The Lady Vanishes (1938 film)
|The Lady Vanishes|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Produced by||Edward Black (uncredited)|
|Story by||Alma Reville (continuity)|
|Based on||The Wheel Spins
by Ethel Lina White
|Cinematography||Jack E. Cox|
|Editing by||R.E. Dearing|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||97 minutes|
The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 British comic thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty. Written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder based on the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, the film is about a beautiful English tourist travelling by train in Europe who discovers that her elderly travelling companion seems to have disappeared from the train. After her fellow passengers deny ever having seen the elderly lady, the young woman is helped by a young musicologist, and the two proceed to search the train for clues to the old woman's disappearance. The film features Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne playing the characters Charters and Caldicott, two single-minded cricket enthusiasts who are rushing back to England to see the last days of a Test match.
The Lady Vanishes is Hitchcock's penultimate film made in the United Kingdom before his move to the United States. Following three films that did not do well at the box office, the success of The Lady Vanishes confirmed the opinion of American producer David O. Selznick that Hitchcock indeed had a future in making films in Hollywood. The film remains one of Hitchcock's two or three best known British films. A remake of the film, also titled The Lady Vanishes, was made in 1979, and in March 2013 the BBC broadcast a new adaptation for television. It starred Tuppence Middleton as Iris.
A beautiful English tourist named Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) arrives back at the Gasthof Petrus inn with her two friends after a long hike, and prepares to return to Britain to marry a "blue-blooded cheque chaser" she does not love. A nearby avalanche has blocked the railway line, and Iris and her friends, as well as several other travellers, are forced to spend the night in this scenic "undiscovered corner" of Europe.[Note 1] Among the stranded tourists are two quintessential Englishmen, Charters and Caldicott—single-minded cricket enthusiasts who are rushing back to England to see the last days of the Test match. Also among the stranded are Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), an elderly former governess, and Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), a young musicologist who is studying the folk songs of the region.
That night, Iris complains to the innkeeper about the loud folk music and dancing coming from the room above hers. She bribes him to take care of the annoyance. Later, when the musicologist Gilbert shows up at her room after being thrown out of his own room for his loud music, Iris has little choice but to ask the innkeeper to give him back his room. Meanwhile, Miss Froy listens appreciatively to a haunting ballad performed by a folk singer beneath her window. As she closes her window, the singer is murdered by an unseen villain.[Note 2]
The next morning, as the train prepares to leave, Iris is struck on the head by a falling planter meant for Miss Froy, who helps Iris onto the train, where she faints. Also on board are Charters and Caldicott, Gilbert, and an ambitious lawyer named Mr. Todhunter and his mistress "Mrs." Todhunter. After the train pulls away, Iris wakes up in a compartment with Miss Froy and several strangers. She joins Miss Froy in the dining car for some tea. While introducing herself to Iris—unable to be heard above the train noise—the elderly lady writes her name on the window with her finger. Soon after, they return to their compartment where Iris falls asleep.
When Iris awakens, she discovers that Miss Froy has vanished. The strangers in her compartment claim to know nothing about an English lady. Even Todhunter in the next compartment, who spoke with Miss Froy earlier, pretends not to remember her—wanting to avoid any attention to his illicit affair. Iris searches the entire train, but cannot find her elderly travelling companion. During her search, she meets up with Gilbert who agrees to help her straighten things out. They encounter Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas), a brain surgeon who suggests that Iris is suffering from hallucinations caused by the blow she received to the head. Charters and Caldicott also pretend not to know about the lady—whom they met in the dining car—not wanting to delay their train back to Manchester for the Test cricket match.
With Gilbert still supporting her, Iris refuses to give up her search, even after another lady appears, dressed exactly like Miss Froy. Just as they begin to discover evidence of Miss Froy's disappearance, they are attacked by the knife-wielding magician, Signor Doppo. Later, they come to believe that Dr. Hartz's patient, whose face is covered by bandages, is in fact Miss Froy, who has been abducted for some reason. Before they can prove their theory, Dr. Hartz instructs his fellow conspirator, who is dressed as a nun, to drug the couple. Convinced they will soon be dead, he admits to being involved in the conspiracy and leaves. But the nun refused to poison them as instructed. Gilbert and Iris escape and are able to free Miss Froy and replace her with one of the conspirators.
When the train stops near the border, Dr. Hartz discovers the switch and arranges to have the train diverted to a branch line, where troops will be waiting. When Gilbert and Iris figure out what is happening, they approach their fellow passengers and inform them about the attempted abduction of Miss Froy and the danger they now all face. When the train pulls to a stop, a uniformed soldier boards the train and requests that they all accompany him to the British embassy. Gilbert knocks him unconscious, and another soldier fires and wounds Charters in the hand. During the ensuing gunfight, Miss Froy pulls Gilbert and Iris aside and reveals that she is a British agent. She instructs Gilbert to memorise a coded tune containing the vital clause of a secret pact between two European countries, and to deliver the tune back to the Foreign Office in Whitehall. After Miss Froy leaves the train, Gilbert and Caldicott are able to commandeer the locomotive and escape with their countrymen.
Back in London, as Gilbert and Iris prepare to say goodbye, Iris jumps into a cab with Gilbert in order to avoid her fiancé. Gilbert takes her in his arms and kisses her. When they arrive at the Foreign Office to deliver the coded tune to the authorities, Gilbert is not able to remember it properly. Then he hears the correct melody drifting in from an adjacent room, where they joyfully discover Miss Froy, who has made it back safely after all, playing it on the piano.
- Margaret Lockwood as Iris Henderson
- Michael Redgrave as Gilbert
- Paul Lukas as Dr. Hartz
- Dame May Whitty as Miss Froy
- Cecil Parker as Mr. Todhunter
- Linden Travers as "Mrs." Todhunter
- Naunton Wayne as Caldicott
- Basil Radford as Charters
- Mary Clare as Baroness
- Emile Boreo as Hotel Manager
- Googie Withers as Blanche
- Sally Stewart as Julie
- Philip Leaver as Signor Doppo
- Selma Vaz Dias as Signora Doppo
- Catherine Lacey as The Nun
- Josephine Wilson as Madame Kummer
- Charles Oliver as The Officer
- Kathleen Tremaine as Anna
The Lady Vanishes was originally called The Lost Lady, and young American director Roy William Neill was assigned by producer Edward Black to make it. A crew was dispatched to Yugoslavia to do background shots, but when the Yugoslav police accidentally discovered that they were not well-portrayed in the script, they kicked the crew out of the country, and Black scrapped the project. A year later, Hitchcock could not come up with a property to direct to fulfil his contract with Black, so he accepted when Black offered The Lost Lady to him. Hitchcock worked with the writers to make some changes to tighten up the opening and ending of the story, but otherwise the script did not change much.
At first, Hitchcock considered Lilli Palmer for the female lead, but went instead with Margaret Lockwood, who was at the time relatively unknown. Lockwood was attracted to the heroines of Ethel Lina White's stories, and accepted the role. Michael Redgrave was also unknown to the cinema audience, but was a rising stage star at the time. He was reluctant to leave the stage to do the film, but was convinced by John Gielgud to do so. As it happened, the film, Redgrave's first leading role, made him an international star.
The film, which was shot at studios in Islington and Shepherd's Bush, and on location in Hampshire, including at Longmoor Military Camp, was the first to be made under an agreement between Gaumont-British and MGM, in which Gaumont provided MGM with some of their Gainsborough films for release in the UK, for which MGM would pay half the production costs if MGM decided to release the film in the US. In the case of The Lady Vanishes, however, 20th Century-Fox did the American release.
The plot of Hitchcock's film differs considerably from White's novel. In The Wheel Spins, Miss Froy really is an innocent old lady looking forward to seeing her octogenarian parents; she is abducted because she knows something (without realising its significance) that would cause trouble for the local authorities if it came out. Iris' mental confusion is due to sunstroke, not a blow to the head. In White's novel, the wheel keeps spinning: the train never stops, and there is no final shoot-out. Additionally, the supporting cast differs somewhat; for instance, in the novel, the Gilbert character is Max Hare, a young English engineer building a dam in the hills who knows the local language, and there is also a modern-languages professor character who acts as Iris's and Max's interpreter who does not appear in the film. The cricket-obsessed characters Charters and Caldicott were created especially for the film and do not appear in the novel. The basic story was used again in the series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in the episode "Into Thin Air".
Alfred Hitchcock can be seen at Victoria Station, wearing a black coat and smoking a cigarette, near the end of the film. The film is the first appearance of the comedy double-act Charters and Caldicott (played by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford).
Reception and legacy 
Critical response 
When The Lady Vanishes opened in the UK it was an immediate hit, becoming the most successful British film to that date. It was also very successful when it opened in New York.
The film has retained its popularity through the years. In his review for the BBC, Jamie Russell gave the film four out of five stars, calling it a "craftily sophisticated thriller" and a "cracking piece of entertainment". In his review for BFI Screenonline, Mark Duguid wrote that the film was "arguably the most accomplished, and certainly the wittiest of Hitchcock's British films, and is up there with the best of his American work". Duguid singled out the young writing partnership of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, noting:
The story is blessed by great characters and many witty and imaginative touches, in particular the conceit by which the passengers are each given selfish motives for refusing to verify Iris' story. As well as the chemistry between the two leads, the film has some of Hitchcock's best character parts, with Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne particularly good value as the cricket obsessed Charters and Caldicott.
Awards and honors 
The Lady Vanishes was named Best Picture of 1938 by the The New York Times. In 1939, Hitchcock received the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director, the only time Hitchcock received an award for his directing.
Charters and Caldicott 
The humorous characters Charters and Caldicott proved to be so popular that they were featured in three somewhat related films that were made by other writers and directors. Night Train to Munich (1940) was the first of the three and was directed by Carol Reed. This film was also written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder and starred Margaret Lockwood (playing a different character than in "The Lady Vanishes") as well as Rex Harrison. "Night Train to Munich" was given a DVD release by Criterion.
The duo also appeared in 1941 in Crook's End written by Margaret Emary and directed by John Baxter. This film was included as a bonus feature on the Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release of "The Lady Vanishes". The last film to feature the Charters and Caldicott characters was Millions Like Us (1943), which was once again written by Gilliat and Launder, who also assumed the role of directors. Hitchcock had nothing to do with any of these films, and indeed he had relocated to Hollywood by the time they went into production.
- The film is set in the fictitious country of Bandrika, "one of Europe's few undiscovered corners". The local people speak a language mix of German, Italian, Slavic and gibberish.
- The film never reveals the murderer of the folk singer or the motive for his murder. Because it does reveal that important messages are encoded in song, one could presume that the singer was actually passing a message to Miss Froy, and thus that he was also a British agent. The film also does not explain the disappearance of Miss Froy's writing on the train window.
- Spoto 1992, p. 72.
- "The Lady Vanishes". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Brenner, Paul. "The Lady Vanishes". Allmovie. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Spoto 1992, p. 71.
- "The Lady Vanishes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- TCM Overview
- "Locations for The Lady Vanishes". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- Russell, Jamie (7 January 2008). "The Lady Vanishes". BBC. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- Duguid, Mark. "The Lady Vanishes (1938)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- Maltin, Leonard. "100 Must-See Films of the 20th Century". AMC Filmsite. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- "Awards for The Lady Vanishes". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Mayer, Geoff (2003). Guide to British Cinema. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0313303074.
- Rich, Nataniel (2007). "The Lady Vanishes: Hitchcock's First Hitchcock Film" in Slate. 4 December 2007.
- Spoto, Donald (1992). The Art of Alfred Hitchcock (Second ed.). New York: Anchor Books. pp. 70–75. ISBN 978-0385418133.
- Spoto, Donald (1999). The Dark Side of Genius (Centennial ed.). New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0306809323.
- Vermilye, Jerry (1978). The Great British Films. London: Citadel Press. pp. 42–44. ISBN 978-0806506616.
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- The Lady Vanishes at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Lady Vanishes is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- The Lady Vanishes at the Internet Movie Database
- The Lady Vanishes at the TCM Movie Database
- The Lady Vanishes at AllRovi
- The Lady Vanishes at Rotten Tomatoes
- Criterion Collection essay by Michael Wilmington
- Criterion Collection essay by Geoffrey O'Brien
- Criterion Collection essay by Robin Wood
- Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes on BBC 4 Extra