Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Lady Vanishes (1938), Part 2

by Brent Reid

Home video releases

  • Spies! Playing the game of love… and sudden death
  • For the first time anywhere: every single high quality, official release worldwide – fully detailed
  • Two distinct home video transfers: original and remastered, with a multitude of different extras
  • Among the Master’s most popular and bootlegged films; avoid all treacherously bad counterfeits
  • The Criterion Collection on VHS and Betamax: little-known collectibles are film’s rarest releases

Note: this is one of 100-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Part 1: Production and Ethel Lina White on home video | 2: Lady’s home video releases | 3: Soundtrack releases and remakes | 4: More “Vanishing Lady” films | 5: Similar train films

The Lady Vanishes (1938, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US insert poster

US insert poster


Contents


Home video releases

The Lady Vanishes (1938, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US 1952 re-release poster

US 1952 re-release poster

Though quality licensed editions of Hitch’s iconic film have become more prevalent in the last couple of decades, they’re still hugely outweighed by the sheer number of bootlegs and pirate copies of this classic film. They’re fine, if supporting thieves and watching shoddy copies of otherwise pristine masterpieces is your thing. Every official release is listed below; if you can’t find it here, don’t buy it.


Early Criterions

The US Criterion Collection’s first releases of the film came in 1985 and 1989, when they issued it on VHS and Betamax alongside their LaserDiscs (spine #4; they released nine Hitchcocks on the latter format, six of which are British). All are missing a brief shot described below. The label’s only other tape releases were The 39 Steps (#3) and The Third Man (#5). Criterion’s transfers were more widely re-released on VHS by Janus Films via Home Vision Entertainment a decade later; Steps and Lady were boxed with Secret Agent before the first two were reissued yet again, along with Sabotage and Young and Innocent, in Hallmark’s The Master of Intrigue set. All are now rare and collectible, especially the Criterions. They cost $39.95 each when new, the equivalent of $100 in 2021 but you’d be lucky to pick them up at even the adjusted price now! Here are Criterion’s pre-DVD releases of all three films, none of which have any subtitles or extras:

The only other British Hitchcocks to be officially released on US VHS are six Studiocanal-owned films by Republic Pictures and Jamaica Inn by Kino Lorber. Note there were just two other official LDs of Lady, a 1982 issue from Rank in the UK and an obscure 1984 Dutch disc from short-lived label Televizier. Added to those were a trio of Japanese bootlegs. Rounding up, Criterion also released four other British Hitchcocks but on LD only: Blackmail, Secret Agent, Sabotage and Young and Innocent; that’s it for official US pre-DVD releases.


Preserved transfers

Mark Kermode’s TLV review | TCM intros

Firstly, note that the 1998 Criterion DVD is missing six seconds of footage around 10 minutes in, creating a slight continuity error. This is probably a holdover of an original US censor cut, as it’s during a slightly risqué scene involving a maid bending over to retrieve a hat from under the likely gay couple C&C’s shared hotel bed. Although also missing from Criterion’s earlier format releases, described below, it’s present and correct in all their later editions. Quite predictably, it’s also missing from most bootlegs. Unless you’re a Criterion Collection Completist, there’s really no need to acquire this disc as it’s been wholly superseded by their remastered reissue, also detailed below. However, note among its few extras it does contain an exclusive restoration demonstration featurette (3:21) not ported over to their newer discs.

Aside from the Criterion issue, The Lady has always looked pretty good on home video although her initial transfer to DVD met with variable results, as the screenshots below will testify. They range from passable to quite good but the German DVD easily boasts the best transfer among this batch, being on a par with the remastered releases below. In fact, I think it has the best DVD transfer of all. It’s only available as part of a box set and has no extras, save for the ubiquitous “Hitchcock: The Early Years” featurette (1999, 24:34) and some image galleries elsewhere in the set. Not present is the 1971 dub (alt) recorded for the West German TV première.

By far the most significant unique extra among this round of releases is a Margaret Lockwood featurette (20:21) narrated by Honor Blackman, star of the second-best known British “vanishing lady” film. It’s on the most recent Network disc and sits alongside a Michael Redgrave text bio, and a photo gallery. Conversely, the French DVD has two non-subbed featurettes by Claude Chabrol and Dominik Möll (33 and 17 min) but there are forced French subtitles on the film’s English track and its “Early Years” doc. The first WWII-delayed release there was in 1952, freshly dubbed, and it was redubbed again in 1985 for TV (1985 vid). The latter is included as an option on the DVD but only in an anachronistic 5.1 remix. All the other DVDs are either barebones or have a smattering of minor extras in their respective languages.

The Swedish and Finnish Hitchcock Classic Collections, with four sets of subtitles, are identical bar translated packaging. The latter initially came in a slipcased foldout Digipak but was reissued in 2008 in a thick Amaray keep case. The same discs were also released individually in Norway (Star Media Entertainment) and in a Danish 4-disc set (On Air Video).


Restored transfer

The Lady Vanishes (1938, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK 2008 re-release poster

UK restoration re-release poster, 2008

“This high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm composite fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical track print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.” – Restoration notes

Now Showing: worldwide screenings

Every release in this section is from the exact same superb HD master so your choice comes down to cost, extras, packaging, region and format – with a few particular exceptions from the US and France. The transfer débuted on a huge, now deleted and exceedingly expensive DVD box set from Criterion but the discs themselves, including Lady, were all barebones and completely shorn of the label’s usually copious extras.

However, Criterion’s newly designed, region A/1 BD and DVD thankfully leads the pack that’s since emerged, being crammed with extras; not least of which is a whole second film, also in HD on the BD. Crook’s Tour features Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne in their hilarious Charters and Caldicott guises, following their initial scene-stealing appearance in Lady. Film historian Bruce Eder’s excellent commentary, originally recorded for Criterion’s 1998 DVD, has had some parts updated and corrected for this issue. There are also some relevant excerpts from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews accompanied by a slideshow (10:06) and a “Mystery Train” featurette (33:32) by film scholar Leonard J. Leff, author of Hitchcock and Selznick (1987/1999). Last but not least is an extensive gallery of production stills and publicity materials, and both formats are packaged with an informative 24-page booklet.

Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood (1998), info, full interviews

But there are a couple of caveats: unfortunately, Criterion’s DVD transfers of both films, including Lady in the huge box set, are somewhat compromised by their short-sighted decision to windowbox them. This was intended to avoid losing image to overscan when viewed on now defunct CRT screens. But Criterion continued the practise long after the prevalence of flat panel displays, which have either no overscan or the option to turn it off. Criterion’s BD may well be free of windowboxing but some initial stand-alone pressings have deteriorated and will either not load the menu properly or play the primary film beyond the layer change. The playing surface on defective copies can still appear pristine. Later pressings, including those in the 2016 Hitch box set, are unaffected. If you have a faulty disc, email Jon Mulvaney for a replacement.

Criterion essays:

The Lady Vanishes aka Alarma en el expreso (1938, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Spanish Reel One Blu-ray

Worth waiting for: the long-delayed Spanish BD has the most appealing sleeve of the lot – rear, slipcase/rear – all designed by David Ribet.

Of the legitimate Euro BDs, Network’s UK region B has a short video intro, the original trailer and a slideshow, all carried over from their earlier DVD.

Chugging on over to France, it seems bizarre they should get two BDs in quick succession when most countries are still waiting for just one but there’s a reason for it. Writer-producer-director Jean-François Davy is the founder of the Filmedia and Movinside labels as well as others including the much earlier Opening, via which he released a twofer DVD of The Lodger/The Man Who Knew Too Much. Opening, ahem, closed a long time ago and Filmedia died in 2015, to be succeeded by Movinside the following year. But with no new releases since 2019, it looks like Davy’s latest endeavour has already bit the dust, having re-released only one of its four licensed Hitchcocks. Perhaps it’s for the best, as his Lady BD and DVD were subjected to aggressive DNR, leaving them with an overall waxy appearance devoid of grain and fine detail – yuck. Just look at these lo-res videotape-like screenshots, and the grain scrubbing and edge “enhancement” on Movinside’s BD of La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game, 1939). ‘Tis truly a pity, as their Lady discs come in a lovely 32-page Digibook with a detailed essay, L’Odyssée d’un film : Une femme disparaît, by Marc Toulec. The only on-disc supplement is the unrestored original trailer in SD.

Meanwhile, presumably ESC Editions have now picked up the French ITV-Hitchcock distribution rights; their BD supersedes Movinside with the same unmolested transfer as the US and UK, supplemented by a 10-minute introduction from documentarian Christophe Champclaux.

Appearing well over five years after it was first announced on Facebook and Twitter, the Spanish BD from Reel One, like the Movinside discs, only has the original trailer. But it does come attractively slipcased with a 32-page booklet, while the first 200 copies sold via their website included a reproduction of Hitch’s signed caricature from 1962. Also included for completeness are three dubs: the 2000 Catalán by TV3, the usual 1974 Castilian by TVE and, for the first time on home video, the long-thought lost dub from its original 1941 Spanish theatrical release. The latter, from a rare 16mm print, couldn’t be recovered completely, so is partially supplemented with the 1974.

Except where noted, all official releases to date have optional subtitles in their respective languages.

Of the remaining DVDs, the gorgeous, non-DNRed Filmedia (screenshots) has a French-language featurette (16min) on the first four spy-related entries in Hitch’s thriller sextet, which commenced with The Man Who Knew Too Much. It also uniquely boasts an excellent US documentary, The Men Who Made the Movies: Alfred Hitchcock (1973, 58min). Madman’s Oz disc has some decent extras: an audio commentary by film historian Brian McFarlane, the original trailer and an essay booklet by Ken Mogg. It’s perhaps the best PAL DVD overall but unfortunately long deleted and very rare, so well done if you can track down a copy. The Brazil has an hour’s worth of extras while the Polish is barebones.

This is easily one of Hitch’s most bootlegged British films but among the massed ranks of poor quality DVDs, beware of illicit BD-Rs hailing from Russia (Deval), Spain (Layons/JRB), Italy (Studio 4K) and Germany (Great Movies/WME). The latter’s BD and DVD have also been repackaged by “limited-edition” scammers Inked Pictures.

Odd fact: despite original theatrical trailers surviving for at least five of Hitch’s British films, only Lady has had hers properly released on home video. However, it’s unrestored and clearly had a rough ride, being badly worn and zoomed in, topped off with muffled audio. In fact, it’s pretty representative of the state of most of the film’s many bootlegs.


Screenshots

There are many courtesy of the invaluable Hitchcock Zone and Caps-holic, and a few more here:

BD Criterion vs Movinside: Title: Cri, Mov | C&C: Cri, Mov | Train: Cri, Mov

The Lady Vanishes (1938, dir, Alfred Hitchcock) bootleg DVD artwork

This artwork has appeared on various bootlegs, including UK and Scandinavian DVDs (Waterfall Home Entertainment/WHE); and Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube streams (The Orchard).

Part 1: Production and Ethel Lina White on home video | 2: Lady’s home video releases | 3: Soundtrack releases and remakes | 4: More “Vanishing Lady” films | 5: Similar train films


For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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Fr. Matthew Hardesty
Fr. Matthew Hardesty
4th July 2023 00:07

I’m interested in pre-DVD Hitchcock releases so the “Early Criterions” section above is Gold! Collecting all the necessary information in one section. I’m copying that into a seperate Word document so I don’t forget where it is!

Fr. Matthew Hardesty
Fr. Matthew Hardesty
4th July 2023 00:51

I’m asking a lazy question, in lieu of reading ALL the main film articles again 😉 Do you know off the top of your head if any of the Hitch Criterion DVDs that Criterion also released as Blu-rays had any special features that didn’t make the jump? (I know there was at least one Hitch Criterion DVD that Criterion did not release as Blu-ray, like Spellbound).

I’m asking because I know Criterion orphaned some of their special features on their laserdiscs and I’m wondering if they did the same with their DVDs.

Fr. Matthew Hardesty
Fr. Matthew Hardesty
4th July 2023 01:29

I’m not finding the Network 2DVD with Love Story. There’s this, but its from iTV: https://www.ebay.com/itm/394100303876

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