Friday, October 17, 2014

The Lady Vanishes (1938 film)

Based on the novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, The Lady Vanishes is the story of an elderly woman who suddenly disappears on a train traveling across Europe as her young companion leads an investigation. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder from a screen story by Alma Reville, the film is a mystery that explores a woman’s disappearance where a small group of people try to solve that mystery. Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, and Dame May Whitty. The Lady Vanishes is a thrilling and exciting film from Alfred Hitchcock.

The film is about an elderly woman who disappears on a traveling through Europe as her young companion tries to find her with the help of a young musician. Along the way, many claim to have not seen the old woman as there are questions into whether this young socialite is either lying or is just being crazy since she did get hit in the head by a falling object. It all plays into this mystery where it starts off at an inn where many characters are waiting for a train to arrive as much of the story takes place on this train to Europe. The film’s screenplay does have this unique structure where it begins at an inn which serves as a way to introduce the characters as it includes the socialite Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) who is engaged to be married as she finds herself annoyed by the musician Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) over the loud music he makes.

Upon meeting this governess in Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) who maybe a target for some kind of political scheme, Iris becomes attached to the old lady where they become friends. Still reeling from the falling object that hit her, Iris wonders where did Miss Froy go as people claim that they never saw her as only Gilbert believes her. Adding to this sense of mystery are an array of characters who are either oblivious to Iris’ claims or are in denial as a brain surgeon in Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas) believes that Iris is being delusional. With Gilbert aiding Iris in the investigation, he also would realize that maybe Iris isn’t lying or being delusional as he becomes a key aspect into solving the mystery of Miss Froy’s disappearance.

Alfred Hitchcock’s direction is very stylish not just for the fact that much of the film’s second and third act is set almost entirely inside a train. It’s the fact that it has this sense of ambiguity that goes on in the train about whether Iris is telling the truth or is she just being delusional due to the bump on the head she’s suffering from. Hitchcock’s direction in the first act takes place inside an inn where it is about establishing the people who are going to be onboard this train where there’s a lot of things that are happening. Even as questions into why Miss Froy is listening to some folk singer outside of her window as there’s also some funny moments involving a couple of cricket players rooming with a maid who can’t speak English or an inn servant dealing with women wearing only their underwear.

The direction has Hitchcock take great advantage of the film’s very intimate but claustrophobic feel inside the train where he uses a lot of close-ups and medium shots. Even in scene where he will shoot a certain object as it will play into the suspense as well as some of the ambiguity that occurs in the film. There’s also moments where Hitchcock will find ways to create some kind of payoff that occurs in the third act as it involves all sorts of things where some of the passengers who often appear start to play key roles in the finale. Overall, Hitchcock creates a very sensational and engaging film about a woman’s mysterious disappearance.

Cinematographer Jack Cox does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography as it‘s very straightforward with the exception of a few scenes set in the dark such as the train tunnels and at the inn at night. Editor R.E. Dearing does superb work with the sound in creating a few montages such as the effects that Iris would have from her injury as well as some rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense. Set decorator Alex Vetchinsky and art director Albert Whitcock do brilliant work with the look of the inn from the room that the cricket players were forced to stay as well as the train compartments where many of the characters are in throughout the film.

Sound recordist Sydney Wiles does nice work with the sound work from some of the layers of sound that occurs inside the train to the scene where Iris is annoyed by the music that Gilbert is playing at the inn. Music director Louis Levy brings in a wonderful mix of music ranging from folk to standards as well as some original music by Charles Williams whose orchestral score plays into some of the film‘s suspenseful moments.

The film’s marvelous cast include some notable small roles from Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as the cricket players trying not to distract themselves so they can prepare for their test match, Cecil Parker as a cowardice lawyer, Linden Travers as his mistress, Catherine Lacey as a suspicious nun, Mary Clare as a baroness who is very quiet, Philip Leaver as the magician Signor Doppo, and Emile Boreo as the overwhelmed innkeeper. Paul Lukas is excellent as the mysterious Dr. Hartz as a man who examines Iris as he believes that everything she is seeing is in her head.

Dame May Whitty is fantastic as Miss Froy as this woman who is a bit of an eccentric but also kind and witty. Michael Redgrave is brilliant as Gilbert as this musician who annoys Iris as he would help her in the investigation as he wonders if Iris really telling the truth as Redgrave brings a great sense of charm to his role. Finally, there’s Margaret Lockwood in an amazing performance as Iris as this young socialite who tries to find Miss Froy as she wonders if she is telling the truth or is losing due to a head injury as it’s a very engaging and exciting performance from Lockwood.

The Lady Vanishes is a spectacular film from Alfred Hitchcock. Armed with a great cast and a premise that definitely sells itself, the film is truly one of Hitchcock’s finest films in British studio period. Even as it’s a film that manages to play with the conventions of suspense while taking its time to let the mystery unfold itself. In the end, The Lady Vanishes is a phenomenal film from Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock Films: (Number 13) - (The Pleasure Garden) - (The Blackguard) - (The Mountain Eagle) - (The Lodger) - (A Story of the London Fog) - (The Ring) - (Downhill) - (The Farmer’s Wife) - (Easy Virtue) - (Champagne) - (The Manxman) - (Blackmail) - (Juno and the Paycock) - (Murder!) - (The Skin Game) - (Mary) - (Lord Camber’s Ladies) - (Rich and Strange) - (Number Seventeen) - (Waltzes from Vienna) - (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)) - The 39 Steps - (Secret Agent) - (Sabotage) - (Young and Innocent) - (Jamaica Inn) - (Rebecca) - (Foreign Correspondent) - (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) - Suspicion - (Saboteur) - (Shadow of a Doubt) - Bon Voyage - Lifeboat - (Spellbound) - (Notorious) - (The Paradine Cage) - Rope - (Under Capricorn) - (Stage Fright) - Strangers on a Train - I Confess - Dial M for Murder - Rear Window - To Catch a Thief - (The Trouble with Harry) - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film) - (The Wrong Man) - Vertigo - North by Northwest - Psycho - The Birds - Marnie - (Torn Curtain) - (Topaz) - (Frenzy) - (Family Plot)

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