The Lady Vanishes – Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock’s last important and most acclaimed British film, The Lady Vanishes, in many ways epitomizes his British films, which are simpler and less pretentious than his later American ones. Few Hitchcock films have had such an enthusiastic critical reception as The Lady Vanishes, which is arguably the best of his British films and certainly one of his most ingenious and entertaining. The story concerns an elderly English governess whose disappearance from a train sets off a string of mysterious incidents. The pace never slackens as Hitchcock keeps the tension mounting until the final scene. Indeed, The Lady•Vanishes is quintessential Hitchcock, complete with a beautiful heroine, a perplexed hero, international spies, and a train journey, all set amidst much suspense.
Somewhere in a Central European country, the passengers on a transcontinental train are stranded at a small inn by an avalanche. Unprepared to accommodate such a large number of guests, the innkeeper does not have enough rooms or food for all of the passengers, two of whom are very British and unflappable cricket fans who are hurrying home to see the championship cricket matches. At dinner they are forced to share a table with an elderly British governess, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), who is returning home after having spent six years in an unnamed Central European country and who offers to share her cheese with them since the inn’s food had run out some time before. Also staying at the inn is an English heiress, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), who is having a final vacation before returning to England to be married. Upset by the noise in the room above hers, she has its occupant, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), a music scholar recording the vanishing folk dances of Central Europe, thrown out. When he responds by threatening to occupy her own room, she hurriedly calls the manager to have him restored to his room.
The next morning the railroad track is cleared and the train’s passengers prepare to continue their journey. As Iris is waiting to board the train, however, she is struck on the head by a flower pot; and her momentary unconsciousness and dizziness are conveyed on film by multiple images of her friends and the train wheels. Miss Froy kindly assists Iris into a compartment on the train and later takes her to the dining car for tea. As they pass a compartment with an English couple in it, the man quickly pulls down the blind for privacy.