The Lady Vanishes (Blu-ray)(The Criterion Collection, 12.6.2011)
Alfred Hitchcock’s final British masterpiece, The Lady Vanishes is one of the legendary filmmaker's most entertaining films, and a template for several of his later films, most notably North by Northwest. All the elements of classic Hitchcock are here in abundance: suspense, romance, comedy, irony and sexual innuendo. When the English governess Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) disappears on a train somewhere in central Europe, no one on board will confirm that she even exists, despite the protestations of our heroine, Iris (Margaret Lockwood). Even when the handsome hero (Michael Redgrave) tries to help, obstacles keep blocking their path to the truth.
As the excellent extras of this Criterion Blu-ray point out, Hitchcock and screenwriters Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder were satirizing British complacency about the threat posed by the Nazis in the late thirties, with a few lines openly attacking the appeasers in the government. Knowledge of the historical background helps in appreciating the film, but is not essential to enjoying it. We have an attractive young couple slowly falling in love (despite initial animosity), characters lying for sinister and/or relatively benign reasons, colorful secondary characters -- especially single-minded cricket fans, Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) -- spies, a shoot-out and a train.
In an insightful commentary, frequent Criterion contributor Bruce Eder discusses the differences between this film and its source (a novel by Ethel Lina White), the political context and the many similarities to other Hitchcock films. Eder examines Hitchcock's use of sound and considers the ways in which he manipulates viewer expectations. According to Eder, Redgrave had a difficult time in this, his first film, because the work was so unlike what he was used to in the theatre. Eder also provides background on almost everyone involved, but strangely ignores the lovely Linden Travers, who plays an adulterous passenger.
Additional extras include a brief video essay by Leonard Leff (author of Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood), a nine-minute audio clip from François Truffaut’s 1962 interview with Hitchcock, 1941's Crook’s Tour -- a deadly unfunny short featuring Charters and Caldicott -- and a booklet featuring Geoffrey O’Brien's concise analysis of the film. Last but not least, the transfer is a bit grainy, but provides a significant improvement over Criterion's 1998 DVD. -- Michael Adams