Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Lady Vanishes (1938), Part 4

by Brent Reid

More “Vanishing Lady” films

  • The “Vanishing Lady” is an oft-recurring theme in print, on stage, and on film
  • The Master’s take on the trope is perhaps the most influential and well-known
  • International big screen outings range from the silent era to the present day
  • This survey of the best examples details all their legitimate home video 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

Honor Blackman in So Long at the Fair (1950)

Honor Blackman in So Long at the Fair


Verwehte Spuren (1938)

Kristina Söderbaum in Verwehte Spuren aka Covered Tracks (1938)

Kristina Söderbaum in Verwehte Spuren aka Covered Tracks (1938)

The much-imitated plot of Hitch’s The Lady Vanishes revolves around a woman who knows the truth but finding it actively denied by everyone else, starts to doubt her own sanity. The basic premise goes back to The End of Her Honeymoon (1913), a novel by Marie “The Lodger” Belloc-Lowndes, and beyond. The “Vanishing Lady” has become a popular trope with numerous adaptations in different media and many also cross over into locked-room mystery territory. I’ve detailed all the films I could think of that are most like Lady in terms of plot, era, setting or even all three. Let me know if you have any other suggestions.

An early one is “Apparition”, the first section of Richard Oswald’s Unheimliche Geschichten (Uncanny Stories, 1919), a silent German anthology film starring Conrad Veidt, and it’s expanded to full length in the racy 1938 talkie Verwehte Spuren (Covered Tracks). Oswald remade his Weimar original in 1932 but dropped two segments, including the”Vanishing Lady”, to suit a more cohesive narrative arc. Unfortunately, this last hasn’t been released on home video but the others are available on a pair of German DVDs:

– with Felix Kroll’s live accordion score

The Midnight Warning (1932)

The Midnight Warning (1932) US lobby card

US lobby card

This is an obscure American B-movie that’s a little corny but a lotta fun and doesn’t outstay its welcome, running just over an hour. A passable print has been issued on various region-free budget DVDs:

So Long at the Fair (1950)

So Long at the Fair aka Paris um Mitternacht German poster

A bona fide British classic with the luminous pairing of Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde, to say nothing of a young Honor Blackman, is a particularly well known and faithful version of the tale. It’s surprisingly gripping and makes very clever use of Pinewood sets to convince it’s shot in the actual locations of its setting, the Exposition universelle de Paris de 1889. The film is squarely based on an eponymous 1947 novel by Anthony Thorne, adapted for the screen by Hugh Mills. Beware of several very poor quality bootlegs from Spain (Memory Screen) and Italy (Sinister Film); these are the only confirmed official releases:

The score was composed and conducted by Benjamin Frankel who also provided the music for Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache. and, according to Gerald Pratley on the US Citadel LP, “The rhythmic gallop theme is used with interesting variation throughout the score.” Its main iteration, Carriage and Pair (CaP), became a light music staple in concert halls everywhere and is much recorded.

Dangerous Crossing (1953)

Dangerous Crossing (1953) US poster

US poster

This is an excellent ocean-bound variant, based on renowned mystery author John Dickson Carr’s 1943 radio play Cabin B-13. The film has been released twice: the first DVD is region 1; the second region 0. Additionally, Sol Kaplan and Alfred Newman’s fine score is available on a twofer CD paired with Lionel Newman’s score for ‎essential film noir Pickup on South Street (1953).

The play was recorded twice for radio in 1943; here’s the most common circulating version from 9 November, starring the mononymous Margo alongside Philip Dorn (script).

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955)

Patricia Hitchcock, Mary Forbes and Maurice Marsac in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series "Into Thin Air" episode (1955)

Pat Hitchcock, Mary Forbes and Maurice Marsac try to get to the bottom of a mystery. Or not. Colorization by Tinting History.

Hitch’s sole progeny Pat gets the starring role for “Into Thin Air”, a standout episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (ep 5, s 1). This one hits all the main beats of So Long at the Fair, being based on the same story, but with a few nice touches of its own. Pat was in 10 episodes of Presents altogether and one of Suspicion, a sister series also from Hitch’s own Shamley productions, though none of the episodes were directed by her father. However, she did act for him in Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train and Psycho.

This particular episode was based on the version in While Rome Burns (1934), a short story collection by writer-critic Alexander Woollcott. Under Woolcott’s title of “The Vanishing Lady”, it was earlier adapted to radio for a 1948 episode of Escape and again in 1957 for fellow CBS anthology series Suspense. The pilot episode of the latter series was an adaptation of The Lodger, featuring Hitch and his regular actors Herbert Marshall and Edmund Gwenn.

Original broadcast, different intro

Flightplan (2005)

Marlene Lawston and Jodie Foster, just before the flit hits the plan

Half a century separates Dangerous Crossing from the next high profile example of the inexplicably disappeared. Jodie Foster-starrer Flightplan (2005) gives the lady a new spin by setting the action aboard an aeroplane and makes for a gripping ride to the edges of paranoia and madness. The insistent, driving score by renowned composer James Horner is available on CD and MP3. This is a literal thrill ride; don’t miss it.

Abandoned (2010)

 Trailer #2

Lastly for now, Abandoned lowers the bar a little and is perhaps best known as the last film shot by its star, Brittany Murphy, before her tragic death at the age of only 32. It didn’t get a cinema release and home video releases are relatively few:

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
18th July 2022 01:28

The much-imitated plot of Hitch’s The Lady Vanishes revolves around a woman who knows the truth but finding it actively denied by everyone else, starts to doubt her own sanity.” – This would be an example of Gaslighting, correct?

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