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The Lady Vanishes

September 5, 2010

The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, May Whitty

The Lady Vanishes (1938) | BFI

Synopsis: A lady (May Whitty) mysteriously disappears on a train journey, leading Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) and Iris (Margaret Lockwood) to try and uncover what happened.

Review: Not in the same class as his previous British talkies Blackmail or The 39 Steps, Hitchcock’s revered 1938 classic The Lady Vanishes is, if anything, actually quite generic and plotty, and not hugely indicative of the virtuosity and psychological élan he elicited regularly in his career both before and after this juncture. The hallmark cinematographic techniques he works into this film – close-ups of throttling hands and the shrieks of the train mirroring those of endangered women – are not especially effective, and veer just the wrong side of arch into something much more hammy. Even as a narrative, the tension dissipates substantially once the espionage plot is revealed abruptly in the film’s middle section.

Arguably the film’s most salient and pleasurable aspect is the fun Hitchcock conjures in making the story a sly satire of, and homage to, English mores and stoicism in the face of outlandish events. Hence, the most memorable characters are not necessarily Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave’s romantic pairing, but the doughty governess-cum-spy played by Dame May Whitty and the hilarious middle-aged gents (one is played by Basil Radford) more concerned with the test match score in Manchester than in the ensuing international crisis unfolding around them. (September 2008)

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