PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
English tourist Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) arrives at the “Gasthof Petrus” inn in the fictitious country of Bandrika, “one of Europe’s few undiscovered corners”. Iris is returning to Britain to marry a “blue-blooded cheque chaser”, but an avalanche has blocked the railway line. The stranded passengers are forced to stay the night at the inn, including Charters and Caldicott, cricket enthusiasts who want to return to England to see the last days of the Test match.
That evening, Iris complains about loud folk music coming from the room above her. She has Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), the guilty musician, thrown out of his room, only to have him move into hers, forcing her to capitulate.
Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), a former governess and music teacher, listens to a tune performed by a folk singer under her window. Unseen by her, the singer is killed.
The next morning, before catching the train, Iris is hit on the head by a planter apparently aimed at Miss Froy, who then helps Iris onto the train. Also on board are Charters and Caldicott, Gilbert, and a lawyer named Todhunter and his mistress “Mrs. Todhunter”. As a result of her injury, Iris blacks out. After the train is moving, Iris wakes up in a compartment with Miss Froy and several strangers. She joins Miss Froy in the dining car for tea. Unable to be heard above the train noise, the elderly lady writes her name on the window with her finger. Soon after, they return to their compartment, where Iris falls asleep.
When Iris awakens, Miss Froy has vanished. The strangers in her compartment say they know nothing about an English lady. Even Todhunter in the next compartment, who spoke with Miss Froy earlier, pretends not to remember her. Iris searches, but cannot find her. She meets up with Gilbert, who agrees to help. Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas), a brain surgeon, says Iris may be suffering from concussion-related hallucinations. Charters and Caldicott also claim not to remember Miss Froy, because they are afraid a delay would make them miss the cricket match.
Another lady appears, dressed exactly like Miss Froy, but Iris and Gilbert continue to search. They are attacked by a knife-wielding magician, Signor Doppo. They start to suspect that Dr. Hartz’s patient, whose face is covered by bandages, is Miss Froy. Dr. Hartz tells his fellow conspirator, dressed as a nun, to kill the couple; convinced they will soon be dead, he admits to being involved in the conspiracy. The false nun does not follow Hartz’s instructions out of loyalty to her fellow countrywoman; Gilbert and Iris escape, free Miss Froy and replace her with one of the conspirators.
When the train stops near the border, Dr. Hartz discovers the switch. He has part of the train diverted onto a branch line, where soldiers await. Gilbert and Iris inform their fellow passengers what is happening. When the train pulls to a stop, a uniformed soldier requests that they all accompany him. Todhunter attempts to surrender, waving a white handkerchief, and is shot dead. Another soldier fires and wounds Charters in the hand.
During the gunfight, Miss Froy reveals to Gilbert and Iris that she is a British agent who must deliver a message to the Foreign Office in Whitehall. The message is encoded in the tune that the folk singer sang. Gilbert memorises the tune. With his help, Miss Froy slips away into the forest. Gilbert and Caldicott then commandeer the locomotive, and the group escape across the border.
In London, Charters and Caldicott discover the Test Match was cancelled. Iris jumps into a cab with Gilbert in order to avoid her fiancé, and Gilbert kisses her. They arrive at the Foreign Office, but Gilbert is unable to remember the vital tune. Then he hears the melody on the piano; they are joyfully reunited with Miss Froy
I guess I am stuck in a late 30s time warp, because The Lady Vanishes was released the year after Gone with the Wind. I was introduced to this film through a random mention in my rewatching of Hitchcock last week. Not really knowing what to expect, other than Hitchcock mastery, I figured why not give this a shot. Was the gamble worth it?
What is this about?
Traveling aboard a train, young Iris is alarmed when an acquaintance suddenly vanishes, and all the other passengers deny having ever seen the woman.
What did I like?
Music, maestro, please. Being a musician and a band nerd, it warms my heart to see the use of music and instruments in films that aren’t specifically music related. Newsflash, people play other instruments besides guitar, piano, drums, and members of the string family. Personally, I would have preferred for the instrument in question to be a trumpet (personal bias), a clarinet works (and made the little woman happy).
Comedic elements. As with most Hitchcock flicks, there is a subtle element of humor that is apparent. Obviously, there are these two British guys who want to do nothing more than find out what’s going on with the cricket match until they can get to it. However, there are also little jokes here and there throughout the film. I missed them, but a friend of mine who is more familiar with British humor picked up on the jokes. So, I guess if you’re into British humor, you’ll get the jokes. Maybe if I wasn’t eating Thanksgiving dinner, I’d have caught more of them.
Suspense. Alfred Hitchcock was known as the master of horror and suspense. He puts those skills on full display with this project as the audience is on pins and needles wondering what happened to the lady that just suddenly disappeared. Was she a ghost? A figment of our imaginations? Perhaps she did exist and something happened to her and, if that was the case, how long until the same thing happens to the rest of the passengers. Those kind of thoughts go through your head, making this a much more chilling film than you would expect.
What didn’t I like?
British. If I’m not mistaken, this is the last British film Hitchcock made before coming to Hollywood. As you can expect when one knows they are off to bigger and better things, work tends to show that level of care and craftsmanship decrease and you prepare for the next step. I can’t really comment on pre-Hollywood Hitchcock films, since I haven’t seen them, but this film feels like it is relying on the British nationalism to push it over the hump and cover up that this is not as fine a film as Hitchcock’s reputation would have you believe it is. Maybe that’s just me, though.
Not a western. For once, I have found an old film hard to relate to, not because it is old, in black and white, or has anything that is specifically outdated, but because of the train. Let me elaborate on that real quick. I had no issue with films set on trains such as Some Like it Hot, which has a good portion of its scenes on a train but, for me, when I see a train, I immediately shift into thinking about westerns and train robbers. So, in some weird way, I couldn’t help but with this was a western. Maybe I just need to go watch one and then come back and see if my opinion on this has changed.
Hotel. I must question the inner workings of this hotel. How is it that you don’t have enough rooms for everyone? Understandably, it is a small town that no one really goes to and the avalanche stretched them thin, but one would expect there should be a contingency plan, right? Maybe I’m just being too nitpicky, but I just didn’t understand why there weren’t enough rooms, especially since most of these people had just checked out of the hotel! No way could it have filled back up that quickly. Sure, the people who were on the train already needed rooms, but everyone else should have just been able to go back to the room they just check out of.
What a Thanksgiving treat, huh? Stuffing my face and watching a Hitchcock masterpiece, The Lady Vanishes. The problem is, I don’t believe I liked this as much as I should have. I felt no connection to the film or its characters. Sure, it had its moments of suspense and bits and pieces of things kept me interested, but I found myself wanting this flick to hurry up and end before I fell asleep. Now, it is possible that is because I wanted to see how my Cowboys were doing or it could be the result of all the food I have been scarfing down, but my opinion of this leans more toward not recommending it. However, I realize that this is a Hitchcock classic. Knowing how I am, his films usually take more than one viewing to get the actual opinion. I hated Psycho when I first saw it and now its one of my all-time faves. So, with that in mind, I say watch this and then at some later point in time come back and give it another shot and see what you ultimately think.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars