director Alfred Hitchcock
I’ve taken a new angle on film watching with my kids, now ages (almost) 13 and 10. After corresponding with a nephew of mine who teaches film at a university in Boston, I’ve decided to take a more “educational” approach to the movies we watch. I think that this will play out subtly, though it may influence some of the film choices we(I) make.
Case in point of the day: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Now we have watched a number of Hitchcock films, a lot of the big ones. We’ve even begun watching episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (which they are enjoying as well). Part of a film education is just watching the movies, developing a knowledge from first-hand viewings, like becoming well-read in literature. So, getting your Hitchcocks in is just one of the easier to handle requirements.
The Lady Vanishes was the second to last of Hitchcock’s original British films before moving to Hollywood, and it remains one of the better known of those films. I can’t entirely say if I’d seen it before or not. If so, it had been a long while back. It’s as blithe and charming an intrigue as you could want.
Set somewhere in Europe, travelers heading their various ways back to London meet first in a small hotel and then on a train. Only the little old lady (Dame May Whitty) who is just so typically British, helps a young beauty (Margaret Lockwood) who has taken a bump on the head to a cup of tea. Only, the lady vanishes.
And no one believes her or wants to pay attention. Except dashing and curt Michael Redgrave, a musicologist who learns that the young beauty is not delusional as so many others think.
It’s been considered an apt and timely metaphor for the growing threat of war in Europe. The villains are from a vague part of the continent, but along its Eastern side, with some Italians thrown in. The British on the train stick to their own self-interest, either to avoid trouble or scandal or simply to make it back for the cricket test match. It turns out the little old lady is a cunning spy and those who wave the white flag get shot. Touché, Hitch, touché.
The film ran an interesting parallel to another train-bound thriller I’d seen a few years back, Night Train to Munich (1940), whose parallels run deeper than I realized. It also starred Margaret Lockwood and featured the characters Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), the cricket-loving comic relief, who both turn out to be made of the same starch as other true Brits. It’s also a true WWII thriller.
The other key reason that we chose to watch The Lady Vanishes was because one of Clara’s friends had happened to see it and had talked about it. Reason enough to queue a Hitchcock film in my book.