The Lady Vanishes Criterion Blu-ray (Mania.com)
By:Robert T. Trate
Review Date: Monday, January 09, 2012
The Lady Vanishes (1938) marks a changing point in Alfred Hitchcock’s life. It is the second to last film in his British career. After Jamaica Inn (1939) Hitchcock would be bound for Hollywood and emerge as the King of Suspense.
The Lady Vanishes (Spine #3)opens with an avalanche marooning several travelers at an inn. Over the next twenty-four minutes Hitchcock delivers a light comedy as the audience gets to know its players. Ironically enough the title character is the first one we are shown. Our hero and heroine come in much later. Many people will find this opening twenty-four minutes almost obtrusive. Fans of Hitchcock will either embrace it or become frustrated as to where and when the McGuffin will arrive. Being that this is a Hitchcock film, we were already given it. We just never knew it during the opening title sequence.
The Lady Vanishes kicks into high gear when Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) helps Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) on to the train. Iris suffers an accidental blow to the lead. Miss Froy takes charge of her and sits with her in the dining car. After some polite introductions and chit chat about her favorite tea, Miss Froy places Iris opposite her in the passenger car, assuring the young woman that she (Miss Froy) will be there when she wakes up. When Iris does come to, however, Miss Froy is gone and a woman with her likeness sits in her place. Iris searches the entire train for Miss Froy, but she is nowhere to be found. What truly becomes perplexing is that no one remembers seeing Miss Froy with Iris or at all. The old woman has truly vanished.
Iris has quick help in the charming Gilbert (Michael Redgrave). Gilbert is the Hitchcock hero archetype who is always ready to do what’s right despite not knowing the full circumstances. The charm of The Lady Vanishes is the voyeur approach that Hitchcock brings to the audience. We know that Miss Froy does exist. The audience is also privy to each and every reason the other passengers have for not knowing about Miss Froy or truthfully acknowledging her existence. This is a journey we take with Iris and Gilbert and one that lends itself to multiple viewings.
Throughout the film there are many of the Hitchcock staples; some that would become classically associated with the filmmaker throughout his Hollywood career. What is strange is that in 1938 Hitchcock himself felt as if the audience was expecting certain elements from his stories and began to change his own approach to telling them. The biggest staple in almost all of Hitchcock’s films is not present in The Lady Vanishes. That staple being music. Here, the only music present is the McGuffin.
The Lady Vanishes is perhaps one of the greatest Hitchcock stories you have never seen. It is packed with smart characters, social commentaries, an incredible mystery, and a McGuffin that just might be so ludicrous it has to have happened. Any fan of Hitchcock will love discovering the joys of The Lady Vanishes and know that it deserves the same prestige as North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and Vertigo (1958).
The Blu-ray Experience:
An over abundance of bonus materials is now the standard for Criterion Collection DVDs and Blur-rays. Here, for The Lady Vanishes, Criterion delivers again. Film historian Bruce Eder’s commentary is an informative look on not only the film but how it relates to Hitchcock’s overall body of work. Eder lays out the archetypes for Hitchcock’s future leading men and ladies and how many of them stem from The Lady Vanishes.
Eder is quick to point out how those first twenty-four minutes might be the longest and most comedic in all of Hitchcock’s films. Everything is there for a reason but until the murder happens, albeit suddenly, we have to ask ourselves when will this story get going? A complete history and background pertaining to Michael Redgrave and Hitchcock is all discussed, too. This being Redgrave’s theatrical debut, his problems with cinema, and how Hitchcock and he couldn’t sync up their careers for another film. Eder’s discusses at length the difference between the novel and the film. What is interesting is how Hitchcock cut and added characters to keep the plot moving and added action to the script. It was the only thing missing from his film that already had everything.
Crook’s Tour is a 1941 feature-length adventure film starring Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as Charters and Caldicott, the exact same characters from The Lady Vanishes. This might seem strange but screenwriters Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder used these same characters and actors in the Night Train to Munich (1940). This wouldn’t be their final performance as these characters either. Gilliat and Launder would continue to write radio dramas/ comedies featuring these two Englishmen traveling aboard. Crook’s Tour is light piece filled with accidental espionage and adventure as Charters and Caldicott try and get home.
François Truffaut’s legendary 1962 audio interview with director Alfred Hitchcock is an interesting piece to listen to, though much of the information is redundant as it is present in Eder’s commentary and Leondard Leff’s video essay, Mystery Train. The appeal here is hearing the information first hand from the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock.
Mania Grade: A+
Blu-ray: The Lady Vanishes Criterion Blu-ray
Rating: Not Rated
Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Cecil Parker, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne
Written By: Ethel Lina White (story), Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder (screenplay)
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Distributor: Criterion Collection
Original Year of Release: 1938
Extras: commentary, Crook’s Tour, a 1941 feature-length adventure film, audio interview, video essay, Stills gallery