Starting to get back on track, we return to what is becoming my favorite collection from Mills Creek. Today we get another early movie from Hitchcock, which means it should be good. So looking at this movie, it seems to be another mystery on a train movie. I feel like I should be watching this during a thunderstorm in order to get the appropriate atmosphere going for this movie but I guess the early, pre-dawn hours will have to do. So let’s see how good today’s movie, The Lady Vanishes, really is.
The plot: At an inn in the country of Bandrika, the manager announces that the trains are delayed due to an avalanche and the crowd rushes to try and reserve a room. As everyone tries to get a room, the manager leaves his post to attend to Iris Henderson, an English playgirl who is touring across Europe with two of her friends. When he returns, he goes about renting out the rest of the rooms, with two men (Charters and Caldicott) being forced to room in the maid’s quarters. Later, Charters and Caldicott head downstairs to get some food only to find that there is no food and they meet Miss Foley, a governess who has been living in the country for 6 years but is returning to England since her charges have grown up. Miss Froy heads to her room, where she listens to a street musician playing outside her window. When a loud ruckus is heard coming from the room upstairs, both Iris and Miss Froy are bothered by it and Iris calls the manager to complain. The manager heads up to the room, where a musician named Gilbert is performing and having some people dance but Gilbert refuses to stop so the manager ends up kicking Gilbert out of his room. Gilbert heads down to Iris’ room and begins making himself comfortable, saying it is payment for her kicking him out of his room and Iris calls the manager and has him give Gilbert his room back. Meanwhile, Miss Froy goes back to listening to the folk singer and tosses a coin to him and goes to sleep, just as the singer is killed. The next day, Iris is saying goodbye to her friends when Miss Froy approaches asking if she has seen her bag. When Miss Froy walks away, Iris notices she dropped her glasses and goes to hand them back to her when someone pushes a flower pot off a window sill, intending to hit Miss Froy but it hits Iris instead. Miss Froy helps Iris onto the train and after getting settled in their compartment, they go to get some tea, passing by a lawyer named Todhunter and his mistress. After arriving at the dining car, the two introduce themselves and when their tea arrives, ask Charters and Caldicott for the sugar. Returning to the compartment, Iris goes to sleep for a while and when she wakes up, finds Miss Foley is gone and the other passengers in the compartment say that there was nobody there. Iris goes looking for Miss Froy and runs into Gilbert, who decides to help her. As they look about the train, they run into Dr. Egon Hartz, a noted brain surgeon, and he believes that Iris is suffering from a concussion related hallucination. When Iris and Gilbert asks Todhunter, Caldicott, and Charters if they remember seeing Miss Froy, they all reply no, with Todhunter not wanting to be involved in a scandal while with his mistress and Caldicott and Charters not wanting to delay the train for fear of missing a cricket match. When a woman wearing the same clothing as Miss Fory is sitting in her compartment, Iris starts to believe everyone is right about her imagining Miss Froy but as she is at the dining car with Gilbert, she remembers the special tea Miss Froy gave the server to fix for them earlier and sees where Miss Froy wrote her name on the window and demands they search the train, pulling on the emergency brake to stop the train before she passes out. When she comes too, Gilbert speaks with her and says that he believes her as he saw the box of tea she mentioned as the wait staff was throwing it away. They continue searching and end up in the baggage compartment, where they learn that the man riding in Iris’ compartment is a magician named Signor Doppo. When they find Miss Froy’s glasses, they are attacked by Signor but manage to knock him out and place him in a trunk only to find that it was part of his props and he managed to escape. Unsure as to who they can trust, they go to see Dr. Hartz but Gilbert suspects that the bandaged patient is actually Miss Froy. They start to remove the bandages but are stopped by Hartz, who asks to speak with them in the dining car. As they leave, Hartz tells one of his co-conspirators, who is disguised as a nun, to give some drugs to the server so he can spike their drinks. After having some drinks with Hartz, he leads them back to his compartment and reveals that the patient is Miss Froy and she will be taken off the train at the next stop and taken to a hospital, where she will die while undergoing surgery. Iris passes out, with Gilbert soon following, and Hartz leaves the compartment but Gilbert reveals that he faked falling asleep. After waking up Iris, Gilbert makes his way along the outside of the train to get into the other compartment, where the fake nun reveals that the patient is Miss Froy and that she chose not to drug them as she was standing up for her fellow countrywoman. As Gilbert frees Miss Froy, the imposter walks in and they quickly subdue her and then wrap her face in order to fool Hartz. Gilbert and Miss Froy head back to Hartz’s compartment and they quickly hide Miss Froy while Gilbert and Iris go back to faking being asleep. When the train stops, the “patient” is unloaded but Hartz discovers that it is the fake Miss Froy, then has the fake nun get back on the train, while he goes and speaks with some police, who uncouple some of the cars and divert the train to a branch line. Gilbert realizes what happened and goes to tell the others what is going on. The others don’t believe her but when they find the fake nun tied up, and the train stopping in the middle of a forest, they start to believe them. When a soldier boards the train and says that he is there to take them to the border, the fake nun whispers to Gilbert and he knocks the soldier out and takes his gun. When Hartz orders them to surrender, Gilbert fires back at them and Charters ends up getting shot in the hand. Miss Froy tells Gilbert and Iris that she is a spy and has Gilbert memorize a tune, which she says is a code, then escapes out the other side of the train. As Gilbert and Caldicott go to commandeer the locomotive and get the train moving again, Todhunter attempts to surrender but is shot and killed. Gilbert and Caldicott get the train moving and Hartz and the soldiers follow after it, hoping to stop it before they switch the lines. The soldier Gilbert knocked out holds Iris, Charters, and Todhunter’s mistress hostage in order to prevent them from switching the tracks, but the fake nun is able to sneak off the train and make the switch, then Gilbert and Caldicott help her back onto the train as they make it across the border. The group eventually make it back to London but Charters and Caldicott are heart-broken to learn that the cricket match is cancelled. Meanwhile, Iris is searching the station for her fiance, Charles, as Gilbert is saying goodbye but when she sees Charles, Iris decides to jump into Gilbert’s cab to avoid him and Gilbert proceeds to kiss her. Heading to the Foreign Office, Gilbert suddenly forgets the tune that Miss Froy taught him and as he tries to remember it, they hear it being played on a piano and enter the office to see Miss Froy playing the piano and the three have a joyful reunion.
The Lady Vanishes met with high praise from the critics, holding a certified fresh rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “One of Alfred Hitchcock’s last British films, this glamorous thriller provides an early glimpse of the director at his most stylishly entertaining.” The supporting characters of Charters and Caldicott were so popular in the movie, that they wound up appearing in several other movies, with the same actors playing them. This would wind up being Hitchcock’s last British movie until the 1970’s, as he would move to Hollywood shortly after this movie was released.
This was an absolutely fantastic movie to watch. The acting was really good, with Margaret Lockwood (Iris), Michael Redgrave (Gilbert), and Dame May Whitty (Miss Foley) doing great jobs in their roles. I also liked Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford, who made for some funny comedic interludes with their portrayals of Caldicott and Charters respectively. The story was good, with a great sense of mystery and intrigue, along with some good comedy interjected every now and then. I liked how Hitchcock showed off some of the passengers self serving interests for saying they didn’t remember Miss Foley. However, there was one plot hole that never really got resolved; that being what happened with the soldier holding Iris and the others hostage as they headed for the border, because you never see what happens there. There weren’t any special effects in this movie as it relied solely on the mood and dialogue to carry the movie, which was honestly all this movie needed. Again, this is a fantastic movie and definitely one that is worth watching.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5