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.