Never climb a fence if you can sit on it

Never climb a fence if you can sit on it

 

There are a handful of names in film that can be used as adjectives. If you say something is “Spielbergian”, you are immediately understood. “Kubrickian” or “Bergman-esque”, ditto. However, there might well be no better cinematic adjective than to suggest something is “Hitchcockian”, since the master of suspense is just that…a master in every way, shape, and form.

With that in mind, it’s slightly surprising to me that I have done five and a half years’ worth of blind spot selections, and am only now getting to a gap in my Hitchcockian literacy.

Perhaps it’s because I have seen all of Hitchcock’s “essentials” (cue the argument over which of his films are “essential”)…or perhaps it’s because there were other directors whose oeuvre I needed to pay more attention to. Whatever the reason, I am finally scratching pulling a Hitchcock film from my blindspot kicking and screaming.

Time to get on that train, and see for myself how THE LADY VANISHES from off its rumbling cars.

THE LADY VANISHES begins with several travellers getting snowed-in at a mountainside lodge in the country of Bandrika. Amongst them are Iris (Margaret Lockwood) – a bachelorette looking to rendezvous with a suitor back in England, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) – a folk musician who thinks nothing of rehearsing his songs well into the night, and Charters & Caldicott – two cricket enthusiasts hoping to make it back to “Merry ‘Ol” in time for a big match.

In the background of all of this is a guest named Mrs. Froy (May Whitty), who hears a guest outside of her window singing a folk song all his own…and then, unbeknownst to her, get killed before he can sing an encore.

As their circles overlap and converge, the guests all run afoul of each-other the way people waiting out a delay often do. The next day though, the track is cleared of snow, and the train is ready to pull away.

Iris is seated in a cabin alongside Mrs. Froy…at least, at first. After Iris wakes from a nap, she realizes Mrs. Froy is gone – seemingly vanished into thin air. Something about a person disappearing from a moving train terrifies Iris. The only thing more terrifying? The fact that nobody else seems to remember Mrs. Froy in the first place.

 

"Froy"

 

Admittedly, a woman being put into peril in service of the narrative is one of the oldest tricks in the book. That said, there’s something especially twisted about a lady vanishing off a train mid-trip. It defies logic, defies the norm. Someone saw her get on and there hasn’t yet been a chance for her to get off. No matter which way you slice it, the disappearance is bad news.

That’s one of those twisted elements of Hitchcock films that I have loved lingering in; the bad news. Sometimes it’s downright surreal – like the seagulls acting suspicious, or the dead matriarch supposedly still sitting in the Bates Manor window. Other times it’s just a macabre twist of the screw; the body in the trunk while the party takes place, or the truth about what has brought Uncle Charlie back to the homestead.

In THE LADY VANISHES, it’s somewhere in-between. A missing person isn’t the most macabre idea in the book, but a person missing from a spot they could not naturally leave is deliciously messed-up. The scene of the story is moving, it’s on rails, it hasn’t stopped…how could Missus Froy possibly have vanished?It’s almost too crazy to believe, right?

More on that later.

 

The Lady Vanishes

 

Meanwhile, in amongst all of this low-boil terror, Hitchcock keeps coming back to little moments of whimsy. Much of it ties back to the very raison d’etre for Gilbert, Charters, and Caldicott.

Gilbert is more than a little absurd when we first meet him, practicing his folk songs in a packed hotel. Admit it, if this guy was doing this in your overbooked living quarters during your delayed travels, you’d be out for blood. Yet, Redgrave pulls it off with rogue-ish idiocy. Charters and Caldicott, meanwhile, do just enough to distract us from the fact that they are wickedly selfish in this whole mess. Getting off continued one-liners, and providing great visual gags like needing to share a single pair of pyjamas keep the mild chuckles coming.

Good thing too, since if we ever sat and thought long enough about how much worse they make things for Iris by not copping to what they know, we might get even more pissed off.

There are other moments of whimsy – details like the magician’s bunnies watching the goings-on in the baggage car, or the snide comments made during the final shootout.

All of it is impeccably timed, as only masters like Hitch are capable of. All of it is almost enough to make you forget that Europe was on the precipice of war.

At such times of tension, should such comic relief be dialled-down? Or should they, in fact, be turned to more often for morale?

 

THE LADY VANISHES, Mary Clare (standing in car), Paul Lukas (right), 1938

THE LADY VANISHES, Mary Clare (standing in car), Paul Lukas (right), 1938

 

It’s hard to watch a film like THE LADY VANISHES and not see deep brushstrokes of the modern push to believe women.

As that entire second act unfolds, we hear character after character dismiss Iris as having imagined things, having not possibly have seen the woman she claims to have seen. Some claim she is making things up, while others deny her queries to disguise their own involvement. Some even use the physical trauma she sustained as a reason she might not be thinking clearly.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

While this plot is taking place in the late 1930’s, and isn’t specifically about a woman trying to convince the world of a trauma she has sustained, the parallels are undeniable. When Gilbert agrees to help Iris in her quest, we can’t help but breathe a small sigh of relief…but should it come to that? Should it be required that a woman points out the figurative writing on the glass, and the companion sees the metaphorical tea wrapping before the claim is accepted?

(Co-incidentally, 1938 was the same year “Gaslight” premiered on the London stage).

While it’s a stretch to prove a correlation between the story Hitchcock chose to adapt and what is happening in the world today, there’s no denying that the parallel remains. Far too often, even when the evidence begins to support a woman’s claims of ill-doing, there remains distrust and suspicion. It’s an unfair position for Iris to be put in and it remains an unfair position for every woman who finds themselves there today.

One wonders if more would believe women if more people saw this film.

 

blind-spot-01

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.

 

Here’s the round-up for August so far…

 

Dell watched ROPE

Beatrice watched GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES

Brittani watched PARIS, TEXAS

Sean watched ROADKILL

Coog watched THE GENERAL

Erin watched BLACK ORPHEUS

Keisha watched CONTEMPT