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: /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 Nile, Magnum 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, Asylum, The Man from UNCLE and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Jenny Runacre in Lovejoy.