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World Film News (1938) - The Lady Vanishes





The Lady Vanishes

Hitchcock's film, The Lady Vanishes, comes at a time when such diverse products as Sixty Glorious Years and Pygmalion see the screen. With the drums beating over these major events in British filmland, it is well to remember that Hitchcock, since the earliest days of British movie, has been responsible for a considerable output of first class merchandise. As an isolated film The Lady Vanishes is not a terrific event in the industry, but it does serve as additional proof that Britain has something good to offer in the international sphere of entertainment.

Hitchcock retains his reputation as the most consistently entertaining of the British directors perhaps because he sticks to a type of film with which he has become thoroughly familiar. In his hands the technique of the spy drama has reached a high standard not so much because he is a master of melodrama but because he has a genius for combining horror, suspense and comedy.

Hitchcock is not only an expert director, but a stickler for detail. It is the small things in his films that count. His observation of human weaknesses and his capacity for exacting sympathy for each and everyone of his characters including the villain, are the qualities that recommend him to most of his admirers whether or not they appreciate his brand of humour.

The spy in The Lady Vanishes is an inoffensive old lady who carries her packet of tea about in her handbag so that she will be sure of having a really good cup even in the most trying circumstances. Hero and heroine are present but not in stellar roles, though as a concession to tradition, they do save the old lady's life and go off with each other in the end. The remaining members of the cast are passengers on a train where the major part of the action takes place, and they are an odd and interesting medley of types. Prominent are two cricket fans, played by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford. One might have seen them of a summer afternoon at Lord's nonchalantly discussing the play. Here on a continental train their obsession is the cricket score and they remain blissfully impervious to the startling events that occur, happy in the knowledge that they are British subjects and that nothing can happen to them. Something does happen, however. One of them stops a bullet. A look of pained surprise comes over his face and he reluctantly reaches the conclusion that the time has come to fight. The two put on a display of careless but first-rate marksmanship.

In the shooting episode, of course, none but the villain is killed and one feels sure that the inoffensive old lady will escape unscathed in her tweeds and stout brogues, to deliver her important secret in Whitehall. With this fore-knowledge it is possible to enjoy the comedy to the full. There remains an element of doubt to allow one to savour the suspense and excitement.

Hitchcock is to be congratulated on the masterly casting of the lesser characters. This, always a pleasant feature of the Hitchcock films, tends to detract from the importance of the principals, a fact that may prove interesting at the box-office where names are supposed to be the first consideration. With The Lady Vanishes I hope Hitchcock will have the best of luck.