AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD
RUNNING TIME: 95 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In August 1939, a motley group of travelers find themselves in a small hotel in Bavaria, awaiting a delayed train to Switzerland. They include “much married madcap American heiress” Amanda Metcalf-Midvani-Von Hoffsteader-Kelly, and Robert Condon, a wise-cracking American photographer. Amanda gets very drunk and is knocked unconscious. The following morning, badly hungover, she finds herself in a train compartment with Miss Froy, an elderly governess, but when she wakes up from her next sleep, Miss Froy has vanished. Her fellow travelers deny ever seeing her, and only a sceptical Concon seems around to help her….
And so well we come to what would be Hammer’s last film for twenty years, and the last in this never-ending series of reviews. I will probably do write-ups on Hammer’s more recent productions at some point, but I did review two of them when they came out and others have already reviewed some of these on this website, plus I need a lengthy break from Hammer – so they won’t be happening any time soon. Now The Lady Vanishes is a film I was dreading because it’s a remake of what I believe to be Alfred Hitchcock’s finest British film, a near-perfect melding of mystery, suspense and humour. I wasn’t bothered about watching the 2013 BBC version for that very reason. Tony Williams of co-financiers Rank made some condescending remarks about the original just before production of this one, and his claim that newer movies were faster paced was inaccurate with regard to The Lady Vanishes. this version may get to the train quicker but afterwards moves at a slower lick than Hitchcock’s movie. But actually this film that I wanted to dislike proved to be rather good. No, it doesn’t come close to the 1938 classic, but it’s a perfectly serviceable substitute if you don’t fancy watching a film that’s 80 years old. Despite this one using the benefit of hindsight to have it obviously take place just before World War 2 whereas the original almost seemed to predict it despite being much more vague politically, the plot is virtually the same with a few tweaks. Some scenes are repeated verbatim. However, the use of a real train and locations does give this one a very different feel to the studio bound original. It certainly isn’t the same movie with different actors.
The lighthearted nature of the piece drowns out the suspense a bit too much unlike the brilliantly balanced original, but cricket-obsessed Charters and Caldicot [favourite line, “pacifists old boy, the early Christians tried that and got fed to the lions”] are just as funny, perfectly played by Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael. Sadly Elliot Gould and Cybill Shepherd [George Segal and Ali McGraw were first choices] don’t really have the required chemistry as the leads and, while Gould’s ‘hero who doesn’t think he’s any good at hero stuff’ does a nice variation on his usual screen persona, Shepherd is just brash and noisy and sometimes rather annoying. On the other hand, she’s probably never looked better, which this critic has no shame in admitting he found to be a huge bonus. It’s perhaps ironic that this remake in itself now seems rather quaint and old fashioned, but that’s not a bad thing when you consider such stuff isn’t made so much today, though if you liked the recent Murder On The Orient Express and even The Commuter you may find this surprisingly enjoyable. A relaxing, pleasant diversion, and that’s certainly not what I’d thought I’d say. It’s a whole lot better than the first offering from the ‘new’ Hammer Beyond The Rave which was unleashed in 2008 – but that’s another review for another time.