Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Films Christian Loves: THE LADY VANISHES

I once asked a dear friend what her favorite Hitchcock movie was. Without a second's hesitation, she stated that it was THE LADY VANISHES. We talked about the strengths of certain Hitchcock films, the weaknesses of others, and why we preferred certain films in his catalog to others.

I have never really bought into the whole "Master of Suspense" label given to Hitch. Certainly, he has directed some wonderfully suspenseful films, and his television show consistently featured suspenseful tales. That's all well and good, but the one thing that all of my favorite Hitchcock films -- save one -- share is a wonderful romance. THE LADY VANISHES contains one such romance. Ostensibly, the film is a mystery, but in reality the film is a wonderful romance -- romantic comedy even.

During the set up of the narrative a young woman named Iris meets a charming older lady named Miss Froy while on a train ride through a fictional central European country. The two hit it off splendidly. But when young miss Iris awakens after passing out on the journey, she awakens to find that Miss Froy is missing. From here the mystery, including some international espionage, begins. This is also when the romance begins. Due to the nature of Iris' earlier unconscious spell, most people write of "Miss Froy" as an hallucination. This is not true for dashing young Gilber, a student of music who has been studying the folk songs of the region. There is something about the young woman's confidence in describing her encounter with Miss Froy that makes Gilbert skeptical of those who dismiss it as mere hallucination. The mystery follows a standard format, but the romance is what makes the tale worth watching. The same is true for most of my favorite Hitchcock films, from To Catch a Thief to The Man Who Knew Too Much (the original version without Jimmy Stewart). Hitchcock's ability to bring romance to the tale is what gives these films their verisimilitude and allows the audience to forget how "setty" the Hitchcockian world appears. The people are real, so we don't need a real looking world.

Sit back and enjoy a masterful film, thanks to Hulu.

THE LADY VANISHES is a great film, but if you were wondering if it is the answer to a question on my "How Well Do You Know Christian?" Facebook quiz -- it isn't.

It should also be noted that the underlying basis for the mystery in this film is likely inspired by real events. During the 1867 Paris World Exposition a woman disappeared and authorities refused to believe the woman's daughter that the woman was ever in attendance at the fair -- a fictional version of the tale is Verwehte Spuren. The 1867 event also served as the inspiration to one of my favorite pulp series, The Avenger.

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