5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Witty Suspense!
An avalanche has delayed a trans-European train in a nameless village in an eastern European country some time before World War II. In this village there is chaos due to the sudden over crowding, which leads to a shortage of hotel rooms where visitors meet new people. At the end of the night someone is murdered under peculiar circumstances, however, the murder remains...
Published on April 20 2003 by Kim Anehall
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful movies; lousy transfer
I don't know why other versions of this movie are mixed in with the Criterion Collection version (or why Amazon persists in lumping VHS reviews with DVD reviews) that I am reviewing--it's confusing and frustrating to those who click on a particular version to learn about that version. The movie itself rates 5 stars, but the transfer barely rates at all. Criterion has a...
Published on Jan. 4 2002 by Tom Anderson
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4.0 out of 5 stars Budget Release Meets/Exceeds Expectations,
This review is from: Hitchcock;Alfred Thrillers (DVD)
First the usual warnings: caveat emptor, you get what you pay for, etc. etc. etc., yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. With that out of the way, let me say that getting these three early Hitchcock films at such a low price is an extremely good deal. Sure they're blurry in parts and there are occasional picture/sound glitches, but nothing really interferes with either the storytelling or the suspense, which is really why you're watching them in the first place.
Let me add that the four-star rating is for the DVD as a whole. None of the films are presented at four-star quality (The Lady Vanishes is maybe three-and-a-half), but the fact that you get three movies instead of one or two bumps the score from average to slightly-above.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is the oldest of the three movies and its print and sound quality are the most deteriorated. Nevertheless, the symphony scene and the final gunfight retain their suspensefulness. The movie holds its own against the 1956 remake; Leslie Banks is no Jimmy Stewart, but at least Edna Banks doesn't sing.
Secret Agent features a young John Gielgud, only a year or two out of short pants, I'm sure. Peter Lorre steals the show here, however, as an assassin or curious nationality. Of the three, I felt this was the least Hitchcockian in comparison with his later - and greater - work. It works on a psychological level, like his very-early Blackmail, rather than building the suspense of the other two films on this DVD or terror of Psycho or The Birds. The "self-translating" cypher notes are a nice effect; the spinning bowls and train crash are nice attempts at special effects that fall a little short of the mark.
The Lady Vanishes is the most recent of these films, and sports the best sound and picture. It also has some of the most recognizable Hitchcockian touches. The poisoned brandies framed in the extreme foreground, the hero(ine) whose sanity is in doubt, etc. It's also the most comedic throughout (although Lorre and Robert Young play their roles for laughs in Secret Agent, too).
If you want pristine remastered prints of these films, look elsewhere and expect to pay significantly more than a few dollars per movie. If you can "make do" with versions that look 65-70 years old, and want to experience Hitchcock early in his career, give this DVD a spin. If it turns out not to be to your liking, at least you haven't paid a lot to find that out. Odds are you'll find you get a lot for the price (a brief biography of Hitchcock appears on the disc, trivia factoids appear on the packaging), and won't experience buyer's remorse or feel ripped off by your purchase.
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Witty Suspense!,
An avalanche has delayed a trans-European train in a nameless village in an eastern European country some time before World War II. In this village there is chaos due to the sudden over crowding, which leads to a shortage of hotel rooms where visitors meet new people. At the end of the night someone is murdered under peculiar circumstances, however, the murder remains unknown to the people in the village. In the morning of the very next day someone pushes a pot that happens to land on the head of Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), and she suffers from lightheadedness. A polite old lady, that Iris met the night before due to a disturbing musician, offers to help her on board the train and to take care of her. When Iris wakes up at a later occasion it seems like the old lady has vanished, and no one seems to know who she was. She desperately seeks aid from the very same musician, Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave), who disturbed her sleep the previous night. These two characters set out to find out what has happened to the lost lady. Lady Vanishes is a quick humorous thriller that offers both deep belly laughs as well as exhilarating suspense. There are moments where the humor turns to slap-stick humor that seems to go overboard, yet it balances well with the daft lead of Iris. In the end, the combination between the absurd and the serious provides a clever satire that offers an exceptional cinematic experience.
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written, acted, and directed.,
This film is one of Hitchcock's early great works. Many believe THE LADY VANISHES to be an essential film. If you ask if I think everyone should see it I answer emphatically "Yes!". Whether or not it is essential to own is a bit up for grabs. I have seen it numerous times and it is enjoyable; great script, great scenes, great acting and directing etc. The 'lady' in question is so sweet and unassuming, and the young lady and man who become 'involved' are quite fiesty as well. Yet I have never felt compelled to own THE LADY VANISHES. As far as I'm concerned, it is a great example of early Hitchcock, but not essential.
That said, I am glad that Criterion Collection decided to include this title. The film elements look quite good considering the age of the negatives and how they were probably stored (without much care I'm guessing). The sound is as good as one can hope given the audio technology of the time (1939-World War Two was only just about to start!). Occasionally dialogue is not quite as crisp as I would like, but this is nothing too bothersome. All in all, this is a film that everyone should see at least once-certainly every film student or fan of Hitch.
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps Hitchcock's finest blend of humor and suspense,
First, if one wants to get this on DVD, it is absolutely essential to get the Criterion edition. There are numerous cheap editions of this film, but, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Only the Criterion edition is based on a reconstituted copy, the others being reduplications of worn, aged copies.
THE LADY VANISHES was the last film that Alfred Hitchcock made in Great Britain before leaving for a long stay in Hollywood. I consider this one to be the second best of the films he made in England during the thirties, only surpassed by THE 39 STEPS. Of all the films that Hitchcock made, THE LADY VANISHES probably best blends both the suspense and the humor he loved to inject into every film. In fact, this film is funnier than many pure comedies. The scene where Basil Radford hijacks a long distance telephone call, only to shout to the operator, "How's England?!" only to mean thereby, "What has happened in Cricket?" is a classic. This is also yet another of Hitchcock's great train films. No major director used trains as often and as well as Hitchcock, and this is his finest effort in the genre.
The cast for this film is easily the best of any of Hitchcock's 1930s films, and holds up well against any of his American films. Michael Redgrave manages to project both the humor and seriousness that Hitchcock preferred in his leading men, and Margaret Lockwood, although not blonde, makes an excellent leading lady. But it is the supporting cast that makes this film so delectable. Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford appear as "Caldicott" and "Charters," and as a pair of appalling Britishers abroad, they very nearly steal the movie. They were such a hit in this film that they became an instant team, and were paired in many additional films together. Sometimes, as in their memorable golf competition-to-the-death in DEAD OF NIGHT, they played similar characters under new names. But in several films they resurrected the Caldicott and Charters characters, as in Sir Carol Reed's NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH, which was itself a fairly straightforward imitation of THE LADY VANISHES. I must confess that my favorite moments of THE LADY VANISHES occur when they are onscreen, especially in the gunfight at the end, in which they simultaneously display complacent bravery and stoic indifference. Paul Lukas makes a marvelous villain, and Dame May Whitty is perfect playing the title character.
The film is marred mildly by the much lower state of British cinema compared to Hollywood in 1939. One need only compare the initial shot in this film with early shots in REBECCA. I consider THE LADY VANISHES a better film (though REBECCA has some marvelous moments, although in many ways it is an untypical Hitchcock film, forced as he was to conform to Hollywood and not yet able to enforce his own vision there), but if you compare the model sets in the British film with the model shots of Manderlay, the difference is dramatic. The opening shots of the Swiss town are so obviously a miniature; in REBECCA it is not at all obvious that Manderlay is.
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly my favorite Hitchcock film,
Hitchcock is best known for suspense--and if that is what you're looking for, this film may be a bit of a disappointment. The plot seems to be secondary, and the mystery isn't all that mysterious. But what makes this film stand out is its rollicking atmosphere and genuine sense of fun. All of the actors seem to be having the time of their lives: Michael Redgrave is hilariously brash ("You remind me of my father. You haven't any manners at all, and you're always seeing things."), Margaret Lockwood couldn't be prettier, Paul Lucas is suavely menacing, and Dame May Whitty is the perfect English lady. Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as cricket obsessed tourists steal every scene they are in.
Although many of Hitchcock's British films of this period seem somewhat amateurish, as if he were experimenting with what he could do with film, The Lady Vanishes scarcely seems to strike a false note. I've seen the film almost a dozen times, and each time I like it more. The wit and charm of this picture doesn't diminish with age--if anything it increases.
A note: since The Lady Vanishes is out of copyright, there are many editions available. The best one by far is the Criterion Collection's edition, with restored picture and sound. It also features a fascinating commentary track by film historian Bruce Eder. It's a bit pricey, but well worth in in my opinion.
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful movies; lousy transfer,
I don't know why other versions of this movie are mixed in with the Criterion Collection version (or why Amazon persists in lumping VHS reviews with DVD reviews) that I am reviewing--it's confusing and frustrating to those who click on a particular version to learn about that version. The movie itself rates 5 stars, but the transfer barely rates at all. Criterion has a reputation for quality, but you'd never know it from this DVD. The picture quality is one of the worst I have ever seen, and the sound's not far behind. It looks like it was made from a bad print instead of going back to a restored negative to make a proper transfer. Although it looks better here than I have seen it before, that's not saying a lot. Dirt and white specks abound. This is restoration? Was every 25th speck removed leaving the other 24 to constantly irritate? The picture is grainy and not in very good focus. The sound is distorted and sometimes hard to understand. If this is the best that Criterion could do, they shouldn't have bothered. They have trashed a classic, and have added insult to injury by charging top dollar for a hack job.
4.0 out of 5 stars Style over substance,
This review is from: Lady Vanishes, the (DVD)
According to Amazon.com's listing for this movie, there are currently seven different DVD versions of Alfred Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES available. The edition that I am discussing is the Laserlight issue that features Tony Curtis' introduction and closing remarks. The film print used in this version is surprisingly good for the price. The picture is crisp and clear while the audio track appears to be mixed well. Quite a pleasant experience and it's a real bargain at this price.
The story is fairly straightforward. A woman claims that she met someone on a train that nobody else seems to remember. She befriends a suave gentleman and the two of them attempt to track down the mystery before the train gets to its final destination. The story is not complicated but has one or two positive aspects that pull it above its simplistic origins. Humour is used to great effect here as the lead characters encounter the strange people one meets on trains. These characters also provide the film with some more of its great moments, such as them withholding and failing to provide information to the protagonists not because they have anything to hide, but simply because they have their own concerns and don't want to get involved in someone else's problem.
The humourous aspect that I mentioned before is one of the film's shining points. There's a wonderful fight scene between the leading man and one of the shady characters on the train. The main woman finds herself to be too short in comparison to the two men to help in the fight, but she pulls out a suitcase, stands on it and joins in the fight anyway. There are enough moments like this in the film to help it appeal to those who aren't usually thrilled by suspense films.
Unfortunately, there are also a few portions of the film that are distracting. Without giving away too much, there is a spy who switches allegiances at the most convenient moment for the main characters. This seemed to be far too contrived, and it quite annoyed me. There are a few other coincidences like this, but I won't spoil anything by giving them away here. Sufficient to say that individually, these problems aren't major, but they do have a certain cumulative effect. THE LADY VANISHES is a triumph of style over substance, but Hitchcockian style is definitely worth it.
After watching several others of the Laserlight DVDs, I am finally getting used to the bizarre Tony Curtis introductions. While the discussions may not be terribly informative, they are singularly entertaining. At one point during a speech on Hitchcock having never received an Oscar, the picture goes to a quick close-up of Tony Curtis who spits, "Shame on you, Academy Award!" reproachfully at the camera. That's entertainment!
Besides the introduction, the only extras are subtitles and a trailer for Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT. Tony Curtis claims to have personally gone into the film archives looking for this, which presents us with a funny mental image of him wandering around in the vaults wearing his black, leather gloves (from other Laserlight DVD introductions) demanding frightened interns to "Take me to your trailers." The subtitles are sadly lacking an English language version, which is an unfortunate omission for the hearing-impaired, though they do have Spanish, Chinese and Japanese options.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cinematic Masterpiece,
There's one thing that movies can do better than any other artistic medium. It's having you experience something from a character's point of view, and then having every other character in the movie say it never happened. Your empathy as a viewer is at its highest pitch: you saw what happened with your own eyes, and so you see it through the character's eyes as well, but then everyone denies it. This is the central scene on the train in THE LADY VANISHES. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in my opinion, is more cinematic than this. When the idea is used to trick the viewer (as in THE USUAL SUSPECTS), it's not as good (although still it's pretty good, because again it uses film in the most empathetic way possible). And when the trickery is fair--as in THE SIXTH SENSE--it can be superb. I rank THE LADY VANISHES right up there with VERTIGO, PSYCHO, and REAR WINDOW, as Hitchcock's greatest gifts to us, the moviegoers of the world. I would even add SHADOW OF A DOUBT to this pantheon. The thing I admire most about Hitchcock is that he was attracted to stories that showed what film could do as an art form. His best movies, in their different ways, display this for us. The movies I've mentioned would not be as good as novels or plays--and this is saying a great deal. It's a test, as a matter of fact, of what separates the film as an art medium from other artistic forms. The two directors who knew this best were Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney. It would be so terrific if someone were to come along someday who could be said to be their equal. Bottom line: THE LADY VANISHES is one of the best movies you will ever see, but please, it works at a slower pace than today's movies, so let it sink in for you, don't be in a hurry, EXPERIENCE it!
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy to get carried away, but...,
Being a Hitchcock fan to the core, it's easy to get whipped into a frenzy and proclaim nearly all of this great director's films before 1963 as being "masterpieces or cinematic jewels."
They are not.
In my view, this is particularly true for films Alfred Hitchcock made before Selznick put him under contract to direct "Rebecca," his first American film after saying goodbye to Mother England in 1939.
For me, the DVD version of "The Lady Vanishes" is the best of Hitch's films from England. Yet saying that it's the best of a rather mediocre lot may seem insulting to some, but this is how I feel.
Nearly all of Hitchcock's British Gaumont films appear overrated to me in nearly every respect, hampered by the technological constraints and the primitive tools of the time. Why people fall all over themselves for films like "The 39 Steps," for example, puzzles me. It's a klinker of the highest order devoid of much if any heart-pounding suspense.
"The Lady Vanishes" is the only film in my view that somewhat overcomes these constraints, greatly due to a witty script, engaging actors and an element of suspense that is of the tepid variety but interesting enough to keep you from hitting the "stop" button and coming back to it on another day. Margaret Lockwood is a fetching heroine, beautiful and smart, and Michael Redgrave, after you get past his annoying antics in the first 20 minutes, evolves into an interesting leading man, somewhat dashing and funny, perfectly cast.
But it is not fair to compare "The Lady Vanishes" to the true, timeless masterpieces that the master of suspense created later in his career, when the world of cinema and improving technology freed him to turn out a kaleidescope of stories that are far superior to this rather lightweight film. Criterion has done a superb job once again, presenting a near pristine transfer and good commentary and production notes. It's a great product. But the film is, well, another matter.
The only scene that comes close to being a harbinger of things to come with Alfred Hitchcock, a scene that bears his familiar "stamp," is a very short sequence involving Michael Redgrave climbing out of a window of a moving train to get into another compartment, and in doing so, hangs onto dear life as an oncoming train passes him with lightning speed. Other than that, there are no thrills or spills or anything close to what Hitchcock accomplishes later in his career.
And this makes total sense. As you get older and more sophisticated, you're supposed to get better.
In "The Lady Vanishes," Hitch doesn't even use music as an integral element of the cinematic process the way he used it later in his career. I don't even think he thought it to be very important yet. Oh, music does turn up here and there, but when it does, it does nothing to enhance what could have have been a more nail-biting film.
There is much that is primitive and elementary in the finished product of "The Lady Vanishes" that it should be regarded as no more than the following -- a good film from a legendary director, not a great one comparable to his dazzling output that started (if one discounts "Rebecca" as an aberration due to the "hands-on" treatment Selznick applied to all of his films, especially after his success with "Gone with the Wind" the year before) with the masterful "Shadow of a Doubt" in 1942 (and not "Foreign Correspondent" or "Saboteur," or even the slightly better "Suspicion"), picking up speed with "Spellbound" (which is quite laughable in parts, unintentionally, however), "Notorious" and then knocking out a few duds like "The Paradine Case" before finally hitting the jackpot with "Strangers on a Train," continuing on sporadically until he hit full stride in the mid-to-late 1950s through the early 1960s.
Is this product worth buying? No. Not unless you're a "completist." Is it worth watching? Definitely yes, more so than any of Hitchcock's other early British films. Is it a waste of 97 minutes? No, but don't force yourself to proclaim that it's a fabulous picture in every respect, and don't use the technological constraints of the 1930s as a post to lean back on in its defense. A great film is a great film, regardless of era. And "The Lady Vanishes" is good, not great. Save your money and rent this film, then decide.
It pains me to write these words but I'm just as big a fan of Alfred Hitchcock as everyone else. I just don't want people jaded into thinking that this film is a "keeper" that you "have to think is great lest you be cast as a fool or a heretic."
Despite my refusal to enter "The Lady Vanishes" into the pantheon of "Great Hitchcock Films," it's still an accomplished piece of work that I like far better than the more lauded "The 39 Steps." But buy to own forever that which is timeless and truly great, something that holds your interest even after numerous multiple viewings, like "North by Northwest" or "Rear Window" or "Vertigo" -- don't settle for something which is only good.
Hitchcock made 50 films. But he only made about 15 near flawless pictures. That's still a great batting average in my view, considering the dreck that Hollywood puts out these days. Put your hard-earned dollars into those 15 films and you're still ahead of the game. These 15 gave Hitchcock his name and stature. Everything else -- well, to me, they're just curio pieces, still to be treasured -- but only as a record of the trajectory of one of the greatest filmmakers the earth has ever seen.
5.0 out of 5 stars THE WHEEL SPINS,
This review is from: Lady Vanishes, the (DVD)
When a kindly old lady disappears from a swift moving train, her young acquaintance finds an imposter in her place and a spiraling mystery to solve. Hitchcock's first real winner, a smarmy, wit-drenched mystery which precipitated his Hollywood welcome. For a movie that is regarded throughout the world as one of Hitchcock's lighter masterpieces, the oddest thing about it is that it was conceived for another director altogether: Roy William Neill, who later made most of the Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes thillers. The first half of the adventure is not an adventure at all, but a rather jolly comedy about perennial Britishers abroad, being forced to share the maid's room in a mittle-European railway hotel and finding, when they have dressed for dinner, that there is nothing left to eat. Margaret Lockwood plays a spoiled heiress who's forced to share her room with Michael Redgrave after she has him ejected for making too much noise with his peasant clog-dancing..........THE LADY VANISHES is pure, harmless entertainment of a kind which is no longer considered commercial. With superb control, it pleases and it satisfies, and years after seeing it, one remembers its characters with the affection usually reserved for the oldest and dearest of friends. This, along with "39 Steps" is considered early classic Hitchcock; from the novel THE WHEEL SPINS by Ethel Lina White.
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The Lady Vanishes (Criterion) (Blu-Ray) by Alfred Hitchcock (Blu-ray - 2011)
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