Of all the Hitchcock films that were not on the list, The Lady Vanishes seemed to be the most well-regarded. How nice, then, that the editors have included it in this new edition. I looked up the film before watching it, and found the premise very enticing, before thinking to myself that it seemed somehow familiar. Indeed, I’ve seen a film like this before; a few years back, Jodie Foster starred in a film called Flightplan, which seems to have taken its inspiration directly from this film, and merely moving the action from a train to an airplane. As admittedly standard as Flightplan was, I still enjoyed the premise, and Hitchcock seemed to be growing into his prime right around when this was made, so I went into it with much anticipation.
Margaret Lockwood stars as Iris, a young woman who stays the night at an inn after an avalanche blocks the railway, during which she meets the other travelers, including Gilbert, a student of folk songs, and Miss Froy, an elderly lady to whom Iris particularly bonds. After the train finally embarks, after having tea with Miss Froy in the dining car, Iris awakens from a nap to find Miss Froy has vanished from the train, and nobody will account for having so much as seen her. Since this is a Hitch film, the normal critiques like the technical aspects and even the script really don’t apply; they are standard, enough to get the job done, but nothing overly notable. It is the plot that makes this as good a film as it is, though even the plot was not without its foibles. The central mystery, for instance, was cheapened considerably by Hitchcock’s decision to show both sides of the conspiracy; Iris and Gilbert, and also the conspirators behind the scheme, which removed much of the suspense and mystery of what was going on. The whole Iris and Gilbert romantic angle was pretty much shoehorned in to have an obligatory romantic angle, and it was handled just as well, which really wasn’t. Hitch also made the odd decision to have no music whatsoever in the film, aside from the opening and closing titles, which unfortunately comes into play in the film’s climactic sequences, which aren’t nearly as affecting or tension-building as they otherwise would have been with music. Hitchcock seems to believe that the scenes and dialogue and action are enough to sustain us, but for me, it only made the sequence seem empty, devoid of what should be there.
I’ve heard a lot of really great things about this one, so my expectations going into it were decently high. I suppose this is just another example of an inevitable letdown from all the hype, but I only liked this one, and nothing more; it was good, but not up to Hitch’s later masterpieces (or even earlier, given that he would make Rebecca a scant two years later). This one is so popular, though, that I wasn’t surprised to see it make the list, especially then they trimmed Hitch’s numerous entries to do it, but I can only rank this one somewhere in the middle of the pile of Hitchcock on the list, rather than near the top. It was all there; it just wasn’t handled with skill and aplomb, and the film came across as almost unfinished to me. Maybe you’ll have better luck, but I’ll play devil’s advocate with this one; don’t get sucked into all the hype, or you might be as let down as I was.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10