Rediscovering its original integrity and vitality via Criterion’s exacting restoration practices – which are all detailed in the accompanying booklet as usual - this vintage classic looks amazing on Blu-ray. Encoded via AVC, the 1.33:1 image is rich, textured and detailed and wonderfully lively.
Grain is on splendid show. It looks real and unmolested. To this end, the celluloid grit is very rewarding. We have a good level of contrast that manages to withstand the rigours of age with only marginal flutters and wavering – nothing, certainly, that will cause any concern. Blacks aren’t the deepest you will have encountered in such older material, but they do just fine. The greyscale is reasonably smooth throughout, and there are only the minutest of white blooming highlights.
Detail can naturally vary, with some occasional shots looking a little soft and diffused. But there is much more to commend than to bemoan. Clothing and objects are often quite sharply rendered. The paraphernalia found in the baggage compartment-cum-battleground and the trees in the woodland during the gunfight offer up plenty for the eye to settle on. There is also a fine degree of depth to the image. Shots of characters moving down the aisle of the train, or going through compartments often reveal a keen sense of visual geometry that belies what you would normally associate with film of this period and with this sort of limited setting. Facial detail can be bland, but this is part and parcel of the ghostly pallor of the times and the photography … but there are also moments when they can be quite revealing too, with whiskers made apparent for the twirling of, and gleams found in the eyes that could be considered devilish.
Despite all of Criterion’s efforts, there is still some damage revealed in the print. But when the most you have to contend with beyond the usual flecks and mottles, is a little patch of faded frame, you don’t really have anything to complain about.
I found that the disc coped well with the images of blurring lines, such as those that we see during the montage of train tracks speeding-by, telegraph wires and the spinning of the wheels and the great piston as Iris falls into slumber. The trick shots of a thundering train whistling by Gilbert as he hangs heroically onto the side of the carriage, and the various model and miniature effects, are all more than competently integrated with the hi-def image not uncoupling them too much from the mis-en-scene by virtue of the greater definition.
Overall, this is a grand transfer for a classic movie. It looks like film and it is a delight to watch.
We get to hear The Lady Vanishes in an uncompressed monaural track and the results of the restoration – removal of the snap, crackle and pop associated with such older fare, the diminishing of background hiss and the elimination of distortion – are very pleasing indeed. Everything is perfectly centralised and sounds nice and clear. Dialogue is clean and crisp, although you will have to make a few concessions for the age and the source. The music is hollowed-out and lacks much in the way of warmth, but this is as close to how it would have sounded upon release as it is possible to get it in the home environment. There are still plenty of effects to spice up the mix. We have the rushing of the train, of course, the few gunshots punctuating the exciting final stretch, the thud of the planter that thwacks poor Iris on the bonce, the frequent opening and closing of compartment doors and, best of all, the hooting of Gilbert’s clarinet and the raucous thundering of the stomping feet on the ceiling above Iris.
The opening scene, in which we are visually introduced to many of the characters as they languish in the mountain hotel, is initially very quiet, but once two locals blunder their way in, the track comes alive with over-the-top banter and the film then keeps up the vocal spark with alacrity thereafter. There is never an occasion when speech is muffled or swamped, or otherwise lost on the track.
As with the image, there is absolutely nothing to complain about with how Criterion have presented the audio track. It sounds clear and detailed enough to thoroughly savour and enjoy.
We get another great booklet of essays on the film, typical of Criterion, a terrific commentary track from film historian Bruce Eder and a brilliant video essay from Hitchcock scholar Leonard Leff, entitled Mystery Train that runs for 33 minutes. Together, these features cover a lot of very interesting ground. We learn about the social and political aspects that Hitchcock managed to inveigle into the story. There is much discussion about the technical wonders that he achieved with such minimal resources and the splendid writing and acting gets thoroughly examined. There are indeed a lot of surprising facets to what, on the outside, is a fairly fun and frisky and light-hearted thriller, and these authorities do a fine job of chronicling them.
And, in a great touch, we get the 1941 feature film Crook’s Tour which starred the ace double-act of Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, completely reprising their roles as Charters and Caldicott. As I wrote earlier, the two became something of a cinematic staple after their riotous pairing for Hitchcock. However, this film, about their misadventures on a globe-trotting trip, is very trite and a little bit forced in something similar to what would go on to form the template of the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “Road” movies. I would have much preferred to have had included their earlier escapade, Night Train To Munich, another train-set yarn that also reunited them with the gorgeous Margaret Lockwood. The film is presented via AVC.
Hitchcock can be heard airing his highly considered opinions in excerpts from the famous 1962 audio interview with Francois Truffaut.
A Stills Gallery completes this fine set of supplements
Quintessentially English without any of the stuffiness and elitist pondering that this normally entails. The Lady Vanishes is effortlessly entertaining, incredibly witty and startlingly innuendo-laden, and full of the sort of thrills and spills and character etching that both tweaks and endorses that unique flavour of the quaint village green, Sunday afternoon cricket and stiff-upper-lipped-ness that we can proudly call our own. Whilst undeniably a prime example of England against the World, the fast-moving story has enough oddness and eccentricity to thoroughly lampoon the indefatigable mindset of Old Blighty and yet uphold its collective tenacity in the same breath. The politics are pertinent and you have to remember the era when this was made, and the things that were happening in Europe at the time, to help grasp some of the more cutting asides and to understand the thematic smothering of British ambivalence in the face of gradually building menace.
That it addresses espionage, feminism, sexuality and the class divide in the same glorious package is what makes the film such an outright and formidable classic … and a true trendsetter.
The acting is wonderful right across the board. You have to hand it to Dame May Whitty for making us actually miss the old bird once Miss Froy has actually vanished. We can’t help but savour the quirky relationship between Charters and Caldicott, and the magical real-life bond that was struck between both Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne who played them and massively similar characters throughout their combined careers. Paul Lukas delivers a fantastic Bela Lugosi accent as the fiendish Dr. Hartz, and the twitchy arrogance of Cecil Parker and Linden Travers as the couple struggling through a doomed affair is spot on. But, of course, the film is dominated by the sparkling liaison of the irresistible Margaret Lockwood and the thoroughly disarming Michael Redgrave as the two characters flung together in a maelstrom of intrigue and romance. Without the success of this pairing, it is doubtful that Hitch would have been so adept at crafting such later and critically cherished screen partnerships as Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.
We know what to expect from Criterion, and they don’t disappoint with a sterling transfer that is full of detail and texture, good, reliable sound, and a winning platter of extra features.
The Lady may have Vanished … but she’s reappeared on Blu-ray, and she looks terrific.
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