The Lady Vanishes

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #3: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.

I’d not heard of this Hitchcock film, which he made while he was still based in Britain, ba­si­cally to fin­ish out a con­tract with a film com­pany as far as I can tell. The Criterion Collection bills it as a ro­man­tic comedy/​thriller, which aren’t my fa­vorite gen­res, but I still ended up en­joy­ing this movie, mainly for the Britishness of the hu­mor, if not for the thriller as­pects or the ro­mance.

This is an­other film that was re­leased on the cusp of World War II and this one is full of not-so sub­tle po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary on British in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. Several times British politi­cians are called brain­less and lots of comic ef­fect is de­rived from two men who are con­stantly con­cerned with “the sit­u­a­tion in England” by which they mean a cricket match, a bar­ris­ter is also shot in the back — which seems to be the writer’s and director’s way of pun­ish­ing him for be­ing a cow­ard. I prob­a­bly missed other ob­vi­ous in­sin­u­a­tions that weren’t ob­vi­ous to me be­cause I’m 67 years out of con­text and not British. All of this seems a bit out of place by the end of the movie, when we dis­cover that there is a se­cret mes­sage that needs de­liv­er­ing to the Foreign Office.

There are plenty of plot twists to keep a viewer in­ter­ested and we find out who the vil­lain is be­fore the heros do. This sim­ple twist struck me as a mas­ter­ful use of plot de­vice to re­ju­ve­nate the mo­men­tum of a film that ba­si­cally con­sists of run­ning from one end of a train to the other again and again. But as I said be­fore, the hu­mor kept me go­ing. The two men who only care about the cricket match are calm and col­lected un­der fire. One of them gets shot in the hand and pre­tends it is noth­ing but merely asks to bor­row his buddy’s hand­ker­chief. His buddy keeps the straight-man act go­ing by say­ing “think noth­ing of it.” The ro­mance is pretty un­der­scored com­pared to what you’re go­ing to see in con­tem­po­rary ro­mance sto­ries, the sud­den face-suck­ing at the end caught me a bit by sur­prise.

I get the feel­ing that this film has lost some­thing with age. I bet it was quite stronger and dan­ger­ous in its own time. Hitchcock’s cameo comes ex­actly an hour and a half into the film in the hus­tle and bustle of Victoria Station. The on-train con­spir­acy strains credulity in its ap­par­ent com­plete­ness and the lengths the vil­lains go to in or­der to dis­pose of the van­ished lady are also a bit out there. Despite the skill which Michael Wilmington claims Hitchcock has used to make this a suc­cess­ful ro­man­tic comedy/​thriller I still feel like they are two gen­res that don’t taste great to­gether. But then, I’m al­ready slightly prej­u­diced against them.

Michael Wilmington’s Criterion Essay
Wikipedia en­try
The Criterion Contraption’s re­view.

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