Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Lady Vanishes

So here we are with the penultimate film Hitchcock made before leaving England for the bigger budgets and salaries of Hollywood, and in my opinion easily the best of his British productions. Here he manages to take the general tension of the bomb segment from Sabotage and seemingly stretch it out through the bulk of an entire film, and still finds the time to openly laugh at English sensibilities the whole way through. While it does lack the innovation and overall importance to his oeuvre that The Man Who Knew Too Much or The 39 Steps did, it more than makes up for it by simple virtue of having been a better film than either of them was.
Primarily set in the fictional nation of Bandrika (a Germany stand-in), the film primarily follows Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave as a pair that meets at a resort in a Meet Cute that’s no less awkward than the ones we normally get in rom-coms today, and find that when they all take the train back to England, a kindly old lady from the resort has disappeared shortly after boarding. What’s worse, nobody else on the train seems to have any memory of the old lady at all. Has she been kidnapped, or is our heroine going mad?

Well, obviously she’s not going mad, as the audience knows from the start, and yes, the old lady is in dire peril, and Hitchcock wisely doesn’t linger too long on the possibility that she might be cracking up. What is nice is all of the various obstacles in her path to proving her friend is in trouble. We get a judge and his mistress that saw her board, but tell the train police otherwise to avoid their spouses finding out about their affair. We also get a magician that specializes in disappearing ladies (with Hitchcock showing how the trick is done, all Houdini-style), a burn victim covered in bandages, and later even missing train cars. At some point you really need to just take a hint that a woman just doesn’t want to be found, you know?

He also has some fun at the expense of his own country, as when she is finally rescued, we move into a climax where the villains have uncoupled most of the train cars to isolate the heroes, but they are saved by way of it being tea time and so all the British passengers are up front in the dining car to come help. There’s even a character who decides to leave the old lady to her fate and tries to surrender to the villains, waving a white flag and being shot for his trouble. I can’t think of a single thing that could possibly have been referencing when this film was made in 1938, unless…yes, it MUST be in reference to Hitch surrendering to Hollywood and fearing he’d be verbally gunned down for it! No other possibility.

Seriously, this is the single most fun and exciting movie Hitchcock ever made in England (and yes, I am including the ones he made at the end of his life as well). It’s freely available in public domain, which means you can take your pick of poor quality prints at rock-bottom prices, or for free on Youtube, as you can enjoy below! Go check it out.

Rating: *** ½

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