The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938, UK)

  The Lady Vanishes was the film that launched Alfred Hitchcock’s American career. A major success, the film garnered the attention of producer David O. Selznick, who soon brought Hitchcock under contract in the United States. At the time of its release, The Lady Vanishes was the most successful British film ever to be released in the US. Two rather minor characters in the film (Caldicott and Charters) proved so popular that they would go on to star in a number of films, including Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich.

Clearly inspired by Agatha Christie’s cozy mysteries, in particular Murder on the Orient Express, The Lady Vanishes is adapted from Ethel White’s 1936 novel The Wheel Spins. I have not read The Wheel Spins, but Hitchcock apparently made significant changes to the source material. The film is about an English tourist, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), who discovers that an older woman she has been traveling with – Miss Froy (May Whitty) – has vanished. She tries to find her with the help of another passenger, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave). Hitchcock, well used to the lower budgets of British films at this point, makes maximum use of the film’s confined sets – almost the entire film takes place on the train car. Still the film is remarkably dynamic and exciting, due in great measure to the chemistry between Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. They really do feel like two young people getting in over their heads.

The film has clear references to the political situation at the time. The film ends in a standoff, wherein the British passengers on the train are trying to avoid a conflict with the implicitly German troops which have captured their train car. The lawyer who surrenders with a white flag is quickly gunned down, critiquing British appeasement of Germany. 


8/10  

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