I haven’t seen the contemporary re-makes of this 1938 Hitchcock classic. But it is difficult to imagine a better version. The first quarter of the film is very funny, setting the stage for Hitchcock’s sly satirical commentary the year before Britain and France declared war on Germany. You won’t be frightened by this comedy-thriller (“Psycho” came many years later), but you will be intrigued by the bright tone, sophisticated dialogue and unpredictable plot turns. And it’s on a Hitchcock train! I kept looking for those signature camera angles, editing and special effects but was distracted by the plot–that’s how good it is.
The opening sequence is set in a country inn somewhere in the fictional central European country of “Barika”. The inn has been overrun by Brits whose travel plans have been delayed because of an avalanche. For a brief time I thought maybe I had put on the wrong film, but soon enough we are thrown into classic Hitchcock country. And once the passengers board the express train bound for London the real fun begins. The train is filled with British passengers blind to the dangerous situation and the intrigue that surrounds them (btw the Munich Agreement in 1938 allowed Germany to annex part of Czechoslavakia). Of course Hitchcock never refers to this and you don’t need to know that to enjoy the film, but once the metaphor is clear, “The Lady Vanishes” takes on a more sombre meaning.