The Lady Vanishes (The Criterion Collection)
The Criterion Collection
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In Alfred Hitchcock s most quick-witted and devilish comic thriller, the beautiful Margaret Lockwood, traveling across Europe by train, meets Dame May Whitty s charming old spinster, who seemingly disappears into thin air. Soon enough, the young woman turns investigator and finds herself drawn into a complex web of mystery and high adventure. The Lady Vanishes, now in an all-new digital transfer, remains one of the master filmmaker s purest delights.
Alfred Hitchcock had hit his early, near-flawless stride by the time of The Lady Vanishes, the 1938 classic that seems as bright and funny now as the day it was released. After the deliciously comic opening reels at a mittel-European hotel where a train has been snowed in, the plot kicks into gear: a very nice old lady (Dame May Whitty) suddenly disappears in mid-train ride. Worse, the young woman (Margaret Lockwood) who'd befriended her can't find anybody to confirm that the lady ever actually existed. Luckily, suave gadabout Michael Redgrave is at the ready--to say nothing of two English cricket fans, brought to memorable life by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne. The film bops along briskly, borne along on the charm of the players and the witty script by expert craftsman Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat (who also did the delightful Green for Danger and the St. Trinian's films), to say nothing of Hitchcock's healthy sense of humor about the whole thing--indeed, it may be the most "British" of his films. --Robert Horton
On the DVD
This two-disc package is the second time Lady has been issued by Criterion, and features a (visually and aurally) improved transfer of the film. It retains a commentary from the earlier release, but adds tasty extras: a half-hour documentary from Leonard Leff (standard stuff, but a nice intro to Hitchcockian ideas), plus a 10-minute audio excerpt from Francois Truffaut's legendary book-length interview with Hitch. This is not only a good way to hear Hitchcock on The Lady Vanishes, it's a fascinating ringside seat at an important moment in film history. And then there's Crook's Tour, a fun 1941 feature comedy vehicle for Charters and Caldicott, the two characters played by Radford and Wayne (they'd been such a hit in The Lady Vanishes that audiences demanded more of them, leading to a long-term teaming in film and radio). All good--but Lady itself is the ride you'll be returning to again and again. --Robert Horton
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Some men are able to see their way around Time's corners better than others. In 1888 Nietszche foresaw the catastrophic wars of the 20th century writing, "All the mighty worlds of the ancient order of society are blown into space--for they are all based on lies: there will be wars the like of which have never been seen on earth before." Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is; Revised Edition (Penguin Classics). Winston Churchill, another man of vision, foresaw the coming devastation declaring before World War I, "A European war can only end in the ruin of the vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and exhaustion of the conquerors...The wars of peoples will be more terrible than those of kings." Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill. America's General Patton predicted the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor in a report prepared in 1937.
Hitchcock also had this visionary gift and it is on full display in his English masterpiece, The Lady Vanishes. Hitchcock had a talent for turning the dross of literary pulp fiction sources into cinematic gold.
The Lady Vanishes is a Romantic espionage thriller that was made in 1938 just as Peace itself was about to vanish from the face of Europe. This was the year of Chamberlain's infamous appeasement in Munich which doomed Czechoslovakia to seven years of ruthless Nazi domination. Most of the action of the film takes place in the fictional mountainous country of Bandrika. An avalanche has stranded the mostly English characters in a picturesque mountain resort. Most of the natives seem friendly, but Mandrika has a propaganda minister and people have a nasty habit of disappearing.
Soon the characters, forming a microcosm of English society, are gathered on a train hurtling through the winter chill. The young and beautiful heroine, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) and Gilbert, her musicologist love interest, encounter a sinister Dr. Egon Hartz (Paul Lukas) who tends to spout Freudian psycho-babble.
"Miss Froy" (Dame May Whitty) is the elderly, but surprisingly spry governess, who "vanishes" from the train. There is far more to Miss Froy than her mundane appearance suggests. She is, in fact, a British spy who carries in her head a musical tune which contains a vital secret code. The code contains information about a secret pact between two nations. This code must reach those in Whitehall but Miss Froy mysteriously vanishes from the train. The Hitchcockian "MacGuffin" in this film, therefore, anticipates the Nazi-Soviet pact that shocked in the world when it was announced in 1939.
The Lady Vanishes is not an espionage film in the misogynistic Ian Fleming / James Bond mould. Rather than a martini-swilling man with a gun, Hitchcock's espionage hero is a little old lady with a tune. This represents a far more accurate portrayal of the enormous contribution that female intelligence agents would soon make in helping to win the Second World War. Bletchley Park where the Allies decrypted the Nazi codes was largely run by women. Churchill referred to the women of Bletchley Park as being "the geese who laid the golden eggs, but did not cackle." Nor was this a Churchillian exaggeration; the Ultra secret of the Allies decryption efforts did not emerge until the 1970s. Violette Szabo was another of example of many women who served in the SOE (Strategic Operations Executive) behind enemy lines and paid the ultimate price. Julia Child worked for the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the war.
Hitchcock's vision was not only accurate, it was decidedly Conservative as well. Hitchcock was an observant Roman Catholic who had a deep conviction about original sin. The primary victim in Psycho, played by Janet Leigh, is also a thief.
Hitchcock reveals a thoroughly Conservative skepticism about the nature of politics and politicians. Miss Froy coyly declares "You shouldn't judge any country by its politics. We English are quite honest by nature." The source of life's main joys are based on personal relationships and NOT ideology or political conviction.
There is this exchange between the villainous Dr Egon Hartz and Gilbert:
"l am Dr Egon Hartz of Prague.You may have heard of me.
-Not the brain specialist?
You went to England to operate on one of our cabinet ministers...?
-Did you find anything?
-A slight cerebral contusion.
-That's better than nothing."
In his personal life, Alfred Hitchcock was as conventionally heterosexual as Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty. The symbolism of a train entering a tunnel in the concluding scene of North By Northwest is unmistakable. Hitchcock's romantic thrillers were, in fact, the aphrodisiacs of their time. How many baby boomers around the world were conceived after their parents had viewed one of Hitchcock's films?
Yet Hitchcock's attachment to traditional values did not make him a homophobe in any way. He would later cast Anthony Perkins in the title role of Psycho. In The Lady Vanishes two Englishmen, (Charters and Caldicott), both terrified of women, are, arguably, the happiest couple in the film. The sympathetic portrayal of a "gay" cricket-obsessed couple becomes the comic highlight of this film. When the chips are down, these men prove to be patriotic Englishmen who do not hesitate to use force to defend themselves. The Charters and Caldicott characters clearly foreshadow the role that the homosexual Alan Turing would soon play in decryption technology and the development of computing at Bletchley Park. The British government's beastly treatment of Turing after the war offers further confirmation of Hitchcock's Conservative view that government is filled with "empty-headed" cabinet ministers.
The climactic conclusion of The Lady Vanishes reveals Hitchcock as a patriotic Englishmen who was justifiably anxious about his country in 1938. On later emigrating to Hollywood, he would become a patriotic American (consider North by Northwest and Topaz).
The path of appeasement which Chamberlain charted at Munich in the same year that this film was released is decisively rejected by Hitchcock. The faithless Mr. Todhunter (Cecil Parker) represents those in Britain who were drawn to appeasement. After the train is halted a gun battle breaks out between the English passengers and the Bandrikan police led by Dr Hartz. Todhunter declares, "l won't be a party to this sort of thing. l don't believe in fighting." Significantly, the word "Tod" means "death" in German and Todhunter races to his own destruction.
Ironically, the gayest character in Hitchcock's oeuvre, (Caldicott played by Naunton Wayne) rebukes Todhunter, "Pacifist? Won't work. Christians tried it and got thrown to the lions." Charters and Caldicott bear some striking similarities to the contemporary gay Conservative artists Gilbert and George.
Todhunter, an adulterer, bolts from the train and is shot by the Mandrikan police while waving the white flag of surrender.
It is clear from The Lady Vanishes that Hitchcock foresaw an "avalanche" of bad political news headed Britain's way in 1938. English democracy would be forced to confront the menace of fascism which sought its destruction. Some of those in Britain's diverse and free society would be tempted by the false lure of pacifism.
Finally, Alfred Hitchcock was a visionary artist with a Conservative temperament who foresaw...
1) The coming war or "vanishing" peace.
2) The vital role that would be played by women in the intelligence services. Maya (Jessica Chastain) in Zero Dark Thirty is a direct descendent of Hitchcock's Miss Froy.
3) The contribution of gay English patriots to the cause of freedom (Alan Turing).
4) The folly of appeasement, pacifism and isolationism.
5) The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 (Molotov - Ribbentrop agreement).
Viewers of The Lady Vanishes will also enjoy America Invades: How We've Invaded or been Militarily Involved with almost Every Country on Earth by Kelly / Laycock and Italy Invades
Based on the novel, "The Wheel Spins", by Ethel Lina White, THE LADY VANISHES has a girl (Margaret Lockwood), who befriends an old woman (Dame May Whitty) on a train. When her new friend mysteriously disappears, the girl is surprised to find that the other people aboard deny ever seeing her. The only one who believes the girl's story is a young folklorist (Michael Redgrave), and the two set out to search for the old woman. One of the passengers is a doctor (Paul Lukas), who turns out to be a key figure in the old woman's disappearance.
THE LADY VANISHES is one of Hitchcock's most thoroughly delightful films combining equal parts cheerful romance, comic wit, and thrilling suspense. It all clicks in time to the rhythm of the train speeding along its track. The film also accurately conveys - though not too overtly - the political climate of a pre-war Europe. This balances the lighter tone of the story with an ominous premonition of what was looming on the world's horizon in 1938.
Criterion's latest Blu-ray of THE LADY VANISHES is up to par with what we've come to expect from them. Transferred off a 35mm composite fine-grain master positive, the film's density is restored so that details are clear and whites don't burn out. It makes watching this vintage classic a very enjoyable experience - I can't seem to put it back on the shelf.
The packaging and extra features are the same as Criterion's DVD from a few years ago. You get a commentary by historian Bruce Eder, a bonus feature, CROOK'S TOUR (1941), excerpts from Francois Truffaut's 1962 audio interview with Hitchcock, a video essay by Hitchcock scholar Leonard Leff, a stills gallery, and a booklet with essays by Geoffrey O'Brien and Charles Barr.
THE LADY VANISHES is an essential title in the Hitchcock canon, and this pristine edition is highly recommended for fans of the director and lovers of classic cinema alike.
This Hitchcock movie is based on the book "The Wheel Spins", by Ethel Lina White. It is fun to read the base story to compare to the movie.
One may complain or praise the presentation media yet the bottom line is that once you start to watch the movie that all becomes secondary to the story and the acting.
I will not go through the whole story as the fun is watching it unfold or maybe not unfold fast enough. I think that is called suspense.
Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) a vacationer is stuck in a hotel waiting for a train that is blocked by an avalanche. There she forms an adversarial friendship with a traveling musician (Michael Redgrave.)
When the train finally gets underway Iris who is hit on the heads by an accident is being looked after by Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty). When Miss Froy goes missing on a moving train, nobody remembers her ever being there. Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas) explains that with a bump on the head you can imagine all kinds of people. Gilbert her new musician friend tries to placate her and he may be her only link to sanity as he helps her in her search for the missing Mrs. Fry.
We to are sure that there is a Mrs. Froy and take part in the search.
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