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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