Movie Critique # 364: The Lady Vanishes

Stars:  5 / 5

Recommendation:  A crafty thriller spun with equal wit and mystery enough for anyone to get gripped to it. A must watch.

The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 British mystery thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It stars Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave in the lead roles. Basic plot revolves around a beautiful woman traveler who meets an elderly lady on the train and goes missing. The movie is based on the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White with a few differences from the book. Despite his failures in the previous three films, this film went onto be a box office hit for Hitchcock and also won  New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director for Hitchcock.

Iris Henderson (portrayed by Margaret Lockwood) is returning to England by a train from the country of Bandirka. Her co-passengers are: cricket enthusiasts Charters and Caldicott, musician Gilbert Redman (portrayed by Michael redgrave), former governess and music teacher Miss Froy (portrayed by Dame May Whitty) and a lawyer named Mr. Todhunter and his mistress. Iris befriends Miss Froy at dining during tea. Iris falls asleep soon after tea but when she wakes up she finds Miss Froy missing. And no one in the car seem to remember seeing a Miss Froy. The Lady simply Vanishes. Thus begins the mystery of the vanishing lady that Iris takes upon herself to solve. She reluctantly takes the aid of the musician Gilbert Redman. However, will she find the lady? What happened to Miss Froy? That's what is the rest of the thread of this plot that is masterfully spun by Hitchcock. 

The chemistry between Margaret and Michael is spot on. For two rising stars this film had certainly set a successful stage - Margaret Lockwood who was practically unknown only accepted the role because of her love towards Ethel Lina White's books while Michael Redgrave was convinced to leave stage where he was becoming a rising start to get into movie. Although the film gave roaring success to both Margaret and Michael, sadly Michael Redgrave and Hitchcock never worked together per Turner Classic Movies' (TCM) host Robert Osborne - he gave an introduction before the movie that had this tidbit. 

The film incidentally marks the first appearance of the comedy double-act Charters and Caldicott (played by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford). In this film they portray cricket obsessed passengers aboard the train. 

As always Alfred Hitchcock makes a cameo appearance in the film. Notice him here in the below picture at Victoria Station, wearing a black coat and smoking a cigarette. He appears however at the end of the film.

There is also clear indication of the rising of World War II along the plot line. With a wonderful blend of mystery, espionage, romance and comedy, Hitchcock had a definite hit at his hands. After all a million mexicans can't go wrong at all. :P

Incidentally there are plot similarities with Jodie Foster's Flightplan. Many of the film's themes occur in the 2005 thriller Flightplan with Jodie Foster, such as someone vanishing from a moving vehicle, a dizzy woman as only witness, writing on the window as proof, etc.

All in all another Hitchcock movie that I loved watching without feeling scared.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) I havent read the book The Wheel Spins. But I have to say that the mastery of Hitchcock made this movie more scarier for me. I have to read the book to see if I feel the same.

2) This is Alfred Hitchcock's last British film until 1970. He had moved to Hollywood after this film. 

3) The original title for this film was The Lost Lady before Hitchcock took it over and tightened it up to what it later became a box office hit.

4) The opening scene of the movie is a scale-model miniature set of the actual location. It is clearly seen by the way the railroad official turns left to right and the small string that pulls the automobile along the street that is visible.

5) The film was remade twice:

a. First time with the same title as a film in 1979 starring Elliot Gould, Cybil Shepherd & Angela Lansbury. I watched this movie and felt it was ok, not as good as the original but not bad either. I am partial to my opinion because of Angela Lansbury as she is my favorite whodunit crime solver of the Murder, She Wrote famed TV Series. 

b. Second time with the same title as a TV adaptation in 2013 with Tuppence Middleton in the lead role. I did not like this version at all, felt it very artificial and acting rather than performing. Also the plot totally ignores the political impacts of World War II and goes on a different tangent that did not appeal to me. On a side note Tuppence reminds me of Agatha Christie's fictional detective from the duo Tommy and Tuppence. :P

6) Factual Errors:

a. The hotel manager Boris mentions that in "Spring" they have many avalanches. However, Charters and Caldicott are trying to get back to England for the Manchester cricket test, which was always played in July.

7) Filming Goofs:

a. Note how in the first seen, Iris is shown to be wearing  a small sweater over her lingerie. But the very next scene when she is shown, she is seen in lingerie. I wonder how Hitchcock missed this detail.

8) In the opening credits, Googie Withers has a subtext under her name: By Permission of Excelshor Film Productions Ltd. I am guessing she was loaned to Gainsborough Pictures Gaumont British for this film.

9) According to Wiki: Charles and Caldicott appeared in the following films, none of which were in anyway connected to Hitchcock.

a. Night Train to Munich (1940) was the first of the three and was directed by Carol Reed. This film was also starred Margaret Lockwood (playing a different character than in The Lady Vanishes) as well as Rex Harrison. 

b. The duo also appeared in 1941 in BBC Radio serials Crook's Tour written by Barbara K. Emary and directed by John Baxter. This was also made into a film and was included as a bonus feature on the Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release of The Lady Vanishes.

c. The last film to feature the Charters and Caldicott characters was Millions Like Us (1943), which was once again written by Gilliat and Launder, who also assumed the role of directors. 

d. They also starred in the BBC Radio serials Secret Mission 609 released in 1941.

10) According to IMDb: In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Alfred Hitchcock revealed that this film was inspired by a legend of an Englishwoman who went with her daughter to the Palace Hotel in Paris in the 1880s, at the time of the Great Exposition. The woman was taken sick and they sent the girl across Paris to get some medicine in a horse-vehicle, so it took about four hours. When she came back she asked, "How's my mother?" "What mother?" "My mother. She's here, she's in her room. Room 22." They go up there. Different room, different wallpaper, everything. And the payoff of the whole story is, so the legend goes, that the woman had bubonic plague and they dared not let anybody know she died, otherwise all of Paris would have emptied.

11) Per IMDb: The tune that Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) is humming is the early 20th-century standard "Colonel Bogey March", later made even more famous in the blockbuster The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

12) Check out The International Herald Tribune that Charters and Caldicott read to look for the cricket score. The back page has a headline referring to Temple's 60-36 victory in the championship game of the first basketball National Invitational Tournament, played on 16 March 1938. Incidentally Charters calls Baseball as "Rounders". 

a. Incidentally the cricket match that Charters keep talking about in the entire movie is the description of the actual third Ashes test between England and Australia at Manchester in 1938. You can see the result of the test match shown in the end through a newspaper headline - "Match abandoned due to rain".

13) The still picture that came on TCM whenever I was browsing the channels and came across the film was incidentally of Googie Withers who portrayed the role of Blanche, Iris's friend - lead actresses' friend. I wonder why it was done so. She is the tall girl on the left side in the picture below.

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