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World Film News (1938) - In the Balance: The Lady Vanishes




  • reprinted from the Daily Telegraph


In the Balance: The Lady Vanishes

If I have sometimes been rather more critical of Alfred Hitchcock's work than most of my colleagues, for the simple reason that I value his intelligence and my own, that makes it all the more agreeable to be able to say that The Lady Vanishes is his best picture. I would go further and say that it is easily the best thriller ever made in this country.

Much of Mr. Hitchcock's work has been spoiled for me by his undisguised, outrageous cynicism. Was a situation impossible? Well, the poor fish out in front would never notice it. Were the characters illogical? Who cared? Was a scene obviously dragged in for the camera effects? What did that matter so long as the effects were good?

At his best he is vivid, exciting, funny, a master of the technique of telling an incident, if not exactly a story, with the maximum of visual impact. At his worst you feel that somebody with seven disconnected and entirely different stories is trying to hammer them into your head with a blunt instrument. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, for instance, there were at least ten things that couldn't or wouldn't happen. But if they didn't happen the story stopped, so Mr. Hitchcock just went blandly on, and I have no doubt that if you mentioned them he would just smile that slow, guileless smile of his and point out that on both sides of the Atlantic The Man Who Knew Too Much pleased millions. And isn't that what pictures are for? Well, yes. But there is no reason why you shouldn't please the millions who don't care and the millions who do, if you only take enough trouble with the plot ; and this is what has happened with The Lady Vanishes.

Don't misunderstand me. The story is no masterpiece. Fundamentally it is neither better nor worse than a thousand others of the this-spy-must-not-pass-the-frontier-with-the papers school. Where it is good, uncommonly good, is in the characterisation. How much of it belongs to the original novel. The Wheel Spins, how much (obviously a great deal) has been supplied by those two brilliant script writers, Sidney Gilliatt and Frank Launder, and how much has been developed by Mr. Hitchcock on the set I do not know. To the public it is unimportant, anyway. All that matters is that once the yarn gets going, after a somewhat slow start, it moves rapidly, excitingly and not implausibly, to its climax, with a hundred effective incidents by the way.

—Campbell Dixon, The Daily Telegraph