The Lady Vanishes (Blu-ray, Criterion)
Director - Alfred Hitchcock
Cast - Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave
Country of Origin - U.K.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $39.95
Distributor - Criterion
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (5/5)
I am a huge fan of the works of Alfred Hitchcock, however, with a filmography as daunting as his (totally somewhere around 53 films) a few films over the years have slipped through my personal viewing cracks. 1938's film The Lady Vanishes, until this Blu-ray arrived in my mailbox, was one of those films. I really regret not seeing this sooner. I do not find myself saying this about many films, but Hitchcock's the Lady Vanishes is as close to a perfect cinematic experience as is likely to exist.
The Lady Vanishes is a much more humorous and joyful film than many of his other works. It also contains the trademark suspense Hitch would become known for throughout his career, and like a later film like Rear Window or Rope the action is confined to a handful of primary locations, in this case the train and the hotel lobby. This allows the viewer to focus less on the geography of the location, and more on the situation, and the characters that populate it.
And that is one thing that the Lady Vanishes has in spades, this film has a glorious roster of characters each with their own unique defined personality. The characters that populate this film are imaginative and memorable, and add to the eccentricity of this wonderfully tight thriller.
The Lady Vanishes stars Margaret Lockwood as Iris a young woman who is on a trip with a group of friends celebrating the last throws of her freedom before she is to marry a young British dullard. Before boarding the train going home she meets a kind elderly woman Miss Froy who takes a liking to her. Early in the train ride they go to the dining car to have a cup of tea, Iris is hit on the head with a pot meant for Miss Froy, and that's when the plot begins to unfold. Iris falls unconscious, and upon awakening comes to discover that Miss Froy has vanished. Also, no one appears to acknowledge that she was ever on the train to begin with. This gets Iris in a bet of a frenzy, and alongside musicologist Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) they begin to look into Miss Froy's disappearance with is much deeper than either is prepared to believe.
The casual Hitchcock viewer that may be familiar with his later more popular works such as Vertigo, Rear Window, and North by Northwest may be taken aback a bit by the looseness on display with the Lady Vanishes. However, the film really shows a master filmmaker really coming into his own. It's a film that starts feeling like an ensemble comedy with a cast of kookie characters, before becoming a taut international thriller that is all but guaranteed to keep the viewer on the edge of his/her seat for the duration (I can definitely attest to this statement).
I personally have a passion for films that transition from lighter to darker material during their running times, and while I won't say that the Lady Vanishes becomes too dark, the way Hitchcock handles the genre transition is seamless, and although the characters start out feeling a bit like caricatures they end up feeling fully realized by the films end.
In the weeks since receiving the Lady Vanishes for review I have found myself watching it multiple times. I adore Hitchcock's films immensely, and discovering such a masterpiece in his repertoire after so many years of viewership was quite the shock. If you have not seen the Lady Vanishes it is a must see. If you have it is worth viewing again and again.
Criterion have presented the Lady Vanishes in an absolutely fantastic 1:33:1 black and white transfer preserving the films original theatrical aspect ratio. The level of detail present in this transfer is simply a sight to behold, there is an absolutely fantastic amount of depth in each shot. The black levels are solid, and there is a healthy level of grain over the entire film. There is some damage including some vertical lines, and a hint of softness, that may have been intentional on the part of the production. Overall, a truly excellent transfer from the folks who do them best.
The Lady Vanishes is presented with an English LPCM 1.0 Monaural transfer. The audio is very good, dialogue is completely audible throughout the film, music and effects are mixed well. There do not appear to be any aural anomalies anywhere on the track, another solid efford by Criterion.
It's always a good sign when the extras for a home video release include an ENTIRE other film, and that is one of the additional extra features on the Criterion release of The Lady Vanishes. It is called Crook's Tour, and is a 1941 film that checks in on Caldicott and Charters the 2 rabid cricket fans from Lady Vanishes. We then have a video excerpt from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interview that formed the basic of the excellent book Hitchcock/Truffaut. We then have a segment called Mystery Train which is a video analysis by Leonard Laff that runs 34 minutes and dissects the Lady Vanishes breaking down it's style and discussing it's various themes. We then have a excellent commentary by film scholar Bruce Eder. The disc is rounded off by a stills gallery, there is also a booklet with essays that accompanies the releases.
I honestly cannot believe I have never seen the Lady Vanishes prior to this Blu-ray. This is early Hitchcock at his very best, and is a near perfect cinematic experience. The Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion is an absolute stunner as far as the A/V is concerned, and it comes loaded with extras including a whole extra film. I can't recommend this film Highly enough.