Year Released: 1938
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Pual Lukas, Dame May Whitty
(Not Rated, 97 min.)
"Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Lewis Carroll
Treat yourself to one of Hitchcock’s early classics, complete with international intrigue, slightly wacky cricket fans, and a Miss Marple like lady who suddenly vanishes without a trace from her train compartment as it meanders through the Swiss Alps. With the sole exception of a young Englishwoman, however, no one else will even admit to having seen her in the first place.
Set in continental Europe just as it is about to be swept into the frenzy of World War Two, The Lady Vanishes, like so many other Hitchcock vehicles, plays with the tug of war between the conscious and unconscious mind. The young English woman, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) has just been conked on the head at the train station and she is still a bit groggy. It would be so easy to believe her fellow train passengers who say she was alone, not in the company of the elderly governess, Miss Troy, as she insists. Even the well-known Dr. Hartz of Prague (Paul Lukas) dismisses her claim as a “very subjective image” brought on by a mild concussion.
But Miss Henderson is a force to be reckoned with. “I’ve been everywhere and done everything,” she explains to her friends. Of course this is not so much a testimony as to her abilities to take care of herself, but merely a reason for her to accept her forthcoming marriage, an event for which she desperately tries to muster up some enthusiasm. Perhaps her exploits aboard the train are merely a distraction from the unhappy prospects ahead. At any rate, Iris Henderson is not about to accept any balderdash about Miss Troy being a figment of her imagination.
The reasons her fellow passengers fail to substantiate her story range from silly to selfish to sinister. Cricket fanatics Charters and Caldicott see the world through their very own sticky wickets and fear any investigation into a vanishing lady may slow the train and thus lessen their chances of making it to the big game in Manchester. In another snide swipe at the state of matrimony, Mr. and “Mrs.” Todhunter, whose extra-marital passions have been cooled by more practical considerations, decide to keep their continental tryst out of the limelight by staying discretely uninvolved. Hitchcock lets us draw our own conclusions about the Baroness Nisotona, imbuing her with a haughty air and suspicious accent guaranteed to raise our hackles.
Which brings us to the fast talking musician, Gilbert Redman, played by the great Michael Redgrave, who achieved quite a bit of renown on his own before fathering his gifted progeny, Vanessa and Lynn. Although their earlier meeting was marred by a fuss about his noisy folk music rehearsals in the room above hers at the hotel, Iris is forced into a more civil relationship with him, since it is only the garrulous musician who will listen to her story with an open mind.
What they are confronting is a classic disappearance in the locked room tradition. Along with Miss Henderson, we the audience, have seen her enter the train with Miss Froy, watched them trade remarks in the compartment through the hallways and in the tearoom, and at least seven other passengers have as well. We are left to puzzle out not only how someone could disappear while on a moving train, but also why this disappearance is denied by so many.
If this sounds a bit like the recent Flight Plan, you are not the only one to notice. Emanuel Levy has a thorough discussion on their similarities. It seems the Hitchcock vehicle as well as Jody Foster’s film both were engendered by a tale of a mother taken ill in Paris during the great exposition there the year the Eiffel Tower was completed. After traveling to the remote parts of Paris to get medicine as per instructions from the visiting doctor and hotel manager, the daughter returns to a room now occupied by new lodgers. Everything is different, right down to the furniture and wallpaper. The explanation for this subterfuge is that the suspected disease was the bubonic plague and a wary manager and doctor didn’t want to upset tourism in their beloved city.
Before Hitchcock’s tale is over, a naughty nun in high heels will shock you, a complete cad will be delivered his comeuppance, and a mild mannered septuagenarian will demonstrate amazing athletic skill. But stay alert until the end so you don’t miss the director’s traditional cameo appearance at Victoria Station.
Anyone looking at our esteemed director knows that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t miss many meals. Perhaps that is why he had some fun in The Lady Vanishes by depriving his characters of theirs.
At the overcrowded hotel scene in the opening, the comic cricket lovers, Charters and Caldicott, arrive at the hotel restaurant only to be told that all the food has been served. They seat themselves next to a sweet old lady -- the one who ultimately vanishes – and share her leftovers, a not too memorable assortment of cheese and raw vegetables, I believe.
On the train, Gilbert Redman, the musician who befriends Iris in her quest to find the sweet governess who has disappeared, misses a most essential clue as he concentrates on eating his soup in the dining car. The recipe below is for “Absolutely Ultimate Potato Soup,” and it is certainly compelling enough to distract you, too. And since the potato was a Hitchcock special favorite, it is particularly appropriate.
For a final dining suggestion, you might want to end your meal with Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite breakfast: vanilla ice cream with a dash of brandy poured over it.
Absolutely Ultimate Potato Soup
1 pound bacon, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups chicken stock, or enough to cover potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
3 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
In a Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until done. Remove bacon from pan, and set aside. Drain off all but 1/4 cup of the bacon grease.
In the bacon grease remaining in the pan, saute the celery and onion until onion begins to turn clear. Add the garlic, and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cubed potatoes, and toss to coat. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Return the bacon to the pan, and add enough chicken stock to just cover the potatoes. Cover, and simmer until potatoes are tender.
In a separate pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Cook stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the heavy cream, tarragon and cilantro. Bring the cream mixture to a boil, and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir the cream mixture into the potato mixture. Puree about 1/2 the soup, and return to the pan. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Recipe Source: allrecipes.com