on September 5, 2007
This 1937 comic thriller is one of the first great masterpieces of Alfred Hitchcock. Based on Ethel Lina White's novel, THE WHEEL SPINS, it mixes laughs and chills better than just about any other film, before or since. A nervous bride-to-be (beautiful Margaret Lockwood) meets a sweet elderly woman (the magnificent Dame May Whitty) on a train bound through Europe to London just before WWII. Also aboard: a roguish musicologist (Michael Redgrave), a pair of adulterers (Cecil Parker and Linden Travers), a smooth German doctor (Paul Lukas), two delightfully fussy cricket fans (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), and a mysterious nun (Catherine Lacy) wearing sexy high heels under her habit. When the old lady disappears from the moving train, the young heroine investigates, and everyone else aboard insists that she is mistaken--there never was any old lady....
I can think of no higher tribute to Hitchcock than the fact that so many recent hit films are virtual remakes of his classic gems. DISTURBIA is REAR WINDOW recast with modern teens, and the 2005 Jodie Foster thriller, FLIGHTPLAN, was an unofficial remake of THE LADY VANISHES with an airliner standing in for the train--right down to the famous "fingerprint on the window." Why do modern filmmakers keep imitating the Master's films? See for yourself. This new, 2-disc reissue from Criterion has a lot of extras and a newly remastered print of the film itself. It's a must for fans and newcomers alike. Highly Recommended.
on May 4, 2004
First the usual warnings: caveat emptor, you get what you pay for, etc. etc. etc., yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. With that out of the way, let me say that getting these three early Hitchcock films at such a low price is an extremely good deal. Sure they're blurry in parts and there are occasional picture/sound glitches, but nothing really interferes with either the storytelling or the suspense, which is really why you're watching them in the first place.
Let me add that the four-star rating is for the DVD as a whole. None of the films are presented at four-star quality (The Lady Vanishes is maybe three-and-a-half), but the fact that you get three movies instead of one or two bumps the score from average to slightly-above.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is the oldest of the three movies and its print and sound quality are the most deteriorated. Nevertheless, the symphony scene and the final gunfight retain their suspensefulness. The movie holds its own against the 1956 remake; Leslie Banks is no Jimmy Stewart, but at least Edna Best doesn't sing.
Secret Agent features a young John Gielgud, only a year or two out of short pants, I'm sure. Peter Lorre steals the show here, however, as an assassin or curious nationality. Of the three, I felt this was the least Hitchcockian in comparison with his later - and greater - work. It works on a psychological level, like his very-early Blackmail, rather than building the suspense of the other two films on this DVD or terror of Psycho or The Birds. The "self-translating" cypher notes are a nice effect; the spinning bowls and train crash are nice attempts at special effects that fall a little short of the mark.
The Lady Vanishes is the most recent of these films, and sports the best sound and picture. It also has some of the most recognizable Hitchcockian touches. The poisoned brandies framed in the extreme foreground, the hero(ine) whose sanity is in doubt, etc. It's also the most comedic throughout (although Lorre and Robert Young play their roles for laughs in Secret Agent, too).
If you want pristine remastered prints of these films, look elsewhere and expect to pay significantly more than a few dollars per movie. If you can "make do" with versions that look 65-70 years old, and want to experience Hitchcock early in his career, give this DVD a spin. If it turns out not to be to your liking, at least you haven't paid a lot to find that out. Odds are you'll find you get a lot for the price (a brief biography of Hitchcock appears on the disc, trivia factoids appear on the packaging), and won't experience buyer's remorse or feel ripped off by your purchase.
on August 5, 2000
There's one thing that movies can do better than any other artistic medium. It's having you experience something from a character's point of view, and then having every other character in the movie say it never happened. Your empathy as a viewer is at its highest pitch: you saw what happened with your own eyes, and so you see it through the character's eyes as well, but then everyone denies it. This is the central scene on the train in THE LADY VANISHES. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in my opinion, is more cinematic than this. When the idea is used to trick the viewer (as in THE USUAL SUSPECTS), it's not as good (although still it's pretty good, because again it uses film in the most empathetic way possible). And when the trickery is fair--as in THE SIXTH SENSE--it can be superb. I rank THE LADY VANISHES right up there with VERTIGO, PSYCHO, and REAR WINDOW, as Hitchcock's greatest gifts to us, the moviegoers of the world. I would even add SHADOW OF A DOUBT to this pantheon. The thing I admire most about Hitchcock is that he was attracted to stories that showed what film could do as an art form. His best movies, in their different ways, display this for us. The movies I've mentioned would not be as good as novels or plays--and this is saying a great deal. It's a test, as a matter of fact, of what separates the film as an art medium from other artistic forms. The two directors who knew this best were Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney. It would be so terrific if someone were to come along someday who could be said to be their equal. Bottom line: THE LADY VANISHES is one of the best movies you will ever see, but please, it works at a slower pace than today's movies, so let it sink in for you, don't be in a hurry, EXPERIENCE it!
Criterion has just released the new 2-disc transfer of 1938's "The Lady Vanishes", Alfred Hitchcock's last great British effort; filmed just before he was swallowed-up by David O. Selznick and Hollywood. Just before the war, the beautiful young Iris(Margaret Lockwood), traveling across Europe by train, meets the governess Miss Froy(Dame May Whitty), a charming old spinster, who promptly disappears into thin air. In fact, no one even recalls having seen the old lady aboard the train. Iris turns sleuth, and soon finds herself drawn into a complex murder-mystery and robust adventure. The fictitous country where most of the story takes place is named in the movie by Miss Froy in her first scene: "Bandrika is one of Europe's few undiscovered corners". "The Lady Vanishes" is a love story, two daffy, English gents, and two car-loads of Nazi's, all tossed together in a quick-witted, devilish comic thriller. Droll English humor keeps the proceedings moving along. In one scene, Iris complains: "Hello, Boris? Miss Henderson speaking. Look, someone upstairs is playing musical chairs with an elephant. Move one of them out, will you? I want to get some sleep". A remarkable cast includes Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lucas, and Dame May Whitty. As the redoubtable Miss Froy, Whitty easily steals the entire film. The final sequence is just short of perfect. Dame May Whitty died at age 82 from cancer in Beverly Hills, shortly after her scenes in the movie "The Sign of the Ram(1948)". She once said, "I've got everything Betty Grable has...only I've had it longer". Modestly budgeted, "The Lady Vanishes" was shot on studio stages, and relied on miniatures, rear-projection, stock footage, transparencies, and one ninety-foot-long railroad set. The real meat of the film is it's nimble acting and dynamic screenplay. There's a lot to chew on here. Criterion released "The Lady Vanishes" in 1998 with less results; it suffered poor video and sound drop-out. There is one drop-out at 18 minutes into the film, but otherwise you have a high-quality transfer. This new high-definition digital transfer was taken from a 35 mm composite fine-grain master positive, and audio restoration has reduced clicks, pops, and hiss. Extras include audio commentary by Bruce Eder(a little dry), "Crook's Tour", a 1941 feature with Basil Radford and Nuanton Wayne reprising their roles from "The Lady Vanishes", Francois Truffaut's 1962 interview with Alfred Hitchcock, a new video essay by scholar Leonard Leff, an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien, photos, and art. Alfred Hitchcock made 37 cameo appearances in his films(from 1926 to 1976). 90 minutes into "The Lady Vanishes", you can see him walking along the platform of London's Victoria Station, wearing a black coat and puffing on a cigarette. Alfred Hitchcock changed the way movies are made; both long ago, and right up until the end. We're so glad he did.
on December 22, 2007
THE LADY VANISHES - new Criterion DVD - is a notable improvement in sharpness and contrast over Criterion's previous edition. Even if you have the old one, the new edition is worth the upgrade. If you are new to pre-American Hitchcock, this film is your best introduction. If you are inclined to purchase a cheaper version of the same film, be warned: any public domain editions are distinctly inferior.
on July 12, 2003
This is one of my favorite Hitchcock movies, along with "The 39 Steps". After purchasing the Criterion Collection version of the latter movie, I was completely impressed with the technical "magic" of the Criterion people. Picture and sound were much cleaner than my VHS copy of the movie! I purchased the Criterion transfer of "The Lady Vanishes" expecting the same level of quality. I was sorely disappointed. The picture is great, no "static", etc. But the sound is very poor, no better than my VHS tape copy. It fades in and out, especially during dialogue and then blares forth at other times. I felt, frankly, cheated after paying the premium price that Criterion DVD's command. Count me unhappy.
on September 9, 1999
I don't have the other DVD version to compare this with, but this Criterion edition of THE LADY VANISHES is very good. There is an animated index page with the sound of a train. The print of this film looks very good -- of special interest is the "restoration" section of the index. Through the use of "wipes" the Criterion people show you a before and after version of the cleaned-up print. Very neat.
There is also a commentary from a film historian which is interesting, if a bit dry. I didn't get a chance to listen to the whole thing yet.
This is a good Hitchcock movie. It's a lot of fun -- as innocent as a Nancy Drew mystery at times, but with interesting strokes from the master! I had a good time.
on February 14, 2012
Wow! What an image on this old movie. Criterion keeps out-doing themselves with these classics. Some are better than others. This version of The Lady Vanishes is the best it has ever looked on home video. You would think Criterion's fine DVD would be good enough for this old movie, but no! This blu ray has so much depth and detail without much (if any) DNR used. Grain is still intact, but the picture is really clear and cleaned up. It is nice that the blu-ray technology allows sooo much more to be put on one disc, that Criterion put everything from the two disc DVD set onto one blu ray! This is one worthy upgrade!! Now if Criterion would release other Hitchcock films on blu ray. Very disappointed they didn't get the rights to Rebecca, Notorious, and Spellbound for their blu ray releases. Fox didn't do 'the Criterion treatment' of these classics.
Would love to see Criterion get a hold of the 1934 version of Hitch's The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps. These classics are crying out for hi-def releases. It is time for a studio to show these classics the respect they deserve and Criterion is the one to do just that!
So, if you are wondering to upgrade to blu ray for The Lady Vanishes...don't put it off any longer.
Don't settle for the DVD, the blu ray reaaly makes this movie shine!
First: Bravo Criterion for bringing a wonderful film to the peak of beauty with this Blu-Ray release! I am a huge Hitchcock fan and I wish that more of his films would be restored by Criterion. They do such a great job and include so many extra features!
Well, if you own this film already, perhaps a Blu-Ray purchase of $25+ might not be worth it, but you should at least rent it (my local library has it!) or try and get it from Netflix. The picture quality is stunning. This is such a visual film, despite the shots taking place mostly in narrow train corridors. There is a lot of detail that really comes through in this release.
As for the film, I think this is among Hitchcock's better releases. There is a large and very good cast of mostly underrated and unknown actors and actresses. A few of these actors went on to star in other films, but we don't have the Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly A-list reel here.
The film begins in a remote Inn located in a fictitious Baltic country. Things start off comically enough, and we are introduced to the cast in very fun and interesting ways. Just before boarding the train in the morning, things start to get weird. Without delving too much into the film and ruining the amazing surprise, the main character befriends an elderly British lady who suddenly vanishes on the train. We see that she is either crazy and imagined it, or that there is some kind of conspiracy. A very interesting story unravels and the viewer is in for quite a treat.
There are a ton of extra features, and this is a huge bonus because this is one of Hitchcock's earlier works and helped establish his authenticity as an artistic genius. This was made a couple of years before he filmed 'Rebecca' which would go on to establish him as a Hollywood icon. Ironically, Rebecca was his first American film. Also ironic is that Hitchcock would not receive a best director academy award for Rebecca, which would win best picture. In an amazing career spanning decades, he never won an academy award for directing. Despite this, I rank Rebecca and Vertigo among the best films ever made. So you can understand the importance I am giving to this earlier work as one of the first true glimpses into his coming future success.
This is required viewing for Hitchcock fans, but it is a wonderful film that I think deserves at least a viewing by most classic film fans. They really don't make them like this anymore!
on January 13, 1999
This is *not* the Criterion Collection eition. THE LADY VANISHES is truly the greatest film of Hitchcock's British period, and one of his best films overall. While the source materials are of fine quality (good clean print of the film with nice contrasts and good sound), the transfer leaves much to be desired. I have seen VHS versions which were more pleasing to the eye and this DVD looks as though it was mastered from an old video tape. The introduction by Tony Curtis (!?) is a waste of time. Stick to the more expensive (but worth it) Criterion Collection edition.