Thoughts on Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes

Finally, a film set almost exclusively on a train. From the opening scene showing a set of trains snowed in on some mountain clime, we know we’re in for some high railroad drama. We also get to see the fine dining available on the train for these wealthy Europeans, their cozy sleeping cars and aisles much wider than a bus’s or an airplanes’.

The movie starts in the fictional country of Bandrika, somewhere in the Alps between Germany, Italy, and France. Avalanches are common in this country, and the frazzled manager of the hotel where an eclectic crowd of visitors must stay and wait for the tracks to clear says, “even the trains disappear under the avalanche.”

Eventually, a crew gets the tracks cleared and everybody boards the train. However a young brunette playgirl named Iris going home for her wedding has a flower pot fall on her head from some dubious gloved hand in a second-floor window and boards the train in a concussive state. Nowadays, with all the research on head trauma necessitated by the great carnal alter we bow down to called football, we know not to let someone fall asleep amidst a concussion, But these people have no such knowledge. The woman who takes it upon herself to look after our dazed heroine, Mrs. Froy, persuades Iris to sleep away her confusion, but the slumber only leads to more headache. When Iris awakes, (here’s your cue) the lady vanishes.

Hey there Mrs. Froy…er…I mean…

Mrs. Froy is missing, and thankfully there’s a brain doctor on board. He diagnoses Iris with subconscious hallucinations, saying she must have created the likeness of Mrs. Froy in her traumatized mind. Thus Mrs. Froy is but a thinly veiled reference to the father of misogynistic diagnoses of hysterical women himself, Dr. Sigmund Freud. Iris, though, can’t shake the unheimlich and recruits the help of Gilbert, the sardonic but handsome Bandrikan who plays the clarinet and studies folk music, to ferret out the conspiracy. Of course, the brain doctor is involved, and the Italian magicians are complicit in what Iris and Gilbert discover to be a kidnapping of Mrs. Froy, a British official.

Through their investigation Iris and Gilbert fall in love. But theirs isn’t the only romance afoot. A curious pair of Brits–obvious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern characters–observe the goings-on and try to suppress the matter so that the train won’t stop and they can back to England on time for the big cricket match. At one point we find them half naked in bed together reading the same newspaper and, like with R&G before them, the audience just goes “huh?”.

The film ends with the bad guys disconnecting the train cars, isolating our heroes and Mrs. Froy somewhere in WWII enemy territory, and shooting up the train. The passengers have their own gun and the scene turns into a callous shoot-em-up akin to a Tarantino flick with bodies falling dead all around. The British make their dry observations in the face of mortal danger while Mrs. Froy gets away and Gilbert gets the train to start again. Thus we ride off into the British sunset and cap off another entertaining Hitchcock satirical thriller.

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