|THE LADY VANISHES (1998)|
Dame May Whitty
|"I'm about as popular as a dose of strychnine."|
|Time: 95 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Being a big Hitchcock fan, I've been looking forward to watching this film, since it's considered one of the best he made before moving to America. I was not disappointed. Though not as polished as some of his later works the town and train set are obviously models the plot still kept me glued to my seat. Not only is it a wonderful film filled with suspense, it just wouldn't be Hitchcock without a liberal dose of comedy, romance and adventure thrown in. Though most of the action takes place on a train, the film never feels confined. In fact, it adds to the excitement. After all, how can someone disappear from a moving train? Though I was generally one step ahead of the characters in solving the mystery, I still enjoyed every minute of their sleuthing. Hitchcock gives the audience a perfectly silly reason for thinking Mrs. Froy (the lady who disappears) was done in, but I still believed it anyway. That's why he's the master. You just assume it's going to be explained later on. It's only when the film is over you realize it's the MacGuffen.
THE LADY VANISHES starts out kind of slowly, opening in a small European hotel filled with travelers stranded until the next train arrives the following morning. All are on their way back to England, which is on the brink of WWII. As the evening progresses, you meet the cast of characters Iris Henderson (Lockwood), a pretty English girl returning to London to marry a man she doesn't love; Mrs. Froy (Whitty), an elderly governess; Gilbert Redman (Redgrave), a saucy musician who's writing a book about ancient folk dances; Mr. and "Mrs." Todhunter (Parker & Travers), an adulterous couple posing as honeymooners; and Caldicott (Wayne) and Charters (Radford), two die-hard cricket fans who are desperate to get back to Manchester for the big game. Iris and Mrs. Froy meet in the hallway after being awakened by a horrible stomping noise coming from the room above them. Iris tries to have Gilbert thrown out, but he retaliates by planting himself in her room and threatening to tell everyone she invited him in. In an effort to avert scandal, she gets him his room back.
The next morning everyone rushes to the train, thankful to get out before it's too late. Iris's friends try to convince her she doesn't have to marry, but she's adamant. She's already done everything else. It's time to settle down. While getting on the train, she meets up with Mrs. Froy again who needs help with her luggage. Iris lends a hand only to get knocked on the head with a flowerpot that falls off a nearby second story windowsill. She tries to brush off her injury, but it does make her a bit woozy. Mrs. Froy insists they sit together so she can look after Iris and implores her to rest a little. Once she awakens they have tea in the dining car, where they encounter the "honeymooners" and the cricket fans. They return to their seats and Iris rests her eyes again. Only this time when she wakes up, Mrs. Froy is gone and everyone she talks to claims not to have ever seen her. She causes a scene, not about to rest until she discovers what happened to her friend.
In her initial search of the train, she runs into Gilbert, who offers to help, though he's not sure he believes her. She also meets a renowned brain surgeon who tries to convince her that her head injury is causing her to see things. Iris is sure she's right, that Mrs. Froy does exist and is on the train, but she gets no help from her fellow Englishmen who merely want to be left alone. When no one gets off at the first stop only a severely injured patient of Dr. Hartz gets on Iris begins to doubt herself. However a discovery of one of Mrs. Froy's possessions, brings Gilbert fully on board. It's clearly apparent to both Iris and Gilbert, that something horrible has happened to Mrs. Froy and it's up to them to save her life...if it's not already too late. With their lives on the line, and a little romance heating up, they turn the train upside down and uncover the mystery of their missing friend. Unfortunately, that's only the beginning of their troubles.
What occurs next is a fabulous tale of murder, intrigue and romance. Heroes are created and not everyone survives. What helps make this film more fun is the darkly comic comments by the cricket fans and the sexual tension between Lockwood and Redgrave. The cast is perfect and plays their roles with gusto. The ending gets a little ridiculous, until you're let in on the film's secret the real reason Mrs. Froy was kidnapped. You'll wonder why you didn't think of it earlier, but why should you? Hitchcock plays the first 2/3's of the film as a tale of potential madness. Is Iris crazy? Did she make the whole thing up? You never know with Hitch. Lockwood and Redgrave are wonderful together, playing off each other perfectly. Dame Mae Whitty is the perfect innocent old lady. THE LADY VANISHES may take place on a train, but it manages to be thoroughly exciting and dangerous. It's a great, suspenseful diversion for those of you who don't mind your films in black and white. It's not the best Hitchcock film, but it's definitely in the Top 10.