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DVD Review: ‘The Lady Vanishes’ (2013)

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BBC Home Entertainment has recently released The Lady Vanishes, an update of the classic 1938 film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Bored with her hard-partying crowd and desperately wanting to return to London, spoiled young heiress Iris Carr (Tuppence Middleton) just manages to book a seat on the train, and just manages to catch it and nab the last available seat (with a helpful bribe at the ticket counter). As she stumbles towards her seat, Iris recognizes some of the train passengers from her hotel: a strict vicar named Barnes and his timid wife; two elderly women, the Floodporter sisters, fond of debating about their fellow hotel guests; and a glamorous couple, calling themselves the Todhunters, who are clearly having an extramarital affair (Julian Rhind-Tutt and Keeley Hawes). But Iris is at first much less interested in her fellow travelers than why there is a bump on her head — she fainted at the train platform before boarding.

Miss Froy (Selina Cadell) and Iris (Tuppence Middleton)

Miss Froy (Selina Cadell) and Iris (Tuppence Middleton)

A young woman traveling solo can face many challenges, but the sinister camera angles and expressions on characters’ faces in The Lady Vanishes signal, telegraph, that something unsavory is afoot. The only passenger who doesn’t look like a bit player from a horror movie is a woman from her compartment, Miss Froy (Selina Cadell), who invites Iris to join her in the dining car. While Iris nurses her headache with a cup of tea, Miss Froy chatters on about her fellow travelers, especially her former employer, a sour-faced Baroness (Benedikte Hansen) who is also traveling on the train. Still dazed from sunstroke (or was it something else?) Iris only hears snippets of the conversation. She comes to regret her inattention later when Miss Froy has disappeared.

Back in their seats Iris drifts off to sleep and wakes up to find Miss Froy gone — and no one in her compartment, or anywhere on the train will admit to having seen her. She feels adrift, with no allies, except for one young man, Max Hare (Tom Hughes). He hasn’t seen Miss Froy either, but he is at least willing to take Iris at her word and help her search for the older woman.

Iris and Max (Tom Hughes) search the train

Iris and Max (Tom Hughes) search the train

It’s impossible not to compare this updated version with Alfred Hitchcock’s original film. Although certainly stylish in its use of locations (shot in Hungary), detailed and opulent-looking sets, and period-accurate costumes (lots of silk and satin), the 2013 version, directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Silent Witness), cannot equal the breakneck pace and forward momentum of Hitchcock’s original. There was another version, made in 1979, which starred Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould as the young couple trying to find Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury.) It was faster-paced than this British version, almost verging on hysterical, its focus on screwball comedy over mystery.

The Lady Vanishes has a running time of 90 minutes, with an aspect ratio of 16:9 HD. Its colors look bright and sharp on a large-scale high-definition television screen. The Dolby Digital dialogue and music sound crisp. Subtitles and chapter selection are available, but there are unfortunately no other extras on the disc.

Fans of British mystery will recognize some familiar faces, including Stephanie Cole (Waiting for God, Doc Martin) and Gemma Jones (The Duchess of Duke Street, MI-5) who play the Floodporter sisters. Everyone has their own, somewhat personal reasons for not wanting the authorities to stop the train for a complete search, which is understandable, in the pre-WWII climate. The Lady Vanishes is an entertaining and high quality remake, but it is impossible after watching it to not want to look up the original, and see how the master, Alfred Hitchcock, handled a mystery.

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