The Lady Vanishes-1938
Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty
Scott’s Review #1,303
Reviewed September 30, 2022
The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock that I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only seen once. Nonetheless, it resonated well with me after that sole viewing and its influence is palpable.
It’s a film made when Hitchcock was still making films in his native Britain before he took over Hollywood during the 1950s and 1960s. You may wonder why a dusty old film made in the 1930s and not a household name is important but The Lady Vanishes is.
If the film had not been made and more importantly not been a box-office success, films like Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963) might never have been made.
The Lady Vanishes followed three rather unsuccessful efforts by Hitchcock, but whose success assured his new film career in America was a go.
The film is not as brilliant as the others mentioned but is pretty damned close. It serves as a blueprint for other Hitchcock films to come.
The train sequences alone conjure thoughts of Strangers on a Train (1951) and North by Northwest (1959) while the romance between the lead actors would become a staple of Hitchcock films.
Finally, the subdued but noticeable inclusion of gay characters, forever a good debate among cinema lovers, especially Hitchcock fans, as to whether it is or isn’t, is showcased.
So, The Lady Vanishes is to be celebrated for its influence but also holds up well on its own two feet.
On a train headed for England, a group of travelers is delayed by a dangerous avalanche. Forced into a hotel in the lush European country, beautiful young Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) befriends an elderly woman named Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty).
When the train resumes travel, Iris suffers a bout of unconsciousness after being hit by a potted plant and wakes to find the old woman has mysteriously disappeared. The other passengers vehemently deny that Miss Froy ever existed causing Iris to wonder if she has lost her marbles.
Iris determinedly begins to investigate the matter with the help of another traveler, Gilbert, (Michael Redgrave) as the pair begins to search the train to uncover clues. Naturally, the pair fall in love.
They uncover a mystery, political intrigue, and a who’s who of peculiar characters with secrets to keep hidden.
Lockwood and Redgrave have fantastic chemistry. It’s no secret that Hitchcock intends to bring them together even though Iris is to be married when she returns home. Both Lockwood and Redgrave are easy on the eyes which helps make them rootable.
The pacing of The Lady Vanishes is very good but nowhere as astounding as the sequence of events in North by Northwest, the film it most resembles. That’s why the rough cut analogy springs to mind- the film is a perfect warmup act to the 1959 masterpiece.
From an LGBTQ+ perspective, my money is on the characters of Charters and Caldicott. Ferocious cricket enthusiasts, whose only initial concern is to get back to England to see the last days of a Test match. The ‘friends’ proved so popular with audiences that they returned to the film Night Train to Munich 1940, also starring Lockwood.
Needless to say, the revelations at the end of The Lady Vanishes surprise and satisfy with political, and espionage overtones. Frequently, there is a McGuffin or a who cares about the plot element in Hitchcock films.
The plot shouldn’t be overthought in the film as the real fun is the trimmings that makes the suspense so strong. The wit and snappy dialogue make the characters a pleasure to watch.
Providing strong character and stiff upper lip British humor The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a terrific effort and is the most fun to watch to point out the many elements that make up the Hitchcock masterpieces.