With one more film to go before he moved from England to the States, Alfred Hitchcock made The Lady Vanishes, winning the directorial prize of the New York critics. If anything, this superlative entertainment is even more highly regarded today than it was in 1938.
On a trans-European train headed to London, Miss Froy, a “governess, you know” (May Whitty, delightful), boards in Mandrika—think Switzerland—and disappears. Iris, also headed to London, in her case to marry, has befriended Miss Froy; but now everyone insists no such person as Miss Froy ever boarded the train. The bespectacled lady in oatmeal tweeds—did Iris “hallucinate” her after getting that bump on the head?
Gilbert (Michael Redgrave, light, charming), smitten, helps Iris try to locate Miss Froy on the train, and Czech brain surgeon Hartz (Paul Lukas, urbane, concentrated, philosophical—brilliant) at least appears to help. But a good many things here, as well as people, are not what they seem; false identities, passengers hiding behind masks of one sort or another, abound.
I have a theory about this film: one final false identity; one final deception. I think we see Miss Froy shot down as she tries to escape the baddies, hoping to bring to the British foreign service the lilting tune that contains—“in code, of course”—the pact to which two nations have secretly agreed. In London, however, is that Miss Froy we see and hear at the piano playing that tune, or something like it? Or has she been replaced with a surgically honed lookalike? I don’t say that Ethel Lina White’s story, or Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder’s adaptation, contains any such ambiguity; but might not that devil Hitchcock have slipped it in to complete a warning and a motif?
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