Alfred Hitchcock is primarily known for his Hollywood films starring many of the golden age’s biggest stars. He made his American film debut in 1940 with Rebecca starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, and Judith Anderson. Rebecca was a huge success and set the tone for the next few decades. However, prior to this, Hitchcock had made a name for himself as a filmmaker in his native England.
From 1929 through 1939, Hitchcock made many remarkable and brilliant films, starring many of the era’s biggest British stars. One of his best films is The Lady Vanishes (1938), starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, and Dame Mae Whitty.
In The Lady Vanishes, Margaret Lockwood stars as Iris Henderson, a young British tourist who is vacationing in the fictional European country of Bandrika. Iris is with friends, celebrating her upcoming marriage. In fact, she is on her way back to England to marry her fiance. However, an avalanche has occurred and is blocking the railway line. Iris and all the other passengers are forced to spend the night in the hotel.
Also staying at the hotel are English cricket enthusiasts, Charters (Nauton Wayne) and Caldicott (Basil Radford), and Miss Froy (Dame Mae Whitty), a governess and music teacher who is on her way home. As Miss Froy listens to a folk singer in the street, he is strangled to death by an unknown assailant.
Later that evening, Iris hears loud, obnoxious noise coming from the room above hers. She complains to the hotel manager who investigates the loud noise. He discovers Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave), a musician playing a clarinet and working on transcribing the local music. Adding to the noise are the three locals who are dancing to the music that Gilbert is playing. The hotel manager throws Gilbert out of his room. To retaliate, Gilbert forces himself into Iris’ room and refuses to leave. Eventually Iris relents and asks the hotel manager to allow Gilbert back into his room.
There is an interesting scene in the hotel where Charters and Caldicott share a pair of pajamas. One man dons the pants, while the other wears the top, and the two men share a bed! This is very risque for a 1930s movie and implies a gay relationship between the two men.
The next morning, the railway is cleared and the passengers are ready to depart. As Iris walks to the train, she is hit on the head by a planter. Miss Froy, who was nearby and witnessed the incident helps Iris onto the train. On board, Iris and Miss Froy come across Charters and Caldicott, Eric Todhunter (a lawyer) and his mistress who is pretending to be “Mrs. Todhunter.” Iris ends up fainting from the concussion she probably suffered.
When Iris comes to, she finds herself sharing a compartment with Miss Froy and several strangers. Later, Iris and Miss Froy have tea together and return to the compartment. Iris ends up falling asleep. When she wakes up, Miss Froy is nowhere to be found. Iris begins asking the other passengers in the compartment as to Miss Froy’s whereabouts. The passengers deny ever having seen her.
Iris speaks with Eric Todhunter and “Mrs. Todhunter” about Miss Froy, and Eric, not wanting to draw attention to his illicit relationship with his mistress, denies having ever interacted or seen Miss Froy. Iris then ends up coming across Gilbert, who volunteers to help her find Miss Froy. Other potential witnesses, such as Charters and Caldicott, also deny having seen Miss Froy because they don’t want to miss their cricket match and fear that any acknowledgement of the woman’s existence would cause them to be late or miss the match. A brain surgeon on board, Dr. Hartz, suggests that Iris’ possible concussion might be causing her to hallucinate Miss Froy’s existence.
Despite all the gaslighting attempts, Iris is determined that something bad has happened to Miss Froy. She and Gilbert continue to investigate the train. As they get more into the mystery of Miss Froy’s whereabouts, it is obvious that something is up as they come across a bandaged man, a nun, a knife-wielding magician, and another Miss Froy!
Where did Miss Froy go? She couldn’t have just vanished!
This is such a great movie. When I saw it the first time, I was glued to the edge of my seat. What did happen to Miss Froy? What is going on. I also really liked Michael Redgrave. He reminded me very much of Errol Flynn. In fact, I could hear Errol Flynn’s voice reciting Redgrave’s dialogue. Margaret Lockwood was gorgeous and I am interested in seeing her films. She had a very short career in American films, preferring to stay in her native England. I was also very surprised that both the words “damn” and “hell” are used in their modern context in this film.