Passed. I love the adorable rating system of the British rating system. It's that certificate that old British movies start with. It's like it won an award or something. A pass / fail award. Regardless, this movie passed!
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
In my film class, I devote the entire month of October to Hitchcock. These are the things that get you attention from local magazines claiming you are a good teacher. (Okay, no one really knows I do this outside of my actual film students and I'm pretty sure they're only okay with this lesson plan.) As part of this unit, I divide Hitchcock into four eras: the British films, the Selznick era (which I tend not to show a movie from, despite the fact that Rebecca crushes), the Warner films, and the Universal films. Last year, I showed The 39 Steps and the kids hated it. Okay, they didn't hate it, but they were far from impressed. It's hard to find an engaging British Hitchcock film for high school students. I'm not slamming this era at all, but Hitchcock has a very different pace from his American stuff. It had been a while since I had seen The Lady Vanishes, so I gave this one a whirl. It was a mostly successful choice.
I can't stand the fact that Flightplan exists. I haven't seen it, but I've seen the trailer far too many times. Flightplan is the same story, but on a plane. (What? You don't remember the very forgettable gem that is Flightplan with Jodie Foster and Sean Bean? You mean that this is something that sticks in my mind for no reason and I'm a bad person? You're right. I should quit this website. It IS far too much work. I should just sleep? Okay.) Hitchcock is an amazing director, but he's also a guy who knows how to pick some high concept projects. I can see Hitchcock sitting in armchairs with just a stack of novels, burning through them in one night. He adapts these books that aren't necessarily famous in themselves (with the exception of Rebecca) and they are all very cool concepts. The Lady Vanishes is another cool concept and the story rides pretty high on its concept. I will say that Mrs. Froy is a bit Macguffin-y, which is appropriate considering that Hitchcock made this movie. As a Macguffin, this is probably where I'm torn the most. The problem that my students had with The 39 Steps is that the Macguffin doesn't really pay off, despite the fact that so much revolved around it. Somehow, The Lady Vanishes shares the very odd premise that The 39 Steps has in the fact that the Macguffin is kind of malarkey, but for some reason it works a bit better in this case. (I still love Mr. Memory.) The kids were weirdly cool with the answer to the mystery of who Mrs. Froy really was. I, however, was not that all into it. Instead, I just liked the movie as a whole. I don't want to make this a grandiose argument about maturity or anything because I don't really think I have a case. But I'm genuinely cool with the Macguffin not being that important sometimes. The Macguffin works, but not in a perfect way. Someone really jammed that puzzle piece in where it really didn't belong.
What I like aobut Hitchcock's British era is the detail. Like Green for Danger, there is this very weird comedy and character humor ensconced in a dramatic thriller. This would later carry on into his macabre personality, juxtaposing death to puns or a flat affect. (I'm pretty proud of that previous sentence.) But I love the moments in the story. I suppose this review is going to take into account student reactions to moments because I can't help thinking how other people absorb content we spoon-feed them. The romantic element does seem a bit dated. In light of the #metoo hashtag, Michael Redgrave's performance as Gilbert seems wildly aggressive. Yet, I can't help but find it charming. I know, the woke side of me knows that he should lay off and respect her boundaries. The film fan and the supporter of the narrative realizes it is what makes the characters and the story work. (I really hope I'm not dating the "Me too" hashtag. For people reading this in the future, #metoo refers to women who have been sexually harassed.) Gilbert is a stark contrast to Margaret Lockwood's Iris Henderson and that joining of opposites is what makes their relationship fun. But watching my students react to his advances gave me hope for the future of my students with their attention to the fact that his advances were not alright, but made me sad that they also couldn't enjoy the film from a will they / won't they perspective. I know, I get too political sometimes. The good news is that the students still had a lot of fun with the movie as a whole, so I guess students can allow for some cultural wiggle room and take these moments in stride. But the best bit of the entire film are the two sports fans trying to make the game. (IMDB makes me think that their names are Caldicott and Charters, but I have little info regarding them.) They are there for almost entirely comic relief, but the plot clearly revolves around their obsessive behavior and it becomes humorous. Again, I'm a hypocrite for allowing these characters some leniency. I tend to rip apart movies where coincidence is the only thing that allows a master plan to succeed and this movie really plays that up. (Sorry, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I will not let you off the hook any time soon.) As dark as the whole story is, the light tone of the film never really makes the movie a bummer. The movie is actually pretty fun throughout and part of that lies in the absurdity of the whole thing. Hitchcock uses archetypes to throw everything at the wall. He even has an evil henchman disguised as a nun who then changes sides in the movie. That's pretty great.
I don't know quite why I like The Lady Vanishes so much. The more I think about it, the more I realized that it is a pretty flawed film. I think this movie might just be about achieving a perfect tone. When reading Truffaut's interview with Hitchcock, he mentioned that it was playing in Paris every week to solid out audiences, despite its age. It has a certain something that makes it fun and engaging. It doesn't pay off as tightly as it should, but it is filled with constantly satisfying moments. It's like a constant feeding of endorphins that make the movie worth watching. Every time Iris looks crazy, something happens that cements her back on the case. These movie almost works as a combination of scenes that really play well together and nothing else. But those reveals are always fun, probably no more so than Mrs. Froy's name on glass. Everyone in the room knew that the letters on the window was foreshadowing and everyone was glad when they predicted correctly. It allows for those coincidence moments and the deus ex machina moments to really succeed. The movie requires not only investment in the mystery, but also a sense of forgiveness when Iris receives bonus hints to things she should not be able to discover. It's fun and engaging, if not a little bit flawed. I'll probably watch it again in a few years and think the same thing. Who knows? Maybe a double feature with Flightplan?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.