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THE LADY VANISHES (1979)

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Aug. 2, 2013

With a Hitchcock festival playing downtown it seems appropriate … although some might say inappropriate … to take a look at a remake of one of the early British triumphs by the Master of Suspense, "The Lady Vanishes."

That's right, a remake.

In addition to all of the Hitchcock-wannabe movies that exist (see "Blog" above) there are also actual remakes by filmmakers who had the audacity to try and improve on bona fide classics. Believe it or not, you can readily find on DVD non-Hitchcock versions of "Psycho" (1998), "Dial M for Murder" (as "A Perfect Murder," 1998), "Rear Window" (made-for-TV, 1998) and "Suspicion" (1988, episode of TV anthology "American Playhouse"), as well as three — count 'em, three — remakes of "The 39 Steps" (1959, 1978, and for British television, 2008).

The basic plot of "The Lady Vanishes" has been purloined for other films, the most successful being the Gene Wilder comedy "Silver Streak," which kept the proceedings aboard a train, and Jodie Foster's "Flightplan," which moved the action to a plane.

But there is also a 1979 direct remake of "The Lady Vanishes." This one is certainly not on anyone's list of great films, but it is nonetheless one of those titles I am often asked about, as in, "I have it on VHS but isn't it ever going to be released on DVD?"

And now it has. VCI, which specializes in British movies that have never been on DVD in the United States (and some that never played here theatrically, either), has just issued the first American DVD, a mere 20 years after the VHS.

Whatever popularity this "Lady Vanishes" has no doubt comes from Angela Lansbury who shines in the third lead as the character of the title, the lady who vanishes from a moving train, which ruffles an alcoholic American heiress (Cybill Shepherd, artificial as ever), since they were in the same compartment and dined together. Yet the others who were with her deny the old woman's existence. Is the heiress losing her mind? Soon she enlists the aid of the only other American onboard, a skeptical, wisecracking photographer (Elliott Gould, bored as ever).

Not having read the book from which the story springs I cannot attest to the picture's faithfulness to the original source material, but it's certainly faithful to the Hitchcock film, which was released in 1938. This one is set in the 1930s and the plot follows the original quite closely, save for Shepherd and Gould being Americans, which, unfortunately, gives the entire enterprise an anachronistic touch.

While the leads are horribly miscast, the rest of the actors are seasoned British veterans and each seems perfectly cast, from Herbert Lom as a suspicious doctor to Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael as the comical, cricket-obsessed Charters and Caldicott to of course, the sublime Ms. Lansbury.