FILMS… The Lady Vanishes (1979)

#1970s

 

Tracking down an Angela Lansbury enigmatic character…

 

Just before World War II begins a young heiress convinces a journalist that a woman has gone missing on a train, as everyone on the train denies having seen her.

 

The Lady Vanishes Trailer 1979, Video Detective

 

Look up “The Lady Vanishes” online and you’ll find everything from a Dallas (1978-91) episode – where after a cliffhanger car accident, a heavily bandaged Pam Ewing disappears from a hospital – to an Alfred Hitchcock movie… to a Hammer film production. Having seen the Dallas episode but not the Hitchcock film, I was curious to learn more of this non-horror, 1970s Hammer film after reading about the stellar cast.

This Hammer film is a remake of the 1938 much loved British Hitchcock film that starred Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave in those leading roles. But now banish any of your fond memories of this film, and read on. Replace Lockwood with Cybill Shepherd, Redgrave with Elliott Gould, and that disappearing lady, Dame May Whitty with Angela Lansbury as Miss Froy. Add Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael as Charters and Coldicott and what have you got… just some of the cast and characters from The Lady Vanishes (1979).

This film starts just before the beginning of World War II in Bavaria, 1939 as Miss Marple Miss Froy goes into the village for the night train. She whistles a tune as she walks to the station. After she learns that the night train to London is delayed, she and a motley bunch of British and Americans spend the night in a hotel.

This bunch is so diverse you could almost believe you are watching an Agatha Christie whodunnit. There is an American heiress, Amanda (Shepherd), an American journalist, Robert (Gould), two terribly English cricket fans, Charters and Coldicott, the secretive happily “married” English couple, the Todhunters and the English nanny, Miss Froy (Lansbury). This cast gets even bigger, and things are even more Agatha Christie inspired once we embark the train.

That night, Amanda gets drunk with some cronies. To Darlin Husband’s joy, he spots Star Wars stars, William Hootkins (Porkins) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) in her company. Later, my Darlin Husband gets excited about recognising the Ambassador from a certain chocolate telly advert who also starred in an Indiana Jones movie. But that’s not important right now. Back to the film, and the inebriated Amanda falls off a table backwards, bangs her head and is seen by Doctor Hartz (Herbert Lom) and advised to rest.

The next day, Amanda – still nursing a headache and concussion – meets a journalist Robert and immediately he’s attracted to her. She however is getting married again, as soon as she gets to London. The guests – now joined by Dr Hartz – get to the station and the train is pretty full, but Froy is given a reserved seat. After the train leaves the station, some Nazis chase the train by car, and it seems they are after someone who stayed in the hotel.

Miss Froy joins the same carriage as Amanda, a Baroness (Jean Anderson) and her German-speaking employees. Amanda befriends Miss Froy and they go to the restaurant car for a drink. On the way there, Froy accidentally falls into the wrong carriage and we meet the English couple again, who are trying to avoid attention, Todhunter (Gerald Harper) and his “wife” (Jenny Runacre). It’s revealed they are married but not to each other.

At the restaurant car, Froy introduces herself properly, by writing her name on the train window as the women chat and Froy show photos of her boss and the kids she was governess to. As Amanda has another whisky, Froy asks a waiter for some hot water for a stomach remedy. She gets some sugar lumps for her drink from Charters, who is there discussing the finer points of cricket with Coldicott. Both men are returning to England for a cricket match.

On return to their carriage, Froy encourages Amanda to sleep. Froy takes an offered sweet from a young girl…  In time, Amanda wakes up to see that Miss Froy has vanished. On asking about Froy in the carriage, everyone says they don’t recall this woman even being there. Even the waiter and those two cricket loving English men deny seeing Miss Froy.

Amanda is now not sure if this woman was a dream or part of a larger conspiracy… After talking to Robert about this woman’s disappearance, he believes her as they chat over some drinks. They visit Dr Hartz, who suggests Froy is possibly a post-concussion hallucination caused by Amanda’s bumped head… Tune in to find out more.

Although the Americans, Amanda and Robert were based on two British characters from the Hitchcock film and book, I did find these film characters quite irritating and annoying. Amanda’s character was reportedly based on a screwball actress, Carole Lombard. But I have only seen this latter actress in one film Nothing Sacred (1937). So I feel I can’t really compare these two performances. Interestingly Ali McGraw and George Segal were announced in these roles.

I did however like the Charters and Coldicott characters, who often upstaged those Americans. These British characters provided quite a lot of genuine comic scenes. These include one scene when Charters is discussing cricket using sugar lumps. He then gets exasperated with Froy as she asks for some sugar. Lowe and Carmichael were both great British character actors and I was sorry they did not have a larger role in this movie and had more scenes with Lansbury. I would gladly have watched a film with these two as the leads instead, as both were convincing in their roles and had great chemistry.

This original film also was described as a thriller mystery and the later film, a comedy mystery. I watched the trailer for the film and read about its plot. It also seems that Hitchcock added more suspense and thrills to his version of the story. Just looking at the trailer for this 1938 film, it does feel more chilling in its approach compared to similar scenes in this version. This mystery had so many characters with possible motives in this lady’s disappearance and the script also chucked in a few red herrings as either props or characters.

Angela Lansbury, Herbert Lom, Gerald Harper and Jenny Runacre all made enigmatic characters. But at just over one and a half hours running time, I would have added more to their characters at the start of the film. These characters could have easily been developed further. As this 1979 film was a comedy homage to the original movie, I felt that more film in-jokes could have been added to this film. Perhaps with Miss Froy, as an enigmatic governess to seven children… and have Froy show Amanda a photograph of Christopher Plummer’s Captain Von Trapp.

This plot could have easily have been rebooted in a detective or private eye series. After Amanda meets Robert, the whole plot turns into a 1930s episode of the 1980s telly great, Moonlighting (1985-89). This with Shepherd still in her role as Maddie Hayes, but Gould as David Addison. Like this show, this film pair shared the inevitable Moonlighting will they – won’t they, of course, they will hook up dynamic. Shepherd however had significantly more on-screen chemistry with the real David Addison actor, Bruce Willis. But like Amanda and Robert, an heiress and a journalist who investigate as a lady vanishes on a train,  both were detective moonlighting strangers who just met on the way…

Weeper Rating: 0 /10

Handsqueeze Rating:    🙂🙂🙂🙂  /10 

Hulk Rating: ‎   mrgreen mrgreen mrgreen  mrgreen mrgreen ‎/10

 


The Third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon 2021.

This film was added to the Third Hammer – Amicus Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Angela Lansbury stars in The Manchurian Candidate, Death on the NileMagnum PI and Murder She Wrote reviews. Cybill Shepard in Moonlighting, Moonlighting An Oral History, Chances Are and Fantasy Island. Elliott Gould in Murder She Wrote and The Ray Bradbury Theatre. Gerald Harper in The Avengers. Herbert Lom in The Ladykillers, AsylumThe Man from UNCLE and The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Jenny Runacre in Lovejoy. 


 

39 thoughts on “FILMS… The Lady Vanishes (1979)

  1. It also seems that Hitchcock added more suspense and thrills to his version of the story.

    It’s based on a novel by Ethel Lina White, originally published as The Wheel Spins and later republished as The Lady Vanishes. The original novel is a real stinker. It was an example of Hitchcock doing something he did several times, taking a mediocre novel but managing to find within it the seeds of a great film.

    The original novel has no thrills and no fun.

    Sometimes Hitchcock used excellent books as the basis for his movies and sometimes he used terrible books. He didn’t care, as long as they included ideas he could use.

    Ethel Lina White also wrote a book called Some Must Watch which was filmed by Robert Siodmak as The Spiral Staircase. It was also an awful novel which Siodmak turned into a brilliant movie.

    • The Spiral Staircase is a fantastic movie. Every movie Robert Siodmak did at that time is pretty much a must-see movie. Including his very very underrated Son of Dracula</b. Phantom Lady, The Killers, Criss Cross, The File on Thelma Jordon – all great Siodmak movies.

    • I’d love to join the blogathon but I don’t think I’d be able to do a review in time. There are a couple of Hammer movies I’m keen to revisit but I’m hanging on hoping they’ll get Blu-Ray releases. But I really would love to participate in a blogathon – it’s something I’ve never done.

  2. The last original Hammer film – and it’s not a horror! As I remember it, plotwise this and the 1938 film are very similar. It does state that it was based on Launder and Gilliat’s screenplay for the earlier film and not on the original novel (The Wheel Spins). The remake does have nice location filming and actual Nazis, unlike the Hitchcock film which is studio bound and vague about who the bad guys are. It also has some nice bits of casting in some supporting roles – and Charters and Caldicott are always amusing. But, yeah, Shepeerd and Gould do become irritating. They’re very badly miscast and directed in this, whereas Lockwood and Redgrave are very appealing in the original.

    • The last original Hammer film – and it’s not a horror!

      It’s a sobering thought that Hammer’s biggest 1970s hit was On the Buses.

      In a way it’s appropriate that their last film was a mystery thriller because they were the sorts of movies the studio specialised in in the early 50s when Hammer was just starting to establish itself.

      It’s also worth noting that The Lady Vanishes wasn’t the end of the line for Hammer. After that they did their excellent anthology TV series The Hammer House of Horror, which did quite well.

      It was the failure of the The Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense TV series in the mid-80s that doomed the studio.

    • Hmmm, I don’t know who I would cast. If it has to be an American it should be someone a bit smoother and more preppy, like Redford maybe. But they should really be British, as the whole thing is about Brits abroad and how different characters behave.

    • I’m thinking now that Alan Bates could have played the Redgrave part, he was just about the right age. The leading actress could still be American, as it would emphasise her outsider status among the group.

    • I like Hammer House of Horror. Hammer fans should definitely check it out, although it’s modern dress and so more like Amicus style if anything. I haven’t seen the Mystery and Suspense series.

    • The Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense seems to have totally disappeared. Just totally unavailable. It’s weird. You would think the Hammer name would be enough to make a DVD release viable.

  3. I could’ve sworn I’ve seen this film, but while reading your post I had no recollection of Arthur Lowe, so I must have only seen bits of it. My main memory is of Cybill Shepherd looking stunning in that white dress, interesting that her character was based on the queen of screwball comedy Carole Lombard. I do like your idea of a longer running time with more in-jokes and more developed characters, and definitely a different leading man.

  4. “Lowe and Carmichael were both great British character actors and I was sorry they did not have a larger role in this movie and had more scenes with Lansbury. I would gladly have watched a film with these two as the leads instead, as both were convincing in their roles and had great chemistry”

    That’s funny, because the actors from the Hitchcock movie, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, became a comedic support double-act in films for quite a long time afterwards, firstly as Charters and Caldicott, and later as differently-named characters who were basically the same, eg Ealing’s Dead of Night (the golfers). The characters, played by different actors, ended up with a BBC TV series in the 80s.

    I’ve seen this version, many, many years ago – but I don’t remember the leads at all!

  5. I have seen the Hitchcock film more times than I can count but never took the time to catch up with the 1979 movie. The cast sounds interesting, particularly Lowe and Carmichael. I don’t know that I will seek it out but if it comes my way I’ll certainly give it a gander with your well-considered tweaks in mind.

  6. Cybil Shepard and Elliot Gould could be pretty good with the right material, but they could also be insufferable. In hindsight it seems like this was an impossible mission, to enliven a classic thriller with “comedy” from two loopy Americans. Sometimes these types of failures can be interesting, and sometimes they’re just irritating. At least the film was salvaged somewhat by other cast members! Thanks again Gill for all your hard work co-hosting the blogathon!

  7. Thanks for the review! Anything with Angela Lansbury always catches my attention. It’s tough to upstage Hitchcock but from what I read of the reviews (haven’t seen the film yet), this film doesn’t even try, which is probably why it would be a fun film to watch. I love Ian Carmichael too. Very underrated actor of the post-WWII generation. He was fabulous as Lord Peter Wimsey.

    Tam

    • Thanks for your comment. As you say it would be hard to upstage the master of suspense. But this film is kind of charming with those supporting stars. And as you say Angela Lansbury is always a treat.

    • Ian Carmichael was always good. He’s terrific in School for Scoundrels (with the equally brilliant Terry-Thomas).

  8. I haven’t seen this version yet. Now I’m really curious (it does have a good cast). BTW, I read that Bette Davis turned down the title role (apparently, she didn’t see herself playing a nice old lady…LOL!).

  9. Nice to read that Herbert Lom, who appeared in Hammer’s The Phantom of the Opera and a couple Amicus films, was present to represent the old guard. I’m not a fan of either of the leads so have never made any effort to seek out this film. That said, despite your own misgivings, your review does spark some interest.

    Thanks again to you and Barry for hosting the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, Gill. It’s a lot of fun.

Love your thoughts... but only if they are spoiler free!

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