The Lady Vanishes
d. Alfred Hitchcock (1938)
I’ve been impressed by Hitchcock’ lightness of touch in my stodgy reactions so far. He spoke of serving a slice of cake rather than a slice of life, and if it is cake then I am finding it most light, possibly angelic, but as we know “every angel is terrifying” (see Rilke’s Duino Elegies).
So, I’ll work to make this reaction light, but it takes practice and patience. This film may seem like a lighter Hitchcock, our group discussed that. It was after all in some ways the project of its writers Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. A project Hitchcock later joined. This may show itself in perhaps a greater focus on dialogue. However Hitchcockian touches still seem apparent. It might also be arguable the Hitchcock’s style in previous films influenced the writers.
It is also light in that there seems less of the visual playing with light and dark images, and their contrast, than there were in the two last films I wrote on. Hitchcock had been influenced by the techniques of German Expressionism and this style had run through those films. Here that didn’t seem as apparent. But in that maybe it raises the question itself. I wondered if it was in itself a comment on darkness in reality occurring in the light. Especially in the political situation faced in Europe as war loomed.
The story of course addresses the situation on the continent quite directly, in its made up context. It also considers Englishness (that was so much worse at recognising the broader United Kingdom then). But in some ways I don’t want to get bogged down in the story again. It’s a famous film if you haven’t seen it I recommend it. It must have influenced many another. I’ll touch on elements of the story as I go.
It again seemed to have a theme of how we live in life, in our everyday actions and reactions, of how that may influence how we face a crisis. This being very apparent in the actions of the two English gentlemen so in love with Cricket. They may be a way of pointing out those not looking at the bigger political picture/reality of the time. But in the end their reserve allows them to face things. Not so another Englishman who cannot believe the reality they are faced with, believes in the rules of the game to meet reality head on.
Again we also have people thrust together – especially the wonderful Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood throwing off sparks in their collision and then in the context of grave danger finding love. Sometimes when I think of Hitchcock then love is not the first thing I think of, amidst suspense, danger, twistedness. But its quite apparent how fundamental this was, underlying how he shows us such things – and maybe how misunderstanding of it may explain the ways things go wrong.
I also sometimes think of Hitchcock as a maker of genre films. Films that can sometimes feel to be about closed systems to me. Such a thought outs me off. But there is in these films a wonderful openness to the beyond, a challenge for us to connect to that. In my memory what happened with Miss Froy’s name written onto a train window was quite different from what actually happened. I have learned this exact thing before but I seem to forget it every time. I find it a wonderful touch — and that he is showing us what we expect from narrative in this way and refusing to give it, to show that, I like very much.
There is another thing about memory. The climactic passing of a message again seemed to speak of a theme in these first three films in our season, of how memory can be affected by emotion, how our view of facts can be. How a change in the emotional sea we are in may put something from another type of experience a bit beyond our grasp. Its a very interesting, apparently obvious, but hugely powerful point. It also made me think in this instance about the unity of a person able to recollect despite such change, aware of this possibility. It makes thinking of Miss Froy at a window, albeit missing some foul play, but somehow hugely powerful and whole, as she knows more at that point of the environment she is in than any of the banter of the others. Again I learn how well Hitchcock understood his cake. So much of this film seems to be a call to face reality, away from the diversions we may face and create.
One other thing. The film opens with a model presenting us their location. It’s a lovely model, but obviously a model. There have been other models in the other films, I’m not sure about at their beginnings, but maybe the theatre posters of The 39 Steps and even the shot of the power station in Sabotage, were artificial in a way. in this film it seemed to make me aware immediately of artificiality. It got me thinking. He seems to want to get us thinking a lot, not just accepting.
Hopefully this is not as stodgy – but also not just accepted, I’ll go on thinking about this as I may never have before, both due to seeing a season of his films all together and to seeing them on a big screen, which I’ve mostly not done before and which has really made me feel them more.
I‘m adding links to the other reactions I write as I do them. For my convenience and possibly yours.
Hitchcock – The 39 Steps (1935)
A. H / K. H-H (6 November 2018)