By: Bryant Daniels
If The Lady Vanishes had taken its original course and been directed by Roy William Nell instead of Alfred Hitchcock it would have been a very different movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with Roy William Nell, after all, he was the man that brought us Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. I just can’t imagine it would have the same lasting legacy as it does today, and that would be a shame.
When Leonard Maltin puts a film on a “100 Movies to See” list, then you know there has to be some reason for its spot. Unlike the first two Criterion films I reviewed, La Grande Illusion and Seven Samurai, The Lady Vanishes does not hold the same thematic weight, or even necessarily the same technical achievements. However, what it does maintain is an ever entertaining narrative, creative story telling, wonderfully selfish characters, and a perfectly dark sense of humor that reflects Hitchcock’s early years.
The Lady Vanishes is a train mystery, in fact, I think it may be the greatest train mystery ever put to film. It follows the story of a group of people who get wrapped up in to a conspiracy that is either being used to drive Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood, Hungry Hill) crazy, or has a goal that is more sinister in nature. Rounding out the cast are Michael Redgrave (The Importance of Being Earnest) as the love interest Gilbert, and Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as Charters and Caldicott, two characters who would return in future films not directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The entire cast plays perfectly as a group of staunch British citizens caught in what is seemingly an impossible situation. The humor when the seemingly isolated parties are brought together brings more laughs than the majority of modern comedies, and it is easy to see where the Python’s would later borrow from Hitchcock.
Not only does the humor stick throughout The Lady Vanishes, the macabre nature of the story drives the dark mystery in to places that feel very modern. It’s not hard to see why Hitchcock has gone down in history as one of the greatest directors of all time. Now, this earlier work doesn’t have the same atmosphere or technical achievement’s he would later present in Psycho or Vertigo, but what it does display is Hitchcock’s ability to push a story to its limits and succinctly deliver a narrative without wasting a breath. Every scene holds something that is important to the resolution, and that is forward thinking in today’s world of profit and finance.
I cannot urge you to see The Lady Vanishes enough. It is, well, it’s perfect. And I know I’ve given every Criterion film a perfect score, but I honestly cannot find fault this early in the collection.
The Lady Vanishes – 1938
Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Naunton Wayne, and Basil Radford.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 96 MinutesShare: