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

Home video releases

  • 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.

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

US insert poster


Contents


Home video releases

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.

Original transfer

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 C&C’s 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 Unless you’re a Criterion Collection Completist, there’s really no need to acquire this edition as it’s been wholly superseded by their remastered reissue, detailed below.

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 further down. 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 recorded for the West German TV première. By far the most significant extra among this round of releases is a lengthy Margaret Lockwood documentary on the commercial ITV disc. The rest are either barebones or have a smattering of minor extras in their respective languages.


Remastered transfer

“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

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 two particular exceptions. The remaster 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 lead the pack that’s since emerged, being crammed with extras, not least of which is a whole second film which is 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), a “Mystery Train” featurette by film scholar Leonard Leff (33:32) and an extensive gallery of production stills and publicity materials. Finally, both formats are packaged with an informative 24-page booklet but there are a couple of caveats:

Unfortunately, Criterion’s DVD transfers of both films, including that in the 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, with 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 box set, are unaffected. If you have a faulty disc, email Jon Mulvaney for a replacement.

Criterion essays:

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

UK 2008 re-release poster

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 one but there’s a reason for it. 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; Filmedia died in 2015 and it looks like Movinside has already bit the dust, having re-released only one of their four licensed Hitchcocks. Perhaps it’s for the best, as their Lady BD and DVD were subjected to aggressive DNR, leaving them with an overall waxy appearance devoid of grain and fine detail – yuck (screenshots). ‘Tis truly a pity, as they come in a lovely 32-page Digibook with a detailed essay, L’Odyssée d’un film : Une femme disparaît, by Marc Toulec. Their only on-disc supplement is the unrestored original trailer in SD. Meanwhile, ESC Editions’ BD supersedes them with the same unmolested transfer as the US and UK, supplemented by a 10-minute introduction from documentarian Christophe Champclaux. All BDs 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 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 scholar Brian McFarlane, the original theatrical trailer and an essay booklet. 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 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.

Mark Kermode reviews TLV

By the way, the above weren’t Criterion’s first releases of the film: in 1985 and 1989 they issued it on VHS alongside their LaserDiscs (spine #4). They’re also missing the brief shot described above. The label’s only other VHS 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 but all their original tapes are now extremely rare and collectible. They cost $39.95 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:

Criterion’s VHSs have the further distinction of being two of only three British Hitchcocks to be officially released on that format in the US, the other being Jamaica Inn from Kino Lorber.

Odd fact: despite original 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

Courtesy of the invaluable Hitchcock Zone and Caps-holic; click on any one and scroll through.

Bootlegs: #1 US Madacy, #2 US Diamond, #3 US St. Clair Vision | Original transfer: #4 US Criterion 98, #5 UK Carlton, #6 UK Network, #7 Germany Concorde, #8 France TF1 Vidéo, #9 Benelux Video/Film Express, #10 Hungary: Cinetel | Remastered transfer: US Criterion #11 DVD 07, #12 BD

Criterion BD vs 1998 DVD

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

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

This artwork has appeared on several Waterfall Home Entertainment (WHE) bootlegs, including their UK and Scandinavian DVDs, and Amazon Prime boot.

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