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Thread: Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes

  1. #1
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    Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes

    OK here is my case in point with my grudge against Ole Hitch.

    I went to see his acclaimed British masterpiece The Lady Vanishes at the Cinematheque just to see if I am insane for being a non-supporter of the "master of suspense".
    I was ready to be converted after reading that Orson Welles saw it 10 times in a row.

    Not to be.

    Immediately I started groaning. Mountain scene. Yes yes. Titles. All well and good.
    Pan into the mountain villa. Bad Bad Bad. Miniature models staring at me-apparently this is "real". Was I supposed to
    suspend my belief? If I was, I didn't.
    I enjoy the theatrics of the hotel manager. (Gotta give credit where credit is due). Now we begin the story on our train (which has the worst use of rear-projection I think I've ever seen). Main character meets with Miss Froy. Miss Froy quickly disappears. The Lady Vanishes , get it?
    How utterly boring. I kept saying to myself "Come on! Get on with it! Solve this "mystery" before I fall out of my seat!"
    The drama is punctuated by scenes of our leading lady being constantly thwarted in her attempts to locate Miss Froy. (As well the jibing of the annoying male who I won't even dignify as her "co-star"). He shall remain anonymous although he is well known.

    It all leads up to a finale which is anti-climactic to say the very least. Miss FROY!!!!

    Ugh.

    Pauline Kael worshipped this film, and I truly feel cheated.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  2. #2
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    Friendly Retort

    I think it's valid to hang your non-support of pre-Hollywood Hitch on your dislike of The Lady Vanishes, the master's most representative British film. He made 23 movies in England, only The 39 Steps and Sabotage are comparably accomplished.

    With this film, Hitchcock's aim was not to revolutionize film language. This is direction subservient to storytelling. I think it's really something: an espionage thriller leavened with a hefty dose of witty comedic repartee---just about anything said by cricket-obsessed Charters and Caldicott is funny. The film starts as Brits-on-holiday-abroad comedy of manners to romantic comedy(think Hepburn and Grant but not that good). Then, a mystery element takes center stage. Once the lady is found, a variety of twists are quickly introduced including a shoot-out, not that you'd know from reading the post above. The significance of this scene is that Hitch and writers Sidney Cilliat and Frank Launder use it to stake a clear political position. The film ends up being about a cross-section of Brits banding together against a foreign foe. It's 1938 and Parliament debates what to do about a pesky little threat from Germany, with memories of WWI still fresh.

    To be fair to Johann, perhaps (too?) much of what makes The Lady Vanishes great is the screenplay, which does include a variety of clues of Hitch's own involvement.(Take for instance the magnified significance of a discarded label from a packet of tea, and tasty perversions like a nun wearing high heels). Perhaps, 65 years later, plot elements have become cliched. Perhaps the jokes are stale and the political subtext is no longer relevant. Then why do I enjoy it so every time I watch it? To each...
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 11-03-2003 at 12:12 AM.

  3. #3
    sanjuro Guest
    Lady Vanishes is one of my favourite Hitchock films. Admittedly, I'm a huge fan, but I'm usually in the minority of fans as I generally prefer the British films (39 Steps, Man Who Knew Too Much).

    As for LV, I love the twists the story takes. Caldicott and Charters seemingly involved in some great conspiracy are revealed to be only interested in cricket. The Lady we're expecting to vanish doesn't. The lady we think almost nothing about becomes the central figure.

    I enjoy the psychology of the film. The woman people take for a raving lunatic is actually telling the true. As the audience, we're the only one who really knows she's not crazy. We're apart of her frustration as she tries, with little success, to convince the other passengers that she's right.

    It's a wonderful study on English manners and attitudes - don't get involved, keep to yourself, even in the face of certain danger.
    The acting is all top notch, with Michael Redgrave as charming as ever.

  4. #4
    EarlXX Guest
    I was lucky enough to catch a Hitch triple header on New Zealand network TV recently, where Lady Vanishes, 39 Steps and Secret Agent aired.

    Secret Agent was muddled and not great, but I loved 39 Steps (brilliant dialogue...some of the best ever) and Lady.

    Lady Vanishes kind of lost a bit of steam with the climax, but otherwise it was wonderful blend of romantic comedy and thriller. Hitchcock so effortlessly blended the genres dozens of times, and his early British films were no exceptions.

    Interesting how often he used trains as major plot elements, including the trio of movies I saw.

  5. #5
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    I'm with you Johann. I don't ordinarily let rear projection bother me, and I find myself saying "Holy rear projection Batman" at least two dozen times in a Hitchcock film. All the way up to Family Plot in 1976, his last film, Hitch used rear projection and badly nearly every time. As for Lady Vanishes, as Ebenezer Scrooge would say "Bah, humbug". I think it is the weakest of the 25 Hitchcock films I have seen. I wouldn't mind sitting through it again hoping that I missed something, but that day may be a long way off. I sat through Vertigo three times because I was convinced I missed something, but can now conclude that that film is also just overrated. Luckily no one loses their mind over this film in quite the same way. I am a huge fan of Hitchcock's which you might not tell by my LV and Vertigo bashing. I also realize that some of my favorite Hitchcock films, no one likes, case in point Family Plot. So I'll finish this one off with a ranking of my ten favorite Hitch films, and where you should look for a good film, certainly don't go for this picture.
    1. Psycho
    2. Rebecca
    3. Strangers on a Train
    4. Lifeboat
    5. Family Plot
    6. North by Northwest
    7. The Birds
    8. Rear Window
    9. Saboteur
    10. Rope

    If anyone wishes to argue, and people usually do when it comes to Hitch, feel free, I'll be waiting.

  6. #6
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    Strangers on a Train has always been my favorite. Wonderful suspenseful cross-cutting, a creepy, yet glamorous homoerotic relationship at the core, tasty use of set and character. And a few years after I first saw the movie I learned about Patricia Highsmith, whose writing I love and eventually devoured.

    After that I enjoy the later Fifties and early Sixties thrillers with glamorous stars like Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant. Frenzy was a late return to form. Psycho seems to be overwrought and hokey, but the reliance on a more and more refined yet emphatic technique in late Hitchcock works impressively in that movie, and I'm also a fan of Tony's even when his weirdness is pushed to the point of parody. We have discussed Hitchcock on this site before. He may be out of fashion now. Despite the worship of Vertigo I don't see why people don't realize that even in new prints Hitchcock's color films look off. He was so deeply rooted in black and whilte I don't think he ever expected color to look any way but garish.

    Hitchcock's appeal to me when he was alive and in his heyday was as a consummate entertainer who was also a master of the cinematic techniques of audience manipulation, most notably cross cutting to create suspense. When I look at a lot of contemporary efforts, they seem completely inept in comparison. They seem to want to manipulate the audience (horror movies still successfuly do) but they are overwhelmed by their reliance on big noises and elaborate F/x and lose sight of the suspenseful and emotive effects of skillful editing. Current editing techniques are of course highly refined but the refinement is largely wasted because it involves too great speed for the human eye and the human heart to respond to (as in The Bourne Supremacy) and it seems more a display of virtuosity than a manipulation of the audience.

    The early Hitchcock can seem dated as can many other films of that era. Rear projection is a convention you have to get used to, just as you get used to the cunning but artificial repartee in Thirties romantic comedies and later in noirs. As for The Lady Vanishes, it didn't have the magic for me it had for my father, but hearing him talk fondly of it when I was a kid helped make me realize movies could be things you cherished not as masterpieces or escape but as elegant fun and I find that a taste once awakened, always present, and still occasionally satisfied.

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