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