The Lady Vanishes: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

As a train ventures across the landscape of Europe, little does passenger Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) realize what a mysterious trip this is about to become. Iris is a very social and polite person, so when the train is forced to station due to bad weather, it is not unusual when she begins to make friends with an old woman. The old woman, also a passenger on the same train is Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), a governess who will soon be missing. When the train resumes the journey the next morning, the old woman is gone and much to Iris’ surprise, no one else even remembers Miss Froy from before. Iris is very confused and begins to suspect some sort of foulness, so she and a musician, Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave) decide to track her down. As she delves deeper into this unusual situation, Iris soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous and very complex string of events. Who is behind this strange disappearance and why?

The Criterion Collection doesn’t often revisit previous releases, but in the case of The Lady Vanishes, a decade had passed since that original release. While that disc served us well for those ten years, the time has come to lay it to rest, as this new two disc version is superior in all respects. The film blends the usual Hitchcock elements into a fresh bottle, which works well enough for me. The suspense is well created and sustained, while the injections of humor keep the flow smooth and never dull. I suppose some slow stretches are present, but not to the extent where the viewer gets restless. These slow spots are used to enhance the atmosphere or build tension and in the end, I think it works out very well. The Lady Vanishes also includes a unique romantic undercurrent, which adds even more depth to the picture. This is simply a great movie and this new two disc release is a must own for fans, so an upgrade is more than justified.

When it comes to murder mysteries, few directors can deliver the goods like Alfred Hitchcock could. And while I don’t think this is his best motion picture, it is a very good and one of my own personal favorites from his resume. As usual, Hitchcock is able to build intense suspense here and get some great performances from his cast, which ensure that the film will succeed. As I noted above, the special effects here are very primitive, but if you’re a Hitchcock fan, then you’re used to such touches. The man could make excellent movies to be sure, but his films always seem to have poor visual effects, though it never spoils the movie. All the typical Hitchcock elements seem present here and The Lady Vanishes stands as a terrific moment in his career as a director. Other Hitchcock films include The Birds, North By Northwest, Vertigo, Strangers On A Train, Psycho, and Shadow Of A Doubt, among many others. The cast here includes Michael Redgrave (1984, Dead of Night), Paul Lukas (By Candlelight, Strange Cargo), Cecil Parker (The Spider, The Iron Maiden), Margaret Lockwood (Rulers Of The Sea, The White Unicorn), and Dame May Whitty (Green Dolphin Street, Lassie Come Home).

Video: How does it look?

Presented in full-frame, “The Lady Vanishes” now makes its debut on Blu-ray. This is actually the third version of the film via Criterion as this was an initial release back in 1998. The film was then re-released in 2007 and this Blu-ray appears to have improved upon the transfer there. The black and white transfer looks a bit brighter, with contrast and black levels looking a bit more balanced. What was once muddled and “dark and shadowy” now looks more refined. There’s a bit of grain on the print, but for a film that was made in 1938 I think we can let it go! Overall this Blu-ray offering is a step up, albeit not a giant one, from the 2007 Criterion disc.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Blu-ray features an uncompressed mono track and while the sound is a bit more robust, it’s nothing night and day. Granted with only one channel to work with, the range is limited. Dialogue sounds fairly clear, but there are some scenes in which it’s a bit muted. Still, I do realize that there’s only so much that can be done with a film that’s nearly 75 years old so for that I do have to give props to Criterion for doing the most they could with what they had to work with.

Supplements: What are the extras?

“The Lady Vanishes” on Blu-ray contains the exact same features as the 2007 disc and we start off with an audio commentary track with film historian Bruce Eder, who is a frequent guest on these Criterion tracks. Eder is able to relate a wealth of insight and background on the film, as well as the stars and filmmakers, which makes for a very well rounded commentary in the end. I think some might be a little bored at times, as Eder is not a lively person, but he provides a lot of information and that is what I think is the most important element. “Crook’s Tour,” is a movie in which Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne reprise their roles from “The Lady Vanishes.” The movie itself is not that memorable, but as a supplement, it makes a welcome inclusion. This disc also includes a half hour video essay on The Lady Vanishes and Hitchcock, excerpts from an audio interview with Hitchcock, and some still photos & promotional artwork. A booklet with some essays by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien and Charles Barr are also included.

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