Strangers on a train search for a woman who knows too much in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, a crisply satisfying tale of espionage from cinema's master of suspense. Margaret Lockwood stars as Iris, a London socialite heading home to Blighty who's perplexed when fellow British traveller Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) vanishes from their train compartment. Everyone onboard denies ever having seen the kindly old lady in oatmeal tweeds... Is Iris losing her marbles or is something fishy going on?
The director's last British film before he upped sticks and moved to Hollywood recalls The 39 Steps while laying the ground for North By Northwest. The themes are classically Hitchcockian: a stolen code; a sinister imposter; and a bandaged brain surgery patient who may or may not be the vanished lady. Directed with clinical efficiency by Hitch it's also surprisingly witty, with some droll banter between Lockwood and her mismatched partner Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) adding unexpected zing: "My father always taught me: never desert a lady in trouble. He even carried that as far as marrying Mother..."
"A CRAFTILY SOPHISTICATED THRILLER"
Pitting plucky Brits against a supporting cast of Johnny Foreigners, The Lady Vanishes avoids the threat of crassness by playing English stereotypes off its European ones. Two bumbling, cricket-obsessed Brits - Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) - hog the best lines, trying to avoid getting mixed up in the fuss with caddish insouciance. Naturally, everyone stiffens their upper lips for the finale, a terribly English gunfight ("Bit of a jam this!") with the film's jackbooted villains. Like the rest of this craftily sophisticated thriller it's both a neat comment on Britain's dilemma in the build-up to the impending war with Germany (to appease or not to appease?) and also a cracking piece of entertainment.
The Lady Vanishes is out in the UK on 11th Jan 2008.