1938, Alfred Hitchcock
Full disclosure, I love movies set on trains. I’m not entirely sure what it is, whether it’s the close setting, the constant feeling of motion, the ensemble of characters all placed together or what, but if your movie is set mostly or fully on a train there’s a much higher chance of me being a big fan of it. As a result, one of the many reasons why Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors definitely has to be his fondness for setting scenes on those locomotives.
The Lady Vanishes is one of the all too rare films that sets practically its entire plot on a train, and it’s absolutely one of the best as well. Adapted from a story by Ethel Lina White into a screenplay from Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, the premise here is deceptively simple; the young and beautiful Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) meets Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) the night before they are to be on a train ride together. Iris is hit on her head the morning of, and after Miss Froy helps her into their cabin, she dozes off and awakens to find that Miss Froy is gone.
The twist is that no other passengers on the train say that they ever saw the older woman, making Iris look crazy and setting the plot for a mystery to find out the truth of what happened to this kind old woman. Iris is helped by Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), an abrasive man she had met the night before, as the passengers continue their attempts to deceive the young woman into thinking that her encounters with Miss Froy were all in her head. The audience knows that Froy exists, as we are made aware that several of the characters have their own personal motivations for lying about their knowledge of her existence, so the mystery centers entirely around discovering what happened and why this conspiracy is afoot.
Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave have a charming chemistry that makes their pairing a joy to watch all the way through the breezy 96-minute duration, and all of the supporting actors deliver in their various parts. In particular, the team of Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as passengers Caldicott and Charters add a comedic charm to the proceedings that provides a perfect balance (the two had such great chemistry that they were reunited as the same characters two years later in Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich). With a bevy of twists and turns, The Lady Vanishes is a wonderful early Hitchcock feature that builds to an exhilarating climax.
Film #238 of The 365 Film Challenge.