[Film Review] The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes poster

Title: The Lady Vanishes
Year: 1938
Country: UK
Language: English, German, French, Italian
Genre: Comedy, Mystery
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Sidney Gilliat
Frank Launder
based upon the story by Ethel Lina White
Louis Levy
Charles Williams
Cinematography: Jack E. Cox
Margaret Lockwood
Michael Redgrave
May Whitty
Paul Lukas
Naunton Wayne
Basil Radford
Cecil Parker
Linden Travers
Mary Clare
Emile Boreo
Philip Leaver
Catherine Lacey
Googie Withers
Charles Oliver
Rating: 7.9/10

The Lady Vanishes 1938

The initial 20 minutes or so of Hitchcock’s penultimate film made in UK is frolic where a bunch of passengers (mainly British) is trapped in a local hotel of the fictitious middle-Europe country Bandrika, due to an avalanche has blocked the railway line. Which is quite unusual since mystery and suspense is our knee-jerking reaction towards a vintage Hitchcock brand. But if you think it over after watching the entire movie, you will realise it is a neat conceit, not only does it imply the characteristics of its various players – e.g. proffering a plausible reason for the reaction of two key witness, the cricket enthusiasts Charters (Radford) and Caldicott (Wayne), when they are learned about the lady vanishes; it also excels in satirising the common foibles rooted deep in Britons, notably the married Mr. Todhunter (Parker) and his mistress-in-disguise-as-Ms. Todhunter (Travers), whose switch of testimony will be vividly delineated as an example that truth cannot always win over individual’s self-serving concerns.

Also one key character is Miss Froy (Whitty), soon will disappear in the train next morning, she is a courteous and amiable retired governess, one lingering big question is why she is the target? The real protagonists are actually an English lady Iris Henderson (Lockwood), who is going back to get married, and Gilbert (Redgrave in his screen debut), a young musician and writer, the two perfectly tallies with a good match started with dispute, she is a bit supercilious while he is very impetuous, but together, they will investigate the mysterious disappearance of Miss. Froy on the train, and a little romance is burgeoning as well.

When a pair of unknown hands starts to strangle a man who is serenading under Miss Froy’s room, the mystery kicks off (in hindsight, another brilliant plot device), and the next day, a premeditated murder attempt is accidentally foiled but it injures Iris and pairs her with Miss Froy, and then, after the disappearance occurs, the situation becomes more mythic and intriguing, those who clearly see Miss Froy before, all refuse to admit her existence, to the extent Iris begins to question her own rationality, thanks to a prestigious surgeon Dr. Hartz (Lukas) fanning the flames nearby. Eventually through Iris’ indomitable persistence and Gilbert’s aide, the conspiracy theory is debunking when a conscience-smote mole offers a helping hand (which is the most far-fetched part in the tale). And a final confrontation is a slick action stand-off, with a British-only invitation and gallows humour galore.

Lockwood and Redgrave strike up charming chemistry in the fast-paced process of finding out the truth, Paul Lukas is viciously debonair as a heartless snake-in-the-grass, not to mention Dame May Whitty, who is pleasantly radiant with her ingenuous facade where true grit lies. And its byproduct – Charters and Caldicott would expand their popularity in three other pictures made by different directors.

Suspense, humour, mystery, romance, action, all can be found in Hitchcock’s engagingly crafted homegrown piece, even its budget cannot match his later Hollywood fine arts, and certain props and settings are inconveniently discernible as miniatures and models, all the major constituents of Hitchcock-ian school is hearteningly fully-fledged at that stage. Like FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), the ending of THE LADY VANISHES also evokes the looming-large approach of WWII, and the secret agent trope becomes sought-after ever since in the cinemascape.


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