Film Review: The Lady Vanishes (1979)


1930s were, thanks to Great Depression, rather miserable time for most people in the world. Like always, having a huge pile of money made you more likely to have good time instead, and that included persons like the protagonist of The Lady Vanishes, 1979 British comedy thriller directed by Anthony Page. Amanda Metcalf-Midvani-Von Hoffstaeder-Kelly (played by Cybill Shepherd) is a rich American heiress and multiple divorcee that not only escaped poverty but can afford luxury of travelling to various exotic locations around the world. In August 1939 she ends up in Bavaria and, before embarking on the train bound to Switzerland, takes too much drink and wakes up next day in a train, being tended by charming elderly Englishwoman named Miss Froy (played by Angela Lansbury). When Froy disappears, none of the people in the train can remember her and some even try to convince Amanda that Froy was nothing but product of her imagination. The only one unwilling to completely dismiss Amanda’s claims is American photographer Robert Condon (played by Elliott Gould) and his joins her investigation. It soon turns out that the whole affair might be connected with the diplomatic crisis involving Nazi Germany and that Froy might actually be a British spy.

The film is based on The Wheel Spins, mystery novel by Ethel Lina White which was originally adapted for screen in 1938 by Alftred Hitchcock in what turned out to be the biggest hit during pre-Hollywood phase of his career. Producers of new versions, despite having colour photography, bigger budget, authentic locations and actual trains at their disposal, didn’t actually try to compete with the Master of Suspense. While 1938 film was actually a serious thriller using background of approaching Second World War and audience’s fears to great effect, new version is made as 1930s Hollywood screwball comedy with Cybill Shephered made to look and act like their star Carole Lombard. The idea could have worked if not for Shepherd’s complete lack of chemistry with Elliott Gould, who was terribly miscast in his role. Humour doesn’t quite work and the audience knowing that the war will actually start deprives this film of necessary tension and suspense. There is some good acting, most notably in supporting roles and especially in the case of Angela Lansbury, but this isn’t enough to compensate for generally disappointing impression. The Lady Vanishes failed at the box-office and became the last film made by legendary British production company Hammer Films until late 2000s.

RATING: 4/10 (++)

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