The Lady Vanishes
Originally released in September 1938, a few days before Neville Chamberlain stepped off a plane at Heston airport waving the stationery which was to end his political career, Alfred Hitchcock’s splendidly entertaining pan-European railway caper looks and feels as fresh today as it must have back in those troubled appeasement years. This may be something to do with this lovingly restored digitised print, but it’s mostly to do with the gathered talent in what was to be Hitchcock’s guilty farewell film to his homeland before he sat out the war in Hollywood. The sparkling script was written by prolific British screenwriters Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, adapting Ethel Lina White’s novel The Wheel Spins, and Hitchcock’s consummate execution of said material is a class, largely undiminished act (some huge plot holes apart).
Beginning in a fictitious Eastern European principality (believed by many viewers in 1938 to be Austria before the Anschluss) the film follows the troubled return train journey of engaged Iris (Margaret Lockwood), the titular, elderly Miss Froy, quintessential bumbling English fools Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne) and raffish bohemian composer Gilbert (Michael Redgrave). When Miss Froy disappears and no one can remember seeing her, Iris and Gilbert come together to solve the mystery. A suspicious doctor, a nun in high heels and overweight Italian magician soon add to the mystery.
Though often dismissed as one of Hitchcock’s more lightweight films and the one least in need of analysis, The Lady Vanishes remains a witty allegory or parable of Britain in those Nazi abatement years when Blimpish complacency and ostrich tendencies were believed to be the best deterrents of war with the fascists. Indeed, the film’s beating heart can be found in the subsidiary characters of Charters and Caldicott whose journey from unimpressed English club house banter boys to revolver touting heroes is enough to warm the heart of any insouciant middle-aged well fed patriot. An absolute joy. (Paul Dale)
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 1 Feb.