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?
This is disc number three in The Criterion Collection and all I have to say is, what took so long? It is no wonder this was one of the series’ early numbered titles, as it is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most beloved British films and a real treat to watch. I like this disc, but I do wish some more Hitchcock information was included in the end. The feature looks and sounds good though, plus the added commentary track packs in some value. 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. If you’re a Hitchcock devotee or you just love great cinema, then this is a disc you simply have to see, highly recommended.
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?
The Lady Vanishes is presented in full frame form, which preserves the film’s proper aspect ratio. This print has been restored and it shows, as much of the debris has been removed and the image looks much sharper as a result. There is still some minor wear signs, but nowhere near the level you might expect, this is a fine piece of restoration work indeed. The black & white visuals look very good here, black levels are well balanced and the detail layering is very high. This film was made in 1938, but you’d never know that from this ultra-sharp transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
A very clean mono track is present, which provides a solid experience and shows little in terms of age problems. I heard some harshness here and there, but in the end, this is an acceptable audio presentation. The vocals come off in fine form, with only slight problems at times and the sound effects are crisp also. This film doesn’t use sound effects for impact much though, so don’t expect a powerhouse mix, even by mono standards. I am very pleased with this track and I am glad Criterion used the original mono, as opposed to a remixed surround track, like other studios sometimes do.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes 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. There is also a nice restoration demonstration, which shows how much difference can be made on these older films, a very cool inclusion. You can also fine tune your television, thanks to the included color bars.