Combustible Celluloid
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With: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Cecil Parker, Linden Travers, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford, Mary Clare, Emile Boreo, Googie Withers, Sally Stewart, Philip Leaver, Selma Vaz Dias, Catherine Lacey, Josephine Wilson, Charles Oliver, Kathleen Tremaine
Written by: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, Alma Reville, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 97
Date: 01/08/1938

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Train and Simple

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This was one of Hitchcock's final films in England, and is widely considered the pinnacle of his career there. It's a flawless mix of paranoid suspense, pacing, timing and even comedy.

Margaret Lockwood stars as Iris, an independent young lady traveler, who sadly leaves the final leg of a globetrotting trip to return to England and marry. Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) is a happy-go-lucky musicologist who first annoys Iris, but then befriends and falls in love with her. When Iris is injured just before boarding the train, the kindly, elderly Miss Froy (May Whitty) helps her out.

Iris falls asleep, but when she awakes, there's no sign of Miss Froy, nor do any of the other passengers admit to having ever seen her. A few precious clues crop up, but Hitchcock uses incorrigible timing and the movement of the train itself to obscure them.

The train is filled with international passengers of all origins, and Nazis are involved. Many characters speak a fictional European language to further disjoint things. Perhaps the most interesting thing here is the unique way in which Hitchcock uses comedy to both diffuse and enhance the suspense. A lengthy fight in the baggage car is played almost entirely for humor, but only further ramps up the tension.

It's a genuine masterpiece, and its success allowed Hitchcock to make the move to Hollywood.

The Criterion Collection released a DVD in 1998, and then followed it with a remastered special edition in 2007. The 2011 Blu-Ray edition looks spectacular, almost like projected film, plus an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Historian Bruce Eder provides a commentary track. There's a video essay on the film, an audio clip from Francois Truffaut's famous interview with Hitchcock, and a stills gallery. Best of all is an entire second feature, Crook's Tour (1941), starring Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as the same characters they played in The Lady Vanishes. A liner notes booklet includes essays from critic Geoffrey O'Brien and Hitchcock scholar Charles Barr.

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