alfred hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Now reissued on Blu-ray as part of Network’s The British Film collection The Lady Vanishes, following on from the box office success of 1935’s The 39 Steps, cemented Hitchcock’s reputation as a film director with Hollywood producer David O Selznick and led to his departure for Hollywood following an unhappy experience attempting to direct Charles Laughton in Jamaica Inn (1939).
Hitchcock was oddly enough never intended to direct the film and only got the job because he owed Gainsborough Studios a picture to fulfil his contract and the original; production had fallen apart when the location unit had been kicked out of Yugoslavia for showing the local police in an bad light.
Hitch oversaw a rewrite that placed the disappearance of tweedy governess and spy Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) on a train journey from a thinly disguised Nazi state of Bandrika. Margaret Lockwood played Iris Henderson the English tourist who nobody wants to believe when she reports the abduction and Michael Redgrave is the Boho English musician Gilbert who helps her unravel the mystery, save Miss Froy from the secret police and make sure her coded message gets home to the intelligence services.
What ratchets The Lady Vanishes above most train bound thrillers is the supporting cast of characters who for their own selfish reasons don’t want to admit to have seen Iris with Miss Froy at the beginning of the journey The cricket mad Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne) want to get back to Manchester in time to catch the England Australia Test Match and the slimy lawyer Todhunter (Cecil Parker) does not want to draw attention to the fact that he is travelling with his mistress (Linden Travers). There’s also the mysterious neurosurgeon, Dr Hartz (Paul Lukas) travelling with a heavily bandaged patient who claims that Iris must be suffering from hallucinations following a blow on the head.
Given the tumultuous times the movie was released in there is a lot of allegory in the characters. Charters and Caldicott who initially pretend nothing is going on, but take a heroic turn in the concluding shoot out represent the British establishment generally ignoring European events while Todhunter is the appeaser who just wants to give the Nazis whatever they want.
The dialogue sparkles with humour as Redgrave and Lockwood bounce quips off each other and Charters and Caldicott bumble, but typically Hitch infuses his own brand of humour into the proceedings: the clue that proves Miss Froy is on the train occurs when Iris and Gilbert are at their most frivolous; the eureka moment with the nun and a stage magician’s props take on a pivotal role. The Hitch cameo? Keep em peeled at Victoria Station.
A classic British thriller I give The Lady Vanishes a 666/666
The Lady Vanishes is released on Blu-ray by Network as part of The British Film collection on Jan 19 price £14.99
Introduction by film historian Charles Barr
Original theatrical trailer
Trivia: Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne reprised their performance as Charters and Caldicott in a number of films and a BBC radio serial until they fell out with the writers Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat who had created the partners. They continued essentially playing the same characters under different names until Radford’s death in 1952. In 1945 they appeared in portmanteau horror Dead of Night as Parrott and Potter.
A 1979 remake of The Lady Vanishes with undisguised Nazis was the last cinematic release from Hammer before the company folded. Starring Elliott Gould and Cybill Shepherd in the central roles and Angela Lansbury as Miss Froy. OK any Hitchcock is a hard act to follow, but the chemistry just wasn’t there for the principal cast who were hopelessly upstaged by Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael as Charters and Caldicott.
Hammer director Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit, The Vampire Lovers, Scars of Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Monster Club, The Masks of Death) was an unaccredited Assistant director on the original the Lady Vanishes