A 1938 film starring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, The Lady Vanishes
is arguably the last great film directed by Alfred Hitchcock
before he went off to Hollywood. After receiving a nasty bump on the head, Iris (Lockwood) meets Miss Froy, a nice middle-aged lady on board a train travelling through Bandrika, a fictional country somewhere in central Europe. They get on nicely for a while, when suddenly... the lady vanishes (what a twist
). Iris and the caddish-yet-loveable Gilbert (Redgrave) promptly try to locate her - but nobody seems to remember seeing Miss Froy. Did Iris just make her up? Or is there foul play at work?
All right, there is
foul play. But there's also a Screwball Comedy
relationship between Iris and Gilbert. And two hilariously over-the-top Englishmen. This is probably one of Hitchcock's nicer films - think The 39 Steps
This film provides examples of:
- Affably Evil: Dr. Hartz seems like he's genuinely a nice guy, even despite being a Nazi assassin. He even gleefully wishes the heroes good luck at the end after they escape him.
- Apathetic Citizens: Half the people who say they never saw Ms. Froy aren't even part of the conspiracy, they just don't want to get involved for reasons of their own.
- Arranged Marriage: Iris is supposed to enter into one as soon as she returns to England. Defied when she decides to marry Gilbert instead.
- Bad Habits: Dr. Hartz' cohort dresses as a nun throughout the movie. She makes a mistake in her disguise, however: she wears high heels, which would never be worn as a part of a real nun's vestments.
- Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: Miss Froy thinks "spy" is an awful term.
- Cassandra Truth: The movie shows shades of this early on as Iris tries desperately to convince everyone that Ms. Froy exists.
- Chekhov's Gunman: The guitar player near the beginning.
- Cover Identity Anomaly: The clue that gives away Dr. Hartz's assistant: real nuns never wear high heels as part of their vestments.
- Creator Cameo: Hitchcock of course. He pops up for a few seconds at the station at the end.
- Doomed Defeatist: Todhunter, who also proves to be Too Dumb to Live.
- Evil All Along: Dr. Hartz, a kindly doctor who tries to help Iris out after Froy's disappearance. Oh, and he's secretly a paid assassin working for the Nazis, not to mention the one who kidnapped Ms. Froy to begin with.
- Genre Shift: The 2013 BBC adaptation is a serious psychological thriller. That is not to say that the original 1938 film did not have a serious thriller plot, but it also contained a screwball comedy subplot and much more humor in general. In the original, the foreignness of many of the characters is played for comedy, while in the remake it is used to heighten Iris's sense of isolation and fear.
- Hand of Death: A pair dispatches the guitar player.
- Heel-Face Turn: The nun who worked with Dr. Hartz. Apparently she's okay with all of the other things the Nazis have her do, but murdering a nice old lady (who happens to be a British spy) is going too far.
- Impairment Shot:
- Iris on the train, after a flower pot has been pushed off a windowsill and hit her on the head.
- The 2013 BBC version uses this as a drugged Iris is being taken off the train.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: In the shootout during the film's climax several villainous mooks are killed while very few of the train's passengers are killed. Justified in that the people on the train had cover while the mooks that died were in the open. The passengers who died (both conductors and Todhunter) were also in the open when they got shot to death.
- It Was Here, I Swear: A running theme with Iris trying to prove the existence of the old lady after she's gone.
- Let's Get Dangerous: Caldicott and Charters spend most of the film being beyond useless. Then when they're finally convinced that the train is under siege by Nazis, they both grab guns and start putting up one hell of a defense.
- MacGuffin: The tune that Ms. Froy teaches Gilbert is actually a coded message. We never entirely learn the significance of it except that it has something to do with a treaty between two European nations.
- Missing the Good Stuff: Caldicott and Charters spend the whole film looking forward to getting back to London for the end of a big cricket test match, only to find that it's been rained out.
- Neutral Female: Defied. A fight scene between Gilbert and one of the conspirators starts out with Iris standing on the sidelines before Gilbert tells her "don't just stand there like a referee, cooperate." She does help and actually ends up being the one to disarm and knock out the bad guy.
- Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: Ms. Froy tries to introduce herself to the heroine but loud train noises cancel out what she is saying. This prompts Ms. Froy to write her name on the window, which turns into a Chekov's Gun later when the heroine sees the writing again, proving to herself that she was not imagining their encounter.
- Pretty in Mink: Iris wears one in the first part of the movie.
- The Remake: By Hammer ( yes, that Hammer) in 1979. It bombed spectacularly.
- Another one was made in 2012 and broadcast by the BBC in 2013.
- Unofficially, the Jodie Foster film Flightplan bears quite a few similarities.
- Ruritania: Bandrinka. They stop in two towns, Dravtka and Morsken.
- Serious Business: Murder, disappearances, soldiers with guns, ho hum. But if Caldicott and Charters can't find out today's cricket scores? Really, that's too much!
- Shout-Out: To Sherlock Holmes. When Gilbert tells Iris his theory about the disappearance he puts on a deerstalker hat and picks up a pipe. He even refers to Iris as "Watson."
- Spanner in the Works: Iris isn't stupid, but she is completely unaware of the conspiracy until the end. She still manages to destroy the conspiracy just because she won't stop insisting that Ms. Froy exists.
- Suit with Vested Interests: Caldicott and Charters form a peculiar example from before the age of the monster attack movie but their self-interested obliviousness matches well with the behaviour of a tourist-town mayor not wanting to close the beaches on the fourth of July... but for cricket.
- Those Two Guys: Caldicott and Charters.
- Which became Those Two Actors for Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne. Not only did they reprise their roles two years later in Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich, but they appeared together (as differently-named but virtually identical characters) in numerous other film and radio productions over the next few years.
- Thriller on the Express
- Too Dumb to Live: The train car that the heroes are on has been diverted to the middle of nowhere and surrounded by armed Nazi soldiers. It's been made clear already that the soldiers aren't interested in working things out, which the passengers discovered when one of them tried to talk to the soldiers and got shot in the hand. Todhunter, in spite of all of this, still tries surrendering. He is promptly shot dead.
- Worthy Opponent: In a scene that's quite weird to watch these days, Nazi spy Dr. Hartz cheerfully accepts his defeat and wishes our heroes good luck.
- You Imagined It: Iris gets this from just about everyone over Ms. Froy's disappearance.