Friday, January 15, 2010

The Lady Vanishes (Rhoades)

“Lady Vanishes” – Hitchcock at his Best

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I like to remind you from time to time about the oldie-but-goodie films – mostly classics – that play every Monday night at the Tropic Cinema. Sure, you can catch them on the Turner Classic Movies channel, but you’ll miss that magical experience of seeing them in a darkened theater they way they were meant to be shown.

Don’t discount the movie experience. No interruptions by the telephone. No friends dropping by in the middle of a crucial scene. No distractions, as you mentally put yourself into the film, letting your imagination soar along with the director’s vision, watching those fascinating actors up there on that big screen.

This Monday night the Tropic is offering up an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, “The Lady Vanishes.” One of Hitch’s earlier films, it happens to be one of my favorites.

This 1938 thriller came during the period of his career that has been designated “Becoming a Master of Suspense,” that 1934-1939 era that produced such films as “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (his first version), “The 39 Steps,” and “Secret Agent.” This was just before David Selznick invited him to Hollywood to seek a wider audience.

“The Lady Vanishes” has been called “near flawless.”

You remember the story: A young British woman (Margaret Lockwood) befriends an older lady (Dame May Whitty) on a train across Eastern Europe. But after a flowerpot bonks our heroine on the head, she wakes up to find this Miss Froy missing, with someone else taking her place. The other passengers act strangely, from the troupe of magicians to the brain surgeon traveling with a nun. Only a music scholar (Michael Redgrave) steps to her aid, listening to her wild tale about the missing Miss Froy.

Of course, there’s espionage afoot. But Hitchcock keeps us guessing in this film that sealed his reputation as a master of suspense. It won the New York Critic’s Award and Hitchcock was hailed as the best director of the year.

“People think I’m a monster,” Alfred Hitchcock once said, a touch of pride in his voice. He was noted for his disdain for actors (“cattle,” he called them) and he didn’t really care what drove the plot (the “MacGuffin”). His films often dealt with duplicity, psychos, and murder most foul.

He often insisted these films were “not slices of life, but pieces of cake” – made strictly for people to enjoy.

Hitchcock makes his famous appearance in “The Lady Vanishes” near the end, seen standing in Victoria Station, smoking a cigarette. He later moved his appearance earlier in his films so as not to distract audiences waiting for his cameo.

Orson Welles is said to have seen “The Lady Vanishes” eleven times. And James Thurber reportedly saw it twice as many as that.

So another viewing may be in order for you too.
[from Solares Hill]

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