The Lady Vanishes

Alfred Hitchcock, UK 1938, 97 minutes

Travelling alone on a train bound for England across central Europe, our heroine (Margaret Lockwood) is befriended by a sweet old lady (Dame May Whitty). They chat and drink tea together in the elegant dining car - so far so quaint. The next day the lady, Miss Froy, is nowhere to be found but none of the other passengers seem in the least concerned and even doubt that she ever existed. Here we have the classic Hitchcock set-up, a protagonist we know is telling the truth but whom no one will believe. As the plot twists and turns, Iris (Lockwood) alternately comes close to finding the proof she needs and doubts her own recollections. Eventually, aided by ethnomusicologist-cumromantic lead, Gilbert, (Michael Redgrave) Iris uncovers a deadly web of spies, coded messages and treason.

Through the course of the film, the European setting changes from the rustic and charming (where the worst the visitor has to contend with is noisy folk dancing) to places where a real sense of menace lurks below a civilised veneer.

The smart and frequently witty script by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat is crisply delivered by a fine ensemble cast. The playful pursuit of Lockwood by Redgrave and the buffoonery of Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford (for whom the only thing that matters is getting back to England in time for the Test Match) provide a perfect foil for the film's ability to shock.

Almost the last film Hitchcock made in Britain, The Lady Vanishes has all the ingenuity and unparalleled mastery of suspense that make his Hollywood output so acclaimed and popular. It also however, has a lightness of touch and warmth of humour which his later films lack.

Review by Alison Dalzell
Taken from EUFS Programme 1997-98

Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 move to Hollywood undoubtedly altered many aspects of his film-making. General critical consensus asserts the superiority of his more 'sophisticated' American produced films (Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window) over his British based output, seeing the latter as provincial and whimsical in comparison. In order to make your own mind up, take a look at The Lady Vanishes; still managing to remain comically fresh, while Hitch lays out a plot as delightfully thick as could be wished for. How could the murder of a street singer possibly be connected to that awfuIly nice English gal? Why on earth will nobody on the train admit to ever have seen or heard of the lady in question? These mysteries become the pivotal points for Hitchcock's beautifully liquid plot development, subtly involving the viewer more and more in the intrigue.

Launder and Giliat's witty and intelligent script provides Margaret Lockwood with the scope for a wonderful performance which is complimented by an equally wonderful supporting cast, amongst whom are such typically English pre-war names as Dame May Whitty and good old Googie Withers. Clumsily re-made in 1979, the original The Lady Vanishes is easily one of Hitchcock's best British movies.

Review by Iain Harral
Taken from EUFS Programme 1994-95