The Lady Vanishes (1938)

“Never mind, dear. Now if I were you I’d try to get a little sleep. It’ll make you feel quite well again! There’s a most intriguing acrostic in the Needlewoman. I’m going to try to finish it before you wake up.”

‘The Lady Vanishes’, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1938, is a British thriller starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. Lockwood plays Iris Henderson, a tourist travelling across Europe. After an avalanche blocks her train, she spends a night with her fellow passengers in a hotel. There she encounters a host of eccentrics including Gilbert Redman, a musician played by Redgrave, and Miss Froy, played by May Whitty. When back on the train Miss Froy disappears and, in the course of hunting for her, Henderson and Redman uncover a dastardly conspiracy. It’s a pacey, witty thriller from the end of Hitchcock’s run of British movies before he crossed the Atlantic. It’s got all of the Hitchcock touches, but for me what really sets it apart are the performances from Redgrave’s cynical musician to the first appearance of the enduring double act of Charters and Caldicott, cricket enthusiasts played by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford. Hitchcock fully captures the British sense of eccentricity and humour, the thriller part seeming to be a frame for these characters to shine. This is not to belittle the suspense Hitchcock drums up, however. The film is a masterclass of how to create tension using the confines of a claustrophobic train. In fact, I think there’s probably a PhD thesis out there waiting to be written about how trains are used in the thriller, action and romance genres, with this film as a highlight.

Would I recommend it? It’s a tightly wrought, pacey thriller. Watch in a double bill with ‘Strangers on a Train’, for obvious reasons.

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