Reviewed by
Chris Galloway

Title: The Lady Vanishes: Criterion Collection (1938)
Studio Line: The Criterion Collection/Home Vision - Spies! Playing the game of love - and sudden death!

In this best-loved of Hitchcock's British-made thrillers, a young woman on a train meets a charming old lady (Dame May Whitty), who promptly disappears. The other passengers deny ever having seen her, leading the young woman to suspect a conspiracy. When she begins investigating. She is drawn into a complex web of mystery and high adventure.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles none; single sided - single layered; 37 chapters; rated NR; 97 min.; $39.95; street date 5/27/98.
Supplements: Audio Commentary by critic film historian Bruce Eder.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/C+/C-

Of all of Alfred Hitchcock's British films, The Lady Vanishes is probably my favorite one. While I actually enjoyed his later American ones a little more, this one still has all the elements that would make his American ones so entertaining.

The movie is about just what the title suggests; a lady vanishes. It takes place mostly on a train so this ends up making the case a little more exciting. It begins in a hotel where we meet a group of characters, all amusing in their own right. The first men we meet are Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne). They seem to be talking of something of true urgency, as if some country may be bombing England. It's not until later, while talking on the phone that we realize they're all hyped up about a cricket game. This is just a good example of Hitchcock's red herring, with a more humorous twist.

Our main character is Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) who is on her way to marry a man that she's still unsure about. During her stay over night, she runs into a rather annoying musician named Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) and it's pretty obvious these two are going to become romantically involved. She also meets a Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), a nice older lady who she takes a liking to almost immediately. This set-up takes about 20 minutes. After that, we witness our first murder.

The next day everyone is gathering to get on the train. Iris receives a bump on the head and Miss Froy takes her on the train, treating her to tea and making sure she's okay. When they return to their cabin, Iris passes out and when she awakes, Miss Froy is gone. She inquires with the other passengers in the cabin as to her whereabouts but no one seems to recall her ever being on the train. She then goes on a quest to see if she imagined it all.

The set-up is great. A closed in area moving at high speeds and someone suddenly vanishing without a trace, all passengers denying she was even aboard. It works quite well, even today, but unfortunately the secret is given away too soon. During the first part we begin to question if she existed at all, but we quickly discover why people are denying having ever saw her, meaning they obviously did see her. I thought this could have gone on a little longer, but there are still a few twists to come.

True, they are quite predictable, nowadays thanks to other movies ripping off these older ones, but the movie still works and is quite enjoyable thanks to other elements. The humour is quite good, thanks to many lines given by Michael Redgrave, making his screen debut here. My favorite one would have to be "My father said to never desert a woman in trouble. He even took that as far as marrying mother." Lines like that are scattered all around the film. There is actually a lot of chemistry between Lockwood and Redgrave, something I find rare in most movies from this time. Yeah, some of their scenes are corny, but it works overall.

Hitchcock never really knew how to end a movie, which is about the only flaw I found with his directing. Once in a while he could get it right, but overall I never thought so. This is no different. The ending seems a little out of place, involving a shoot-out (he of course loved shoot-outs from what I have read). But up to that point everything works.

The DVD:

Criterion gives this classic an average little release, but it is still far better than other DVD releases. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a single-sided, single-layered disc.

The picture has been cleaned up a lot, comparing it to other prints I've seen and the picture looks very good. Black and white levels are near perfect and sharpness is a strong point, although the picture goes soft from time to time (sometimes purposely by Hitchcock, others probably because of the print). While there are very few specs of dirt or debris (it occasionally pops up), grain appears almost all throughout. It's not too bad and not that distracting but it's there. But the picture still looks better than it ever has.

The mono track is also average. There is hardly a hiss to be heard so there's a point right there and dialogue and music sounds very good, nothing ever being drowned out (unless called for). The only flaw with the mono track is the train whistle. It's very harsh, sometimes breaking up. Gunshots have a bit of a kick to them, though. So it's an average but not stupendous mono track.

Supplements are not that plentiful. Actually we only get one true one along with a booklet and a restoration demonstration. We get a commentary by film historian Bruce Eder. Might as well get something out right now, if this guy has a commentary on a disc, that's a selling point for me. This guy gives some of the best commentaries I've ever heard.

Eder is not the type of guy that analyzes a film to death, like in other commentaries. He does occasionally but what he does mostly is talk about the entire history of the film, give production notes and anecdotes he's heard throughout the years. He goes through the process of the script, how Hitchcock got it, casting decisions, brief histories and a lot of notes on sets and Hitchcock's form of directing. He's even nice enough to point out Hitchcock's cameo for us (which is good because I would have missed it). He even interrupts himself to point out little things that don't really matter, but makes good movie trivia, like one where he points out the one woman playing Iris' friend was Geoffrey Rush's sort-of girlfriend in Shine. Neato!

Well that's it for the DVD. Nothing too special I know, but I can safely say that people who love the film will like this DVD. It's picture, though still showing some problems, is better than many other prints. As well, Bruce Eder commentaries rock and make DVD's with him on it worth owning on its own.

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