The Lady Vanishes (1938) Hitchcock

28 Oct

Aaah this is still a draft

Historicism is something to salivate over. Most modern cinema is too recent for its historical content to be worth scrutiny, passed onto digital formats for the supposedly anti-decaying properties, which personally I think is erroneous. I’ve seen faint beams of light, in more than one online image, become crystalline. Ultimately time alone will tell how presence occupies digital reserves. Film corrodes and alters in time. Who knows what will occur with other mediums? How could we possibly tell? The Lady Vanishes for free on YouTube.com was a real eye opener, mainly because it’s set in 1938, when tensions between European nations were a paramount media topic. The historical content, both direct and indirect, a thing of beauty for the viewer or a cinema historian.

The opening titles are played over what resembles a black and white interpretation of an alpine oil painting. Then cue the action and the camera pans round from a height: this is real not some painting. There is slight movement juxtaposed against the still backdrop. The camera moves out impossibly off the edge of the precipice. We’re above a train lying half buried in snow, growing closer, zooming closer, until we’re almost level with a moving car. Then we reach the first location of the movie: a hotel.

Inside the hotel we’re introduced to the main characters: a bickering couple; some young assured ladies; a couple of Englishmen; a middle-aged governess; and a folk-dance historian. We’re also introduced to some English idiosyncrasies that are to become themes throughout the movie. Marriage is a theme: one of the young ladies is to return to London to be wed because ‘what else is left?’ for her, the couple (who are married to other people we learn) consist of a dissatisfied, disempowered woman and her decisive partner. Carelessness and disregard are also a theme with the peculiar Englishness of giving the appearance of caring and expecting this to be reciprocated.

The Englishmen muse upon the importance of showing respect for another’s culture by standing for the Romanian national anthem and then humorously reveal that they were the only people standing. They certainly show no regard or respect for the hotel yet demand a level of hospitality that is beyond the proprietor’s power; they’re given the maid’s room, sulking ironically rather than with gratitude, when she needs to use it momentarily. The folk-dance historian goes beyond rude to become ‘the most disagreeable person I’ve ever met in all my life’ according to the young lady who is to be married.

Then the mystery begins with a shadowy pair of hands wrapping round the throat of a musician outside, still unnoticed as the inhabitants of the hotel board the train the following morning, when another creepy pair of hands pushes a wooden plant container off a windowsill directly above the governess but unfortunately striking the young lady upon the head instead.

The setting changes to the train. The governess accompanies the lady for tea, where the Englishmen are debating cricket, writing her name casually in the steamy window: Froy. She hands over her own herbal concoction popular in Mexico to be prepared by the steward. The lady takes a turn for the worse and the two women enter a compartment with several Victorian looking Europeans. She falls asleep. When she awakens, not only is Miss Froy nowhere to be found, but nobody on the train has seen her at all.

The Europeans deny she was ever in the compartment; the steward shows the lady a bill to prove that she took tea for one, regular tea, not herbal; the married couple, whom Miss Froy stumbled upon, have no knowledge; the Englishmen, not wanting to be delayed for the test match, say they have no recollection…

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