Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Cecil Parker, Linden Travers, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford, Mary Clare, Philip Leaver
After a train gets stopped by an avalanche the passengers are cooped up in a small hotel and some of them get on each other’s nerves in the cramped quarters. Once the train begins its journey the next morning everything seems fine…until a woman disappears. The only person who seems to notice is Iris (Lockwood) and she tries to convince the other passengers that something nefarious is going on while they try and convince her that she’s mistaken.
The film begins with a sweeping shot of the small town, and although it’s model work it’s impressive, especially when a toy car whizzes by in the background. It sets the scene superbly and then the camera thrusts into the hotel where the guests are hollering and generally creating a racket. It doesn’t seem too important at first given that the main story takes place on the train, but this portion of the film introduces us to the various characters and their quirks, and also foreshadows a few things that become important later on.
Once we’re on the train the story really kicks in and it’s not long before the mystery is apparent. Iris is fretful once her friend disappears and its intriguing to see how the plot unfolds, because although there’s definitely something strange going on some people seem involved in a conspiracy when they’re actually claiming that Iris is mistaken for wholly different reasons. As the camera passes through different compartments a glimpse is given of all these different characters and their backgrounds, and why they do the things they do. Some are more entertaining than others (I believe the two English chaps were actually so popular they spun off into other films and begun a legacy of their own), but it’s fascinating to see the different angles at play here.
The mystery isn’t necessarily one of ‘whodunnit’ because it’s pretty clear early on who is involved, but the why, ah, now that is the real mystery and it’s one that is kept secret until near the end. I felt completely empathetic with the main character and shared her emotions. The interactions with Gilbert (Redgrave) were amusing and one particular highlight was the fight in the luggage carriage. I enjoyed practically every aspect of this film, and I think the thing that makes it shine is the support cast, who are at times either baffled or completely nonchalant.
It’s a clever film and while it does take a while to get going it’s rewarding. The mystery completely sucked me in and the performance of Lockwood had me enthralled. A great early movie from Hitchcock, that’s The Lady Vanishes and it’s one I highly recommend.