Film Noir File: Marvelous mystery appears in ‘Lady Vanishes’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

The Lady Vanishes” (1938, Alfred Hitchcock). 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Saturday, Oct. 4.

"The Lady Vanishes" is full of tricks and surprises.

“The Lady Vanishes” is full of tricks and surprises.

In “The Lady Vanishes,” his marvelous 1938 mystery classic set aboard a train racing though the Balkans, Alfred Hitchcock pushes the romantic-comedy-thriller form to near perfection. It’s one of the most purely entertaining movies he ever made, and it can be watched over and over again with no diminution of pleasure. With Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty.

Read the full review here.

Sunday, Oct. 5

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Scarface” (1932, Howard Hawks). With Paul Muni, George Raft, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley and Boris Karloff. Reviewed in FNB on July 17, 2014.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Cool Hand Luke” (1967, Stuart Rosenberg). With Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Jo Van Fleet, Strother Martin and Dennis Hopper. Reviewed in FNB on March 21, 2014.

Tuesday, Oct. 7

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “The Letter” (1940, William Wyler). With Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Gale Sondergaard and James Stephenson. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 19, 2012).

Maltese Falcon poster9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Ward Bond. Reviewed in FNB on March 11, 2014.

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “The Unfaithful” (1947, Vincent Sherman). With Ann Sheridan, Lew Ayres, Zachary Scott and Eve Arden. Ann Sheridan, with lots of oomph, takes over Bette Davis’ old role (and Jeanne Eagels’) in this Americanized remake of the film versions of the classic W. Somerset Maugham short story “The Letter.” (See above.)

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (1950, John Farrow). With Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue and Claude Rains. Bob Mitchum on the run with one of his blander leading ladies, Faith Domergue. No “Out of the Past,” but it holds your interest.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman and Leo G. Carroll. Reviewed in FNB on April 14, 2011.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956, Gerd Oswald). With Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter and Joanne Woodward. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 10, 2012.

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A few of FNB’s fave posts from 2012

Happy 2013, all! Here’s a look at FNB highlights from 2012.

Marilyn Monroe shot by Bert Stern

Top 10 FNB posts (misc.)

Remembering Beth Short, the Black Dahlia, on the 65th anniversary of her death

TCM festival in Hollywood

Interview with Tere Tereba, author of “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster”

Marilyn Monroe birthday tribute

Marilyn Monroe exhibit in Hollywood

Film noir feline stars: The cat in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

Famous injuries in film noir, coinciding with my fractured toe, or broken foot, depending on how dramatic I am feeling

Panel event on author Georges Simenon with director William Friedkin

History Channel announcement: FNB to curate film noir shop page

Retro restaurant reviews: Russell’s in Pasadena


REVIEWS: 2012 neo-noirs or films with elements of noir

Crossfire Hurricane” documentary


Holy Motors

Killing Them Softly

Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” documentary


Rust and Bone

Searching for Sugar Man” documentary


Wuthering Heights


REVIEWS: Classic film noir

Anatomy of a Murder

Criss Cross



Gun Crazy

Murder, My Sweet

The Postman Always Rings Twice


Sunset Blvd.

They Drive By Night


REVIEWS: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Dial M for Murder

The Lady Vanishes



The 39 Steps

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In ‘The Lady Vanishes,’ Hitch pushes form to near perfection

The Lady Vanishes/1938/GB Pictures/96 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood are an utterly beguiling English couple.

In “The Lady Vanishes,” his marvelous 1938 mystery classic set aboard a train racing though the Balkans, Alfred Hitchcock pushes the romantic-comedy-thriller form to near perfection. It’s one of the most purely entertaining movies he ever made, and it can be watched over and over again with no diminution of pleasure.

Arguably funnier than Hitchcock’s other train classics – “The 39 Steps” (1935), “Strangers on a Train” (1951) and “North By Northwest” (1959) – “The Lady Vanishes” offers one of Hitchcock’s greatest assemblies of characters and actors: Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Cecil Parker, Linden Travers, Catherine Lacey, Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford.

Hitchcock loved trains, in life as well as in his movies. In “The Lady Vanishes” we can see why. Though shot mostly on a sound stage, this locomotive is somehow supremely convincing – with its cozy yet menacing cars, jiggling tables, rushing train-sounds, compartments full of strangely cool or deceptively amiable passengers and that wonderful dining car, where so much tea is sipped, so much suspense generated and where the final crackerjack gun battle takes place.

Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder (“The Rake’s Progress,” “Night Train to Munich,” “Green for Danger”) wrote the script from a novel called “The Wheel Spins,” by Ethel Lina White. But the Gilliat-Launder stamp, a special brand of breezy and irreverent class-puncturing humor, is all over this film, almost as much as Hitchcock’s flair for tension, perverse romance, dark humor and similar irreverence toward class.

“The Lady Vanishes” offers one of Hitchcock’s greatest assemblies of actors.

The ingenious story is in line with brainy mysteries by writers like Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr. What happens? A congenial old lady named Miss Froy (played by the irresistible Dame May Whitty) disappears from the train and, when her pretty and saucy fellow passenger Iris (Margaret Lockwood) tries to find her, everyone who saw Miss Froy denies she existed.

Only Michael Redgrave as Gilbert, an amorous young musicologist, believes her. As Iris and Gilbert put their nimble wits together, love and melody and mystery bloom, even as the vanished lady remains peculiarly elusive. The train’s odd-lot passengers – including a suave doctor (Paul Lukas), a philandering politico and his inamorata (Cecil Parker and Linden Travers), a nun in high heels (Catherine Lacey) and those ineffable cricket fans Caldicott and Charters (played by the immortal Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford) – keep denying Miss Froy was ever there. Things get progressively stranger, faster, funnier and more dangerous.

Besides human passengers, a magician’s bunnies are aboard this mystery-filled train.

If Hitchcock loved trains, he makes us fall in love with this one, too – and with many of the people aboard, including some of the villains. And non-villains like Caldicott and Charters, who became so popular that they began making appearances, as the same characters, in other films (“Night Train to Munich” and “Crook’s Tour”). And Miss Froy, who looks a bit like Agatha Christie, or the way we envision Miss Marple to look. And of course Gilbert and Iris, an intrepid, utterly beguiling, English couple if ever there was one.

As I said, “The Lady Vanishes” is one movie classic that most audiences are sure to enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, I’m afraid I can’t help you. Maybe what you need is a long train ride in the Balkans.

“The Lady Vanishes” plays on the big screen this Wednesday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.

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On the radar: Revel in noir at the Aero, Egyptian and Lacma

There’s so much to see on the big screen this month in Los Angeles. See you at the movies!
1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; shows start at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 3: A sneak preview of the thriller/horror flick “Silent House” starring Elizabeth Olsen followed by 2003’s “Open Water,” a nerve-wracking story about a couple left stranded in the Caribbean after a day of scuba diving. There will be a discussion between films with co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker in "Strangers on a Train"

Wednesday, March 7: One of my all-time favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, “Strangers on a Train” (1951) stars Robert Walker as a psycho playboy intent on committing a double murder with tennis champ Farley Granger. As Hitch shows us in the opening shot, never underestimate the importance of footwear.
Wednesday, March 14: Another Hitchcock work that draws on his lifelong love of trains, “The Lady Vanishes” from 1938 takes place on a train en route from the fictional country of Bandrika to Western Europe. Passengers Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave attempt to find a mysterious Miss Froy.
Thursday, March 15: In “The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton) the great Robert Mitchum gives an unforgettable performance as a warped preacher with a knack for seducing trusting souls. Also starring Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. At 6:30 p.m., author Preston Neal Jones will sign his book “Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter.”

Laura Harring, director David Lynch and Naomi Watts of "Mulholland Dr."

Saturday, March 24: A top-notch double feature, starting with Billy Wilder’s masterpiece noir and scathing look at Hollywood, “Sunset Boulevard” (1950). William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim star in this must-see flick. Next up: Naomi Watts and Laura Harring lead the cast of David Lynch’s mesmerizing and surreal portrait of Tinseltown’s latent evil, “Mulholland Dr.” (2001).

Wednesday, March 28: Yet more Hitchcock! Joel McCrea plays reporter Johnny Jones, who encounters intrigue and danger in “Foreign Correspondent” from 1940.
Thursday March 29: “The Manchurian Candidate,” starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Superb direction from John Frankenheimer.
6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; shows start at 7:30 p.m. with multiple showings and one matinee for “The Snowtown Murders”

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten in "The Third Man."

Wednesday, March 7: Carol Reed directs Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles in 1949’s “The Third Man,” one of the finest thrillers ever made. Don’t miss it!
Wednesday, March 14: Orson Welles as auteur and actor. In “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), an outstanding noir, he co-stars with Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane. In “Confidential Report” (1955), Welles plays a dad in deep denial about his murky past.
Thursday, March 15-Sunday, March 18: Justin Kurzel makes his directorial debut with “The Snowtown Murders,” the story of Australia’s most infamous serial killer. Plays at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.
Wednesday, March 28: More brilliance from Orson Welles in this knock-out double feature. “Touch of Evil,” a tale of corruption, is widely considered the last great work of classic film noir. Its unbeatable cast: Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Mercedes McCambridge. “The Trial” (based on Franz Kafka’s novel about paranoia and conspiracy) also boasts amazing talent: Welles, Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Akim Tamiroff.
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8: As a tribute to Wim Wenders, “The American Friend,” a stand-out neo noir from 1977 is paired with 1982’s “Chambre 666,” a doc with A-list directors about the future of filmmaking.
At 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9: Film noir is partly rooted in French Poetic Realism and these two examples of the genre make an excellent night at the movies. To start: Cinematic genius and master of poetic realism Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game” (1939) followed by Jacques Becker’s “Casque D’Or” (1952). Becker assisted Renoir on “Rules” and “Grand Illusion” (1937).

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck star in Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" from 1944.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 13: Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” (1944) is one of the defining films of the noir genre. Femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck lures insurance agent Fred MacMurray into committing murder for a big payoff. Edward G. Robinson shines as MacMurray’s boss and friend.
At noon Saturday, March 24: Christian Marclay’s “The Clock,” winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Biennale, is a 24-hour single-channel montage constructed from thousands of moments of cinema and television history depicting the passage of time. Begins at noon Saturday and ends at noon on Sunday, March 25.
At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 27: Another prime example of classic film noir, Robert Siodmak’s “The Killers” put Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster on the track to super-stardom.
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