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Movie Review: Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Although I do my best to keep up with contemporary cinema, I also adore the classics -- especially anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is hard to appreciate the film world without a full understanding of where things come from. For instance, I was talking to a young man about the movie Disturbia. I found it to be very "disturbia" that he had no idea this was a modernized version of Hitchcock's Rear Window. One might be prone to think that Disturbia is more original than it is. And how can you survive in the world without knowing the works of Hitchcock?

The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 black and white picture from Hitchcock's British period. It has many of the trademarks of a Hitchcock picture. We have secrets, affairs, women who fall in love with a man they initially detest, espionage, spies, quirky dialogue, and humor.

After an avalanche, train travellers are stranded at an Alpine resort. We meet our main cast: Ms. Froy, a kindly old governess, Iris Henderson, a young socialite going home to marry a man she doesn't love, and Gilbert Redman, an obnoxious musician who isn't afraid to say what he really thinks. There are also minor characters that will reappear later on the train that is the main setting of our story. Iris and Gilbert meet when Iris hears a loud thumping noise and obnoxious music while she is trying to get some sleep. It's Gilbert, playing tunes for a band of merry dancers. Of course, she wants him to stop making so much noise but he refuses, causing her upper society snobbery to come out. This is all setting up the love-hate relationship they have for the duration of the movie. Ms. Froy and Iris meet out in the hallway. They seem to be pleasant to each other.

It's not until the next day when Iris gets chucked on the head with a flowerpot meant for Ms. Froy that the two become connected. Ms. Froy helps Iris onto the train and promises to take care of her. They have a nice cup of tea and Iris takes a nap. When she wakes up Ms. Froy is gone! What's more aggravating is that all of the people on the train tell her they never saw Ms. Froy, when we know they did. Why are they all lying? Some of them have harmless reasons; others sinister.

The movie is at its best when Iris is looking for Ms. Froy. The tension continues to build as she has person after person telling her she must have imagined it due to the object that dropped on her head. Maybe she's brain damaged. Iris insists she's not. It is Gilbert who becomes her ally and seems to be the only one who tries to help her. The tension between these two characters is delicious and fun.

This movie keeps you guessing and is loads of fun. My favorite side characters on the train are the pair of British men who only want to get home to watch the cricket match. Is that so much to ask? You will really enjoy this movie. There are nuns with high heels, magic tricks, lots of tea, and a secret code written in a song.


Jodi said…
I am enjoying your blog very much. I thought about using some old Hitchcock and Noir films for Teen Summer reading YNK programs; but am afraid my teens will be bored to death. Probably never heard of Rear Window either. I am a Young Adult Services librarian at Durham County Library here in NC. Here is a link to my DCL wiki page which I will continue to add to as time permits. Enjoy.

alexgirl said…
Oooh, I LOVE The Lady Vanishes. I'm such a sucker for Hitchcock. He was just so absolutely brilliant. And he never looked through the camera lens! He just set up shots and discussed them with the DP and that was that. Great review. I think I need a Hitchcock marathon. Have you seen Suspicion? That's another great, lesser known one.
zee said…
Hey Alex,
I've seen practically every Hitchcock, I am happy to say. Suspicion is that one where the wife is sure her husband, Cary Grant, is a murderer, yes? It's not one of my favorites, but it's still good.

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