The Lady Vanishes (1938)

lady vanishes poster 1938 movie alfred hitchcock
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Classic Hitchcock

Ending seems a bit abrupt

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Lady Vanishes

Studio: Gainsborough Pictures

Genre(s): Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s): November 1, 1938

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

lady vanishes may whitty margaret lockwood

Ms. Froy, you are my new best friend….I hope nothing happens to you

Iris (Margaret Lockwood) is headed to England to marry.  While boarding a train, she strikes her head and is helped by an old woman named Miss Froy (May Whitty).  After a brief nap, Iris wakes up to find no one on the train remembers Miss Froy.  As she tries to convince the people on the train that one of the passengers has disappeared, the only person who will believe her is a man named Gilbert (Michael Redgrave).  Together Gilbert and Iris must find out what happened to Miss Froy, and why everyone is lying about it.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Lady Vanishes is a mystery suspense thriller and was Hitchcock’s last big English picture before heading to the United States. Following Young and Innocent in 1937, the adaption of Ethel Lina White’s The Wheel Spins was a financial and critical success.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film in one of their first releases (Criterion #3).

I love Hitchcock, and even in these early films, Hitchcock shows his style.  With creative storytelling and shooting, Hitchcock was a rock star in the early filmmaking world and managed to make even so-so or cliché stories interesting.  The Lady Vanishes is one of the early Hitchcock films where he really starts to show his filmmaking ability.

lady vanishes margaret lockwood michael redgrave

“All the people on this train are a-holes!”

The Lady Vanishes is the classic mystery type of story.  The suspects are all on the same train like an Agatha Christie mystery, and there is no way that anyone can get on and off the train.  The story does take a while to get to the train with a long scene at the beginning establishing the characters and hinting at the darkness to follow with the murder of a singer.  This all seems a bit overdone, and it really makes you want to get to the train.  The mystery and suspense once on the train is solid along with the paranoia of Iris who cannot seem to prove a person who exists existed…you as the audience know, and like Iris, you get frustrated.  The ending of the film suffers from a typical Hitchcock ending (and a lot of films of the time) with everything wrapped up and a quick, abrupt close…but at least it isn’t one scene and then finished.

Despite being known for his visuals, Hitchcock also managed to get the most from his characters (even if some of them were tropes).  The Lady Vanishes is very character driven and full of quirky characters.  Be it the know-it-all doctor Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas), the couple having an affair (Cecil Parker and Linden Travers), or the dirty nun with a conscience (Catherine Lacy), the all manage to have personalities and a stake in what is happening on the train.  The characters of Caldicott and Charters (Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford) were so popular that they went on to be characters in radio shows and other movies.

lady vanishes alfred hitchcock cameo

Now it’s time for the Hitchcock cameo!

The film is the type of film that threatens to be problematic for filmmakers.  It is locked into a train and besides a group of identical travelling cars, an outer hallway, and a dining car, trains are pretty confined.  Shooting around this and keeping the movie moving could be difficult but Hitchcock makes it look easy in this film.  Hitchcock uses everything in this movie including models and sets and trick photography (which was not as easy back then).

The Lady Vanishes is one of the better early Hitchcock movies.  The plot has typical Hitchcockian twists and turns and the heroine and hero that come together to solve the mystery (though Lockwood is not blonde like most of Hitchcock’s later models).  Hitchcock used the story again for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Into Thin Air”.  It was remade in 1979 with the same title and a revised version of the story was the basis for Jodie Foster’s 2005 movie Flightplan.  Hitchcock followed The Lady Vanishes with Jamaica Inn in 1939.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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