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The Lady Vanishes (1938 film): Wikis


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The Lady Vanishes

Original theatrical poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Edward Black (uncredited)
Written by Ethel Lina White (novel)
Sidney Gilliat
Frank Launder
Alma Reville (continuity)
Starring Margaret Lockwood
Michael Redgrave
Paul Lukas
Dame May Whitty
Music by Louis Levy
Charles Williams
Cecil Milner
(all uncredited)
Cinematography Jack E. Cox
Editing by R. E. Dearing
Distributed by Gaumont British Films
20th-Century Fox (US)
Release date(s) November 1, 1938 (US)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and adapted by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder from the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White.[1] It stars Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty, and features Cecil Parker, Linden Travers, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford, Mary Clare, Googie Withers, Catherine Lacey and Sally Stewart.

The Lady Vanishes was Hitchock's penultimate film made in the U.K. before his move to Hollywood – 1939's Jamaica Inn followed it.[2][3] It was the great success of The Lady Vanishes, after a slump of three films that were not hits,[4] that made it possible for Hitchcock to negotiate a very good deal to work in the States.[5] A remake, also entitled The Lady Vanishes, was made in 1979.



In Bandrika, a fictional country in an "uncivilised" region of immediately pre-World War II Central Europe,[6] a motley group of travellers eager to return to England is delayed by an avalanche that has blocked the railway tracks. Among the train's passengers are Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), a young musicologist who has been studying the folk songs of the region, Iris (Margaret Lockwood), a young woman of independent means who has spent a holiday with some friends, but is now returning home to get married, and Miss Froy (May Whitty), an elderly lady who has worked some years abroad as a governess.

When the train resumes its journey, Iris and Miss Froy become acquainted, while the remaining passengers in the compartment appear not to understand a word of English. Iris lapses into unconsciousness, the result of an earlier encounter with a falling flowerpot meant for Miss Froy. When Iris reawakens, the governess has vanished, and she is shocked to learn that the other passengers claim Miss Froy never existed. The other English travelers deny ever seeing her, for their own reasons.

Fellow passenger Doctor Egon Hartz (Paul Lukas) convinces everyone that she must be hallucinating due to her accident. Undaunted, Iris starts to investigate, joined only by a skeptical Gilbert, with whom she eventually falls in love. They discover that Miss Froy is being held prisoner in a sealed-off compartment supposedly occupied by a seriously ill patient being transported to an operation. They manage to free her, but the train is diverted to a side track, where a shootout ensues. Miss Froy intimates to Gilbert and Iris that she is in fact a British spy assigned to deliver some vital information (the famous Hitchcock MacGuffin) to the Foreign Office in London; after entrusting her message, encoded in a folk song – sung earlier by a balladeer, who is strangled in the first violence of the film[7] – to Gilbert, she flees under cover of the shootout.

After managing to restart the train and escape, Gilbert and Iris return to London. At the Foreign Office, Gilbert, driven to joyful distraction when Iris accepts his marriage proposal, forgets the tune. Just as it appears the message has been lost, the coded folk song is heard in the background. Fortunately, Miss Froy has also made good her escape and is seen playing the song on a piano.


The plot of Hitchcock's film differs considerably from White's novel. In The Wheel Spins, Miss Froy really is an innocent old lady looking forward to seeing her octogenarian parents; she is abducted because she knows something (without realising its significance) that would cause trouble for the local authorities if it came out. Iris' mental confusion is due to sunstroke, not a blow to the head. In White's novel, the wheel keeps spinning: the train never stops, and there is no final shootout. Additionally, the supporting cast of English people differs somewhat between the novel and the film; for instance, in the novel, the Gilbert character is Max Hare, a young English engineer (described as "untidy and with a rebellious tuft of hair", and in a similarly chirpy vein to Gilbert) building a dam in the hills who knows the local language, and there is also a modern-languages professor character who acts as Iris's and Max's interpreter who does not appear in the film. The characters Charters and Caldicott were created for the film, and do not appear in the novel.

The story was used again in the series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in the episode "Into Thin Air". Several themes of the movie (person vanishing from a moving vehicle, dizzy woman as only witness, writing on the window as proof, etc.) reappear in the 2005 thriller Flightplan starring Jodie Foster.


Cast notes


The Lady Vanishes was originally called The Lost Lady, and young American director Roy William Neill was assigned by producer Edward Black to make it. A crew was dispatched to Yugoslavia to do background shots, but when the Yugoslav police accidentally discovered that they were not well-portrayed in the script, they kicked the crew out of the country, and Black scrapped the project. A year later, Hitchcock couldn't come up with a property to direct to fulfill his contract with Black, so he accepted when Black offered The Lost Lady to him. Hitchcock worked with the writers to make some changes to tighten up the opening and ending of the story, but otherwise the script did not change much.[5]

At first, Hitchcock considered Lilli Palmer for the female lead, but went instead with Margaret Lockwood, who was at the time relatively unknown. Lockwood was attracted to the heroines of Ethel Lina White's stories, and accepted the role. Michael Redgrave was also unknown to the cinema audience, but was a rising stage star at the time. He was reluctant to leave the stage to do the film, but was convinced by John Gielgud to do so. As it happened, the film, Redgrave's first leading role, made him an international star.[5]

The film, which was shot at studios in Islington[9] and Shepherd's Bush, and on location in Hampshire, including at Longmoor Military Camp,[10] was the first to be made under an agreement between Gaumont-British and MGM, in which Gaumont provided MGM with some of their Gainsborough films for release in the U.K., for which MGM would pay half the production costs if MGM decided to release the film in the U.S. In the case of The Lady Vanishes, however, 20th Century-Fox did the American release.[11]


When The Lady Vanishes opened in the U.K. it was an immediate hit, becoming the most successful British film to that date. It was also very successful when it opened in New York.[5]

Awards and honors

The film was named "Best Picture of 1938" by the New York Times,[5] and Alfred Hitchcock received the 1939 New York Film Critics Circle Award for "Best Director".[5][12][13]

See also



  1. ^ This novel was serialised in six weekly 15 minute parts, read by Brenda Blethyn, from 7 March 2008 on BBC Radio 2.
  2. ^ Alfred Hitchcock at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Brenner, Paul Overview (Allmovie)
  4. ^ Hanley, Brendon "The Lady Vanishes" (Allmovie review)
  5. ^ a b c d e f Miller, Frank "The Lady Vanishes" (TCM article)
  6. ^ It has often been wrongly stated that the action of the movie is set in Nazi-controlled Austria, though Bandrika may be seen as a substitute for such. Bandrika's fictitious language has similarities to Italian, Hungarian and German. Three of the railway stations seen or mentioned within the country are "Zolnay," "Dravka," and "Morsken".
  7. ^ The Lady Vanishes: All Aboard!, by Geoffrey O'Brien
  8. ^ TCM Trivia
  9. ^ TCM Overview
  10. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  11. ^ TCM Notes
  12. ^ Allmovie Awards
  13. ^ IMDB Awards


  • Rich, Nataniel. The Lady Vanishes: Hitchcock's first Hitchcock film, Slate, Dec. 4, 2007.
  • Vermilye, Jerry. The Great British Films, pp. 42–44. Citadel Press, 1978. ISBN 080650661X

External links

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