One of Hitchcock's Best British Films
If you like Alfred Hitchcock, you'll certainly want to see the delightful, witty suspense film The Lady Vanishes (1938). It starts out almost like a Laurel-and-Hardy farce at a hotel in the fictional European country of Bandrika. But a singer is murdered, and Hitchcock handles the tonal shift masterfully. Most of the rest of the film takes place aboard a train, where a pair of young adults (Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood) fall for each other as they try to solve the mystery of what happened to an elderly passenger (Dame May Whitty) who goes missing. This leads to a shoot-out with Bandrikan soldiers, who gun down an Englishman, even as he waves his white handkerchief in surrender.
The MacGuffin in this movie is probably the most outlandish one in any Hitchcock film. ("MacGuffin" was Hitchcock's general term for something that keeps the plot in motion, but ultimately doesn't have much to do with what makes the story interesting. Typical MacGuffins are scientific secrets, valuable jewels, important documents and bags of narcotics.) In The Lady Vanishes, the MacGuffin is a melody said to be code for the vital clause in a secret pact between two nations whose identities we never learn.
Presumably due to severe budgetary constraints, there are a few shots in the movie using models and painted backdrops that are unconvincing. These detract from the film's excellence, but only slightly. Overall, The Lady Vanishes provides a fine balance between suspense and humor, with a little romance thrown in for good measure. The strong ensemble cast is memorable, and the dialogue sparkles.
DVD Bonus Materials
The Criterion Collection two-disc set containing The Lady Vanishes comes with excellent supplementary materials that greatly enhance appreciation of the feature film. One of these is an informative audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder. Another is a worthwhile 33-minute video essay by scholar Leonard Leff. Also, there's a 10-minute extract from François Truffaut's celebrated 1962 audio interview of Hitchcock.
Packaged with the DVD set is a 20-page booklet that contains a pair of essays on the feature film, one by writer Geoffrey O'Brien, the other by Professor Charles Barr. These serve to deepen the reader's understanding of The Lady Vanishes.
In addition to its more serious offerings, the DVD set provides for the first time on home video an 81-minute film titled Crook's Tour (1941). The connection here is that two goofy supporting characters in The Lady Vanishes -- the cricket-loving duo of Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) -- became so beloved by the public that they were spun off into other movies. In Crook's Tour, Radford and Wayne reprise the roles, this time playing the leads in a lightweight comedy that Hitchcock had nothing to do with.
Below I have listed all the details for the Criterion Collection two-disc DVD set containing The Lady Vanishes.
Release Date: November 20, 2007
Number of Discs: 2
Feature Film Runtime: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Full Screen (1.33:1), Black and White
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Audio Commentary by Film Historian Bruce Eder
1941 Feature Film Crook's Tour (1 hr. 21 min.)
Extract From 1962 Interview of Hitchcock by Truffaut (10 min.)
Video Essay on The Lady Vanishes by Scholar Leonard Leff (33 min.)
20-Page Booklet Containing 2 Essays