Good evening. Do you recognize that theme? It’s referred to as The Theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The actual title: Funeral March of a Marionette. “I’ve eaten caviar at Cannes, sausage rolls at the dogs. I’ve played baccarat at Biarritz and darts with the rural dean. What is there left for me but to host an Alfred Hitchcock movie?”
Today’s film is one of Hitchcock’s most famous earlier works, The Lady Vanishes. It utilizes one of Hitch’s favorite settings, train travel: In this case, from a fictional country in the Alps to England. It stars famed British stage star, Michael Redgrave, father of both Vanessa & Lynn Redgrave, in his film debut. Lynn lived in Kent CT until her passing in 2010. I was fortunate to see her one-woman play, Nightingale, at Hartford Stage in ’07. In the Lady Vanishes, Redgrave plays Gilbert, a musicologist studying central European folk songs. He meets Iris (Margaret Lockwood), who’s returning home for her wedding. Iris is a gorgeous brunette, despite Hitch’s penchant for blondes. She has befriended Miss Froy (Dame May Witty), a governess & music teacher with a secret! Also on board are the two comic relief characters, Charters & Caldicott (Basil Radford & Naunton Wayne respectively), who are hell-bent on getting back to England as soon as possible to go to a cricket match.
This was Hitch’s penultimate British-made film. He directed 54 features and was nominated for 5 Oscars, all after he came to the U.S., and was the recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in ‘68 at the 40th Oscars. His infamous acceptance speech was “Thank you.”. He made a cameo appearance in most of his movies, including The Lady Vanishes. Hitchcock perfected the MacGuffin: A plot technique used to move the characters along in the story. Although it seems to be important, the MacGuffin never really is. The best way to know if something is a MacGuffin is to substitute the word & see if anything changes. For instance, in Psycho, Janet Leigh’s character Marion steals $40000, flees Phoenix, and meets Norman Bates & her demise at the Bates Motel. But she could easily have stolen a MacGuffin. Or just went to meet Sam and stopped to sleep at the Bates. Her fate wold have been the same. We have a MacGuffin in The Lady Vanishes, of course.
Whether you’re a big fan of Hitch already & have seen The Lady Vanishes; or you’re new to classic film & want to know about his techniques; or you’re a casual Hitchcock and/or classic movie viewer; or an Alfred Hitchcock affionado: You’ll LOVE the humor & the suspense, the acting & the production design, the music & the absence of it, the beginning & the end & everything in between when you watch the full version of The Lady Vanishes embedded below! Well you will after you skip the initial advertisement once it’s 5 seconds in. 4 Stars!