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Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense

Friday, January 18, 2013
8:40 p.m. The Lady Vanishes
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1938)

A seamless blend of humor and thrills makes this film’s sinister and bizarre elements less obviously threatening than, say, those in Sabotage and, much later, Strangers on a Train. The action takes place on a transcontinental train where a young English woman (Margaret Lockwood), having dozed off, awakes to find that the tweedy-whimsical old lady (Dame May Whitty) with whom she had been conversing has disappeared. Everyone else in the carriage denies she was ever there. The Lady Vanishes is squarely 1938, as the train speeds through the Tyrolean Alps to a place where nobody can be neutral. (A running reference to “how England is doing”—cricket, that is—is a double entendre.) A Launder-Gilliat script and the first appearance of that delightful duo of twits, Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford, assure that, although war and Hollywood were in the wings, there might at the very least always be an England.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, based on the novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White. Photographed by Jack Cox. With Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty. (96 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Park Circus)