Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lady Vanishes, The (1938)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

A suspenseful thriller where a woman begins to question her memory and whether she has imagined events and people is the focus of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 picture The Lady Vanishes. The film takes the audience on a ride questioning whether or not the events that surrounded the main character even happened or if it is all in her head, before flourishing into an all out adventure of international espionage. With the creative genius and success of Hitchcock in this feature Hollywood would come calling for the British director leading to one of the most triumphant directorial careers in all of cinema history.

The Lady Vanishes is a comedic thriller of a woman who discovers her traveling companion disappears while on a long international train ride with no trace of her even existing in the first place. While on her way home to England in a far corner of Europe the young lady Iris (Margret Lockwood) befriends a little, old lady named Miss Froy (May Whitty), but when Iris wakes up from a nap Froy is missing and everyone aboard the train claims to have never seen this Froy. Confused, Iris searches for her missing aquanitance aboard the train along with the aid of a musicologist named Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) and Dr Hartz (Paul Lukas), a brain surgeon. After coming up empty Hartz diagnosis Iris with hallucinations due to a blow to the head she suffered at the train station, an event she experiences while with Froy. Despite what the doctor says Iris and Gilbert keep looking and begin to discover clues of Froy’s existence hidden within the train, including an attack by a fellow passenger who attempts to impede their search. Iris and Gilbert deduce Dr. Hartz is the one hiding the truth of Froy’s existence, and find Froy captured, a prisoner disguised as terminal patient of his wrapped in bandages on the train. Froy is in fact a British spy and utilizes Gilbert and Iris to help her move an encoded message to her British superiors in case she does not live through a horrible gun fight between the British passengers and international enemies attempting to kill her. Froy disappears into the woods adjacent to the train while Gilbert and Iris commandeer the train to get to safety, happily reuniting in England.

The picture is a fun, fast-paced thriller sprinkled with humor that keeps the audience on their toes the entire picture. The film is filled with mystery that makes viewers question if Miss Froy was an figment of Iris’s imagination after their encounters before she disappears, turning into a suspenseful action picture as Gilbert, Iris, Froy, and the other British passengers of the train fight it out with the international soldiers that attempted to take the life of their fellow countryman and spy in Froy. Easily one of Hitchcock’s finest works to date The Lady Vanishes has excellent pace and a story that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats waiting for what happens next. Cinematically the film contains some of the finest use of minitures by Hitchcock to create sweeping shots of vistas and locations that would be impossible with actual camera moves, helping to place the setting and scenario of the story.

Redgrave, Lockwood, and Lukas, stars of the film
With a starring cast of relatively unknowns in the world of cinema, Hitchcock finds the perfect performances out of Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. Lockwood was best known for her stage work and sporadic roles in film, with this easily being her best known role. Redgrave was a complete stage star making his first appearance in a motion picture which Hitchcock would turn into a great performance, even though Redgrave would still work most prominently on the British stage. The stars would be supported by Paul Lukas’s role as the film’s villain and May Whitty’s as the object of the plot, serving as the great mystery of Miss Froy.  Whitty was actually titled a Dame in the United Kingdom for her financial rallying for her home country during the Great War. Both Lukas and Froy were steady supporting actors in Hollywood at this time easily falling into the roles just as pictured by Hitchcock with professional expertise.

The production of The Lady Vanishes would be international work between British studios and MGM, as the film failed in its first attempt to get off the ground in production under American studios alone. Once Hitchcock’s name became attached the script would be rewritten smoothing out the rough edges of the story inspired by 1936 novel The Wheel Spins, and adding the touches that makes movies so enjoyable. Upon release the film was an immediate hit in the UK and successful in the US as well, proving enough to Hollywood producers that Alfred Hitchcock was a viable talent for possible production in the states, eventually leading him across the pond to California. Hitchcock would win his only award for directing as he received an honor from the New York Film Critics for his direction on this picture.

These two side characters would prove so entertaining that they would appear in other films.
Aside for the financial success of The Lady Vanishes comes a spinoff of sorts in two films featuring two side characters for the picture. Serving primarily as side humor were characters Charters and Caldicott, depicted by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as two English cricket enthusiasts that spend much of the time chatting about the sport while the mystery goes on around them. For their highly entertaining performances, characters created specifically for the feature and not from the original novel, the two characters would be featured in two future British pictures Night Train to Munich and Crook’s End. This would be a rare instance where side characters would inspire appearances in other features.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes would be the greatest financial success in Britain up to this time and the British director would be hailed a major filmmaking talent internationally. Easily one of his top pictures to date American producers would be knocking at Hitchcock’s door to move him to Hollywood where he would set new standards in the filmmaking process. This features stands as significant step into making the man into a legend, a figure that would one day outshine the stars he directed.

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