The Lady Vanishes (UK, 1938)

the-lady-vanishes-movie-poster-1938-1020143532Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock. More Hitch! Why not? And it turns out this is a pretty atypical little Hitch-flick, seeing as there’s no shady morality, and the murder is somewhat grander and conspiratorial than psychological. Although, come to think of it, that other great Hitch-flick that isn’t that solid in my mind, North by Northwest, also begins as a somewhat straightforward case of mistaken identity which turns out to rest upon a tremendous, elaborate plot which lures the simple protagonist into the role of a spy adventurer. This is similar, but infinitely more bizarre and convoluted in its structure, and actually, just by re-hashing the plot, I reflect that this was a truly bizarre and remarkable little film. It starts with a train, stuck in the snow, outside a little alpine chateau. The chateau fills with stranded passengers, all of them with their own personality quirks and miniature stories and worries, and the hotel tries to jam them all in together for the night while the train is dug out. The next day, on the train, the leading lady Margaret Lockwood is hit on the head by a falling flower pot or something, and there’s a nice old lady there to help (both of whom we’ve seen before). They sit in a train car together, they meet a lot of weird people, they interact with a lot of people, but when Lockwood nods off for a nap, she wakes up to see that Mrs. Froy (not to be confused with Freud!) is missing! And, of course, no one remembers seeing her—there is no Mrs. Froy. I love that shit. That kind of thing is enough to pull me into even a mediocre movie (as I discovered with Unknown). And the film lets it sit for a little while (not long), where we stew in the mystery, not sure if the lady is cracked up and the film has just pulled a trick on us, or if there’s some huge conspiracy going on. And maybe that’s a significant place to rest, because that seems to divide the two Hitchcock tropes that I’ve seen (and again, I’ve seen a pretty small amount of the total Hitch output), namely: is it the person who’s cracked up, or is it a conspiracy of other people trying to make you feel like you’ve cracked up? I guess this doesn’t really apply to Psycho or The Birds, and in Rear Window it’s not so much a “conspiracy” as just a single isolated murder, but it definitely reaches its peak in Vertigo, where it’s both. And maybe that’s just my prejudice, that what always got me about Vertigo is that I forget that all of that interesting stuff, the bizarre psychological quagmire that Scotty is drawn into, that Kim Novak weaves, the weird obsession, the hint of a ghostly possession, of the supernatural, all of it is a fake, an elaborate (and frankly, implausible) scam meant to play on Scotty’s weakness so the bad guy can kill his wife for the insurance money with a clean alibi. To me, the reason why the movie works is because it spends most of its time on Scotty’s psychological state, the whole thing is about psychological states, and about the protagonist’s subjective perception of the world coming unseated and flipped upside down. And, to be fair, that’s actually a much smaller portion of the intrigue that I’ve seen and enjoyed in Hitchcock films, where it’s usually a pretty stable and uncomplicated protagonist who is put through the gears of an elaborate plot (like The 39 Steps), or put in a rigorous and difficult moral situation (like I Confess). Anyway, the fact that in this movie, it turns out that the lady who vanishes was, in fact, real, and that she was, in fact, kidnapped, and that the entire train is, in fact, part of a big conspiracy, is not exactly dull or anything, but in those situations, I’m always kind of hoping that the lady vanished because she was never there in the first place (like the ghost dad part in Mr. Robot, which was one of my favourite parts of that show). And then, the odd stragglers on the train who are not part of the conspiracy, the bric-a-brac of funny characters all banding together in a fire fight against the fictional Eastern European army, while Mrs. Froy, a secret spy, runs away with the secret melody of a song in her head that contains vital information for British security, and then Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood manage to escape and live happily ever after, etc—all of that stuff if definitely weird, but it’s ultimately pretty standard, and it’s a safe ending. I’ll take a quick moment to acknowledge the scene stealers in this film, that duo of cricket-obsessed Englishmen, Charters and Caldicott, who were so popular they apparently got dropped into a bunch of other films and had their own TV appearances. Another reason to finally take a look at Night Train to Munich, which I’ve rented before and never got around to watching. Mark my words!

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3 responses to “The Lady Vanishes (UK, 1938)

  1. Pingback: The Stranger (USA, 1946) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: The Man Who Knew Too Much (UK, 1934) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Suspicion (USA, 1941) | Offhand Reviews·

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