The Sanctum

Welcome, traveller. This be the realm of Jay Niner, where everything be possible, and nothing ever happens. If, perchance, thou wisheth to tarry, then find thou a page from the Grimoire and read. For we are here in eternity, and we are in medias res.

6.4.10

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

I seem to be taking cues from PPCC these days, much obliged. Probably because of a lack of something to blog about, so I start writing film reviews. I need to get a life.
Although I'm in no hurry to do so.
So, The Lady Vanishes. So did my resistance against the vestiges of sleep creeping in from the sides. Without much ado, I fell asleep, so I'm not exactly qualified to review, but please acknowledge that I'm a hypocrite, so all's well that begins well.
The plot starts with an Inn in the fictitious country of Bandrika. It's strange how those names all add up; Bandrika, Bengalla (Phantom), and so on. It's as though somebody grabbed somebody else off the street and told them to come up with crazy-sounding names. Bandrika in itself is populated by a mix of europeans talking more gibberish than sense which can be attributed to the fact that Hitchcock reportedly got his people to invent a whole new language and speak it. The same shit was employed in Avatar (2009), although to greater effect to my knowledge.
So, the scene is set; a strange land, a benevolent-seeming old lady by the name of Miss Froy (May Whitty), Iris (Margaret Lockwood) the erstwhile holiday-er on her way to her sasural, and Gilbert (Michael Redgrave, a musicologist looking to write a book on the folk songs. Due to some inevitability in the train's getting late, everyone's got to take rooms in the hotel and wait for the following morning. Some humour is depicted alongside, with the local scene and Gilbert disturbing everyone with his work, which involves three of the hotel staff dancing with their heavy boots on the floor above Iris and Miss Froy.
With some minor arguements the passengers find themselves in the station the following morning, where Iris gets hit by a flowerpot and is concussed for the morning, when Miss Froy volunteers to take care of her.
At this point it would be prudent to mention the book from which the plot was taken. The original was written by Ethel Lina White, who called it "The Wheel Spins," wherein it is not a flowerpot that concusses her by sunstroke. Miss Froy takes care of Iris and accompanies her to the restaurant car (how come India still doesn't have those, even after so long?) and conviniently writes her name on the restaurant window. And then she accompanies Iris back to the compartment where Iris sleeps once more, and awakens to find Miss Froy nowhere.
Now, modern movie fanatics will remember a film, "Flightplan" (2005) starring Jodie Foster and Sean Bean, where Jodie Foster plays an engineer whose daughter disappears during a flight. They will also remember that while Jodie Foster's character, Kyle Pratt, seems to teeter on the edge of sanity and she suddenly spots the heart her daughter had drawn on the window. And her bravado returns.
The same happens here. Iris, this time joined by an ever-sceptical Gilbert who tries to pacify her. She eventually believes that Miss Froy was never there, and then she spots the drawing on the window, "F R O Y," and her moxie returns. The two of them search the whole train, although Gilbert takes her along to an onboard doctor, Hertz, who is apparently carrying a patient bandaged from head to toe. Although the story is good, it's also excellently predictable. There's something about the antagonist; always something about the villain, and Dr. Hertz looks every inch the villain.
After a few misadventures in the baggage compartment, Gilbert and Iris try to expose the patient, but are stopped by Hertz, who drugs them and leaves them asleep in the adjoining compartment. However his accomplice, a nun, gives him coloured water instead of the drug and helps Iris and Gilbert, who by now have established an excellent rapport. Gilbert exits through the window, opens up Miss Froy, knocks out another of il Doctore's  accomplices and leaves her in wraps, literally. The doctor suspects nothing until they reach the station, where he opens the bandages and understands the situation. The railway staff is revealed to be gullible enough to believe Hertz when he tells them there are spies aboard and he is from the British Intelligence. He gets rid of the adjoining carriages, leaving Gilbert and Iris sitting in the now last carriage of the train, which is promptly detached and left at the mercy of german troops.
Following a shootout, Froy reveals that she is a spy carrying vital information in the form of a musical tune which she teaches to Gilbert, and then she escapes, followed by Gilbert who goes to flag down the engine and bring it back to be attached. In the midst of all this there are two casualities, the nun and another passenger, but they're hardly vital to the story, so nothing happens.
The germans give up and the train reaches London, where Iris and Gilbert find themselves in love, at which point Gilbert wonderfully, typically, forgets the tune. But the day is saved when they find the tune played by Miss Froy, who manages to reach London inspite of her age, and the day is saved. C'est fin.

"The Wheel Spins" is differently told, however; Miss Froy has no idea she's carrying around a vital piece of information. The train never stops, and there is no final shootout. Gilbert is an engineer by the name of Max Hare, and it is sunstroke and not a badly aimed flowerpot that dizzies Iris, and the two unlucky cricket enthusiasts are nowhere.
The Lady Vanishes has an 8.1 rating on IMDB, and received the Best Film Award of 1938.
However, in this day and age, it was just another screening in just another sleepy afternoon. Plot? Predictable, after watching Flightplan. Pace? Good, but slower than expected. Visuals and unnecessary points galore.
The best characters were Charters and Caldicott shown on the side panel, the two cricket enthusiasts, who were always wondering if they'd get to the match after all, unfazed by shootouts or spies or the war. And no, they're not gay, although they're a visual treat.
Amen and goodnight.

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