Movie Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

lady vanishes
Seen: At the Harvard Film Archive on 35mm, part of their Complete Alfred Hitchcock retrospective.

Ok, here’s the final in my little Hitchcock trifecta, though I might catch one or two more in September. The Lady Vanishes has been on my to-see list for a while, as I’ve always heard it’s one of his best. The film begins in a small, fictional European country where visitors are currently stranded at a mountain inn during a snowstorm. When the weather clears, American socialite Iris (Margaret Henderson) hits her head on the way to the train, but a cheerful British nanny named Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) takes care of her as their journey begins. After taking a nap, Iris wakes up to find Miss Froy gone, and none of the other passengers seem to have any memory of her existence- some assume the young woman is hallucinating due to her bump on the head. Convinced Miss Froy is both real and in trouble, Iris enlists the aid of raffish British musician Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) to get to the bottom of things. Just what’s going on here on this MYSTERY TRAIN?!

Hitchcock again delights with a thriller primarily relegated to one location, here a passenger train moving fast through unfamiliar (and totally made-up) territory. Admittedly the actual plot is kind of ridiculous, with all this macguffin spy stuff that is barely explained, and while I recognized that fact immediately I was still sort of frustrated by that element of the film- like why work in this secret political relations stuff if you’re not even going to elaborate on it, at all? But really it’s just an excuse to throw these delightful characters together and see what they do in a strange and dangerous situation. The core team of Redgrave and Henderson is great, doing that sexy love-hate thing until they finally admit that they want to make out. Redgrave is eerily reminiscent of Aiden Gillen aka Littlefinger on Game of Thrones, and it kind of freaked me out how much they are the same person. Time travel? Perhaps. The real stars are gay couple Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), who are TOO ADORABLE. They just sit around talking about crickett and loving each other, and generally being too droll to handle. They, like half the cast, are so British as to be a bit of a parody.

The Lady Vanishes has a little bit of everything: excitement, romance, jokes, shootouts, mistaken identities, gaslighting, fictional foreign policies, magic, and a train! It’s fun and a little silly, but also genuinely thrilling. I loved the characters and the dialogue, though the overarching mystery is too under-developed.


Pair This Movie With: Hmm another movie with a train perhaps? Ones that come to mind include but are not limited to: The General, Transsiberian, Source Code, and Silver Streak.

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