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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Alfred Hitchcock
Cast:
Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford
Writing Credits:
Ethel Lina White (novel, "The Wheel Spins"), Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder

Tagline:
Spies! Playing the game of love - and sudden death!

Synopsis:
In Alfred Hitchcock's most quick-witted and devilish comic thriller, the beautiful Margaret Lockwood, traveling across Europe by train, meets Dame May Whitty's charming old spinster, who seemingly disappears into thin air. Soon enough, the young woman turns investigator and finds herself drawn into a complex web of mystery and high adventure. The Lady Vanishes, now in an all-new digital transfer, remains one of the master filmmaker's purest delights.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/6/2011

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Bruce Eder
Crook’s Tour Charters and Caldicott Film
• Excerpts from 1962 Alfred Hitchcock Interview Conducted by Francois Truffaut
• “Mystery Train” Video Essay
• Stills Gallery


• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Lady Vanishes: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1938)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 5, 2011)

For a look at early Hitchcock, we head to 1938’s The Lady Vanishes. Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) is on her way to marry a man about whom she remains unsure. 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. Miss Froy enjoys the work of a street musician, but he doesn’t make it; out of the blue, someone strangles him in the night.

The next day, all the hotel inhabitants board a delayed train. When someone pushes a plant box out of a window, it strikes Iris on the head. She soon loses consciousness, but Miss Froy takes care of her. When they return to their cabin, Iris naps, 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 find out exactly what happened – and whether or not she simply invented Froy in her head. (Chris Galloway wrote that synopsis for the site’s original review of Lady.)

There’s something very enjoyable about mysteries set on trains. The isolation and claustrophobia of them elevates the drama, and that works well for Lady. Hitchcock didn’t invent that conceit, but he used it to perfection. He packs his characters into tight settings that make things more tense and intriguing.

It takes Hitchcock a while to get there, and in the hands of a lesser director, this film’s slow-paced first act could become fatal. Indeed, we must wait quite a long time before the flick’s real plot finally starts to emerge. The opening in the hotel acts as an extended introduction to the characters, one that looks like it’ll lead us on a romantic comedy path, really. I’m sure I’m not the only one who saw the opening act and wondered if Hitch had decided to remake It Happened One Night.

Darned if it doesn’t work, though. Lady packs its first act with lots of interesting characters and develops them just enough to keep us involved. We have no clue where all of this will lead, but we have enough fun with them to not particularly worry about that. I probably should’ve wanted to yell “get on with it!” at the screen, but I didn’t. The movie draws us into its world in a light and charming way.

The incongruity of the comedic opening and the tension that later emerges also fares well. I like the manner in which Lady confounds genre expectations, and I don’t think it does so in a stiff, artificial manner. Hitchcock always melded his thrills and tension with a dollop of dark humor, so that area isn’t a problem for him. Lady bounces between those two sides easily and never hits any snags.

Really, I find little about which to complain in regard to The Lady Vanishes. Even after more than 70 years, it feels fresh. The movie takes us on an unpredictable journey and thoroughly entertains along the way.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

The Lady Vanishes appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though the movie showed its age, it usually looked pretty good.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. I noticed occasional soft shots, as some elements appeared slightly ill-defined. Those instances were exceptions, though, as the majority of the flick was pretty tight and nicely delineated. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering marred the presentation, and I noticed no edge haloes.

As one might expect of a more than 70-year-old movie, source flaws created distractions. However, these concerns remained minor given the film’s age. I saw occasional specks, thin vertical lines, and gate hairs, but these issues cropped up infrequently. In addition, the movie flickered a little and could be a bit jittery. The transfer remained relatively clean for a flick of this one’s vintage.

Contrast usually succeeded, though some exceptions occurred. I thought a few shots came across as too bright, but most of them showed adequate to good definition. Blacks were dark and firm, while shadows seemed generally positive. A couple of low-light shots were a tad dense, but those were exceptions. Overall, this was a more than satisfactory presentation.

Similar thoughts greeted the perfectly adequate monaural soundtrack of The Lady Vanishes. Like most films of the era, speech sounded somewhat tinny and brittle, but the lines always remained easily intelligible, and they lacked notable edginess. Effects were also thin and without much range, but they seemed fairly concise and didn’t suffer from significant distortion.

In terms of music, the movie featured very little score. Those elements opened and closed the flick, but other than some incidental playing from the street musician and Gilbert, we got no music at all. The tidbits we heard were a bit shrill but acceptable. As for source noise, the track sounded a bit hissy but didn’t suffer from any pops, clicks or other distractions. The audio seemed more than acceptable for its age.

How does this Blu-Ray compare with the Criterion DVD from 2007? Audio was a wash, as the ancient mono material could only show so much growth. Visuals demonstrated an improvement, however. This wasn’t an enormous step up, but the Blu-ray looked a bit tighter and cleaner.

The Blu-ray comes with the same extras found on the 2007 release. Film historian Bruce Eder provides a running, screen-specific audio commentary. He discusses the production’s history and its path to the screen, the script and the adaptation of the source novel, Hitchcock’s career and how Lady fits into his oeuvre, cast and crew notes, themes and cinematic techniques, sets, production design, social context and how the story fit into the world of 1937.

Eder provides a simply stellar commentary that balances both movie interpretation and more nuts and bolts subjects. Neither side dominates to the exclusion of the other, and Eder covers both with insight and detail. The commentary gives us a good feel for production elements but also offers insights into the story and the era in which it was created. Eder’s chat is consistently involving and informative.

(Note that this commentary makes a couple small changes to Eder’s original track from 1998 DVD. It seems to be mostly the same as the original, but a few minor alterations do occur. No, I can’t detail those since I don’t have the original, but you can easily notice the edits, and the content reflects some more modern events.)

Next we find an entire bonus film: 1941’s Crook’s Tour. The one-hour, 20-minute and 59-second flick reunites the mild-mannered cricket-loving Brits from Lady and takes them on their own adventure. Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne reprise their roles from Lady as C&C find themselves among intrigue in the Middle East. A lame mistaken identity plot ensues.

It’s usually a mistake to take effective supporting characters and turn them into leads. That proves true with the silly and forgettable Tour. While C&C provided fine comic relief in Lady, here they lack character or charm. They can’t carry a story alone, and the pair blend into the scenery. I think it’s cool that we get the film as an extra, but I won’t ever want to watch this mediocrity again.

Under Hitchcock/Truffaut, we get an excerpt from director Francois Truffaut’s extensive 1962 interviews with Hitchcock. The 10-minute and six-second reel presents those audio elements while we watch art, footage and stills related to Lady. Hitchcock discusses the drink switcheroo scene, some implausible aspects of the film and other story elements, and general thoughts.

For archival reasons, it’s nice to have this, but don’t expect to learn much from it. The constant need for translation slows things down, and Truffaut tends to praise the film more than ask questions. Though Hitchcock offers some interesting notes – and a wicked willingness to deflate his own work – this piece is useful more for curiosity value than anything else.

Mystery Train provides a “video essay” about Lady. For the 33-minute and 32-second piece, film scholar Leonard Leff chats while we see archival materials. We learn about the British film industry circa the late 1930s and Hitchcock’s place in the business. We also find notes about the adaptation of the original novel, Hitchcock’s use of storyboards, photography and effects, performances and characters, social context, and the film’s reception.

Inevitably, some of the content repeats from Eder’s excellent commentary. However, lots of fresh information comes up here, as Leff provides a good recap of the production. The program might’ve worked better as a second commentary, especially since I’m sure Leff could flesh out more than half an hour. Nonetheless, I like the program and think it adds to the set.

Under Stills Gallery, we find a collection of images. The package includes 22 stills that cover behind the scenes photos, lobby cards and posters. While not an extensive presentation, some interesting bits appear.

Finally, Lady comes with the usual 24-page booklet. In addition to some movie and Blu-ray credits, we get essays from Geoffrey O’Brien and Charles Barr. Criterion produces the best booklets in the biz, and this is another good one.

Though The Lady Vanishes seems somewhat forgotten compared to Alfred Hitchcock’s best known works, it doesn’t deserve its semi-obscurity. Indeed, the movie works exceedingly well as it creates an entertaining piece of tense drama with a decided comedic flair. The Blu-ray features relatively good picture and audio along with extras highlighted by an excellent commentary. This one is a nice purchase for the Hitchcock fans, though I’m not sure it’s a substantial upgrade over the 2007 DVD. Does it top that release? Yes, and it’s the best version on the market; it’s just not such a huge bump up in quality to merit a repurchase for most aficionados.

To rate this film visit the Criterion Collection review of THE LADY VANISHES

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main