Iris, a well-to-do young Englishwoman, decides it's time to give up her life of traveling and partying and get married. Just before boarding a transcontinental train to go back to her fiance, she is hit on the head. Another passenger, a elderly governess named Miss Froy, watches out for her.
Iris takes a short nap and wakes to find Miss Froy gone. What's more, no one she asks even remembers that she was there. A doctor on the train theorizes that her head injury made her imagine Miss Froy, and Iris becomes frantic to prove that Miss Froy existed and has been abducted. Although he's skeptical at first, Gilbert, another passenger, comes to believe Iris and joins her in her search for the woman.
I had an urge to re-watch this movie after I listed it as a watch-alike for Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary. Part of the movie's appeal, during my first viewing of it, was not knowing what had happened to Miss Froy. There were at least four characters who had seen her but, for various reasons, lied and said they hadn't, so I knew Iris hadn't imagined her. There were lots of creepy moments, such as the way the other passengers in Iris's compartment stared at her, and the fact that all the train staff seemed to be in on whatever had happened to Miss Froy. I couldn't wait to find out what was going on.
During my second and more recent viewing of this movie, the characters and humorous moments held more appeal than the mystery of Miss Froy. There were essentially three main groups of characters viewers were permitted to get to know: Iris and Gilbert (and Miss Froy), Mr. and “Mrs.” Todhunter, and Caldicott and Charters.
Neither of the main character make the best first impression. In the beginning of the movie, Iris comes across as a bit of a spoiled rich girl. While everyone else at the hotel has to scramble for a room to stay in (indeed, Caldicott and Charters are forced to share a bed in the maid's room), she has an enormous room, and the hotel manager is practically at her beck and call. She seems more resigned than thrilled about the idea of getting married, but I got the feeling that, if she had really wanted to, she could have opted to stay single for a while longer.
Gilbert and Iris first meet after Iris has had Gilbert kicked out of his room. I'd have felt more sympathy for him if he hadn't deserved it – he had been making a racket in the room above Iris's, playing a folk song and taking notes on the traditional folk dance that went along with it, and he had ignored the hotel manager's request to be quieter. After he was kicked out, he invited himself into Iris's room and indicated that he planned to sleep in her bed since he no longer had a room of his own. If I had been Iris, I'd have been freaked out enough to want to call the local police.
I did warm up more to both main characters after they began looking for Miss Froy. Their search meant that Iris wasn't so spoiled she didn't care about other people and Gilbert wasn't so much of a jerk that he'd leave an upset and possibly concussed lady to panic on her own. Once they stopped fighting, they had a few good moments together, although not quite good enough for me to buy their decision to marry at the end of the movie (seriously, they'd known each other for maybe a few days).
Mr. and “Mrs.” Todhunter were the more interesting of the more minor characters. They presented themselves as a married couple when in actuality they were engaged in an affair and were married to other people. “Mrs.” Todhunter wanted Mr. Todhunter to leave his wife and marry her, but it didn't take a genius to see that Mr. Todhunter had no intention of doing that. He was planning on moving up in his profession, and the last thing he wanted was the scandal of a divorce. I'm not sure what “Mrs.” Todhunter saw in Mr. Todhunter, who was unpleasant and cowardly during the entire trip.
Caldicott and Charters were the movie's main source of comic relief, proper Englishmen who were barely phased by anything other than the possibility they might miss an upcoming cricket Test match. At first, I thought they were fretting over the possibility of war and the danger they might end up in the middle of, and I laughed when I realized what they were really worried about. For them, cricket was serious business, and it influenced every decision they made on the train.
Although my first viewing of this movie was the most enjoyable, I still found things to appreciate during my re-watch. And it reminded me that I've still only finished one disc out of the 4 total that this collection is composed of - I need to work on that.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- The Secret Adversary (book) by Agatha Christie - If you'd like another "don't know who to trust" thriller with a bit of humor and romance mixed in, you might want to try this. It can be read for free via Project Gutenberg. Also, it's been made into a movie. I haven't seen it and have no idea what it's like, but I've written about the book.
- Flightplan (live action movie) - IMDb mentions that this is a "classic Hitchcockian thriller" - the plot certainly sounds very similar to The Lady Vanishes. Jodie Foster stars as a woman whose aviation engineer husband has just died. She and her young daughter are flying back to New York with his coffin. At some point during the long flight, the woman takes a nap and wakes to find her daughter gone. No one she talks to can even remember having seen her daughter on the plane.
- The Wheel Spins (book) by Ethel Lina White - While looking up The Lady Vanishes on Wikipedia, I learned that the movie was based on this book.
- Bunny Lake Is Missing (live action movie) - This came up several times when I looked for movies involving a missing character who others say doesn't exist. I have no idea if it's any good though. In this movie, a woman has just moved to England with her daughter, Bunny. When she goes to pick her daughter up from her first day at school, no one seems to know where or even who Bunny is.