Way back into cinema history we go, for a much-respected early Hitch talkie, The Lady Vanishes (1938). Based on the short story The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, with a screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, Alfred Hitchcock‘s film presents us with an intriguing ‘locked-door’ mystery – what has become of the amiable Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), whom marriage-bound socialite Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) met on a trans-European express, and who then seems to disappear into thin air, with none of the other passengers in her carriage seeming to remember her? There’s dirty work afoot, that’s for sure…
Hitchcock pulls off a remarkable sleight-of-hand trick with this, which manages to avoid its potentially stagy pitfalls with some aplomb. The introduction of the mystery, coupled as it is with the intrigue as to why everyone is suddenly denying that Miss Froy was ever on the train, which the seemingly helpful Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas) is only too happy to explain away as being the result of Henderson banging her head earlier in the film, creates a genuine sense of unease – it’s a good job that the charmingly caddish musician Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) is on hand to ensure fair play, and the chemistry that is achieved between him ‘n her is more than a little racy for 1938, as is Hitch’s fondness for allowing Lockwood to show off her damn fine legs on numerous occasions.
As with all the best mysteries, there is perhaps the wish that the explanation that is ultimately provided could not have been more fantastical, but this is still a racy, fun romp into espionage. Enjoy.