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This used to be one of my favourite secret Hitchcock films. Secret as in less well known and appreciated. Following on from Rebecca was always going to be hard so it appears that Hitch thought he would make a thriller just the ones he made in Britain. And rather like the majority of his British thrillers, this doesn’t really hang together. The film is a weird hybrid of big Hollywood budget (as reflected in the sets) and British quirkiness but what was marginally acceptable in a low budget British film seems careless in such surroundings. Of course, there are brilliant set pieces and sequences such as the rain-soaked assassination, the coat caught in the windmill gear, Edmund Gwenn attempts at murder, and the plane crash, but the plotting and general storytelling is all over the place.

Umbrellas
Edmund Gwenn
Plane crash

Johnny Jones and Carol Fisher are rather dull characters (though the actors are perfectly fine) and it’s not even Johnny who saves Van Meer but the charismatic Scott ffolliott played beautifully by George Sanders. I do like Herbert Marshall who was such a dependable actor whether hero or villain.

Laraine Day and Herbert Marshall

The torture scene is deeply unpleasant and cruel. While I’m aware that torture is unpleasant and cruel I don’t really need to see it in a film with such light tone. The torture scene does result in an interesting tableau as the villains (and George Sanders) watch and listen.

Watching
Watching

Naturally being Hitchcock it is very funny though I take issue with the commentators on the documentary on this particular DVD release (Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock) who seem to think it had something to do with Robert Benchley who is reasonably amusing in an entirely Robert Benchley way but I rather think that the Charles Bennett who wrote The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage and Young and Innocent, may have been a tiny bit more important on the humour front.

Transport: ship, plane
Animals: cobwebbed sparrow
Source: Warner Brothers (USA)

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Another film I have seen many, many times. I wonder if it may even be the first Hitchcock film I ever saw. Therefore it is hard to see it afresh. The one main thing that struck me after watching all of Hitchcock’s British films is the sheer glossiness of it and the money pouring off the screen. Ironically though the very first shot in it is a model! The model itself is of a very Hollywood idea of a large house on a country estate. I know it is often described as a Gothic romance but I think the house was probably a bit more subdued in Daphne du Maurier’s head.

I’m not much of a fan of Laurence Oliver though I can’t put my finger on just why but he is perfect as Maxim. He was only ten years older than Fontaine but both come across as older and younger than their actual ages. He perfectly portrays Maxim’s inability to communicate and his patronising manner which leads him to make poor decisions but when he tells his new wife the truth his vulnerability shows through. I can’t actually imagine spending the rest of my life with a man with such communication issues.

It is really irritating that the lead/narrator doesn’t have a name. It makes writing about her really hard. Joan Fontaine is very good indeed as the girl. I think it is a jolly hard role for any Hollywood actress to play. They are, after all, by definition glamorous. One moment that I can really relate to is when she panics after breaking the ornament. I’ve done that.

Plain Fontaine

The word cad was invented for George Sanders’ performance.

George Sanders

The real star of the film is Judith Anderson. Despite the multiple adaptations of Rebecca, no actor has ever played Mrs Danvers with such malevolence. You can literally feel the effect she has on the second Mrs de Winter, she makes my skin crawl nearly 80 years later.

Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers

Florence Bates is fabulous as Mrs van Hopper who despite her awful personality isn’t actually wrong about the relationship between the two de Winters to be.

Fontaine/Bates

There is a richness to filmmaking that is absent from your average film of 1940. Was there ever somebody on screen as vulgar as she is as sits in bed plucking her eyebrows or stubbing out her cigarette in a pot of cold cream? How many scenes were as perfectly choreographed as the intimidation of the new Mrs de Winter by underwear?

As a total aside, I have always been bothered by how quickly they drive to and from Cornwall to London. It takes at least 4 and a half hours now.

It’s not easy to put Rebecca into context. It wasn’t just an ordinary film by any standards. It was a big budget prestige special film - not quite as special as Gone With the Wind but still a major film. Rebecca was (and is) an enormously successful novel and David O. Selznick wanted to make it as faithfully as possible (with that caveat) whereas Hitchcock wanted to do with it what he had done with any other adaptation of his which is to take it as a jumping off point. And to be honest I’m glad that Selznick had his way.

Transport: cars
Animals: spaniel
Source: Criterion Collection (USA)

Thanks to 1000 Frames of Hitchcock.

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This is a cracking British film with a superb cast. It doesn’t seem particularly Hitchcockian though despite these familiar names.

JB Priestley too

Charles Laughton is brilliant (as always). He had this ability to keep this side of ridiculous.

JCharles Laughton

There are also a couple of other potential hams keeping to the right side: Leslie Banks and Robert Newton. In truth, Robert Newton (who I’m not a fan of) is actually rather bland. The role doesn’t help. Leslie Banks may have preferred not to have his face mutilated during the Great War but he made the most of it.

Leslie Banks

The rest of the cast is an impressive list of British actors: Marie Ney, Emlyn Williams (looking rather fetching in his gypsy get up), Basil Radford, Wylie Watson, et al. However, it is the Irish Maureen O’Hara who really shines. She is stunning looking (but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the actor is interesting) but she was a commanding presence despite her youth (19 I assume). Unfortunately, I associate her with John Wayne and the disagreeable The Quiet Man.

Maureen O’Hara

The model work during the wreck was most impressive and the inn was an interesting though stagy looking set.

model of a ship

The film suffered from a compressed adaptation of the original material (of the bestseller by Daphne du Maurier). Mary’s attitude felt forced - after all she hardly knew the people she was angry with Jem for giving up to the authorities.

Alma fact: continuity
Transport: ships, carts Animals: horses
Source: La Taverne de la Jamaique - Universal (France)

Thanks to 1000 Frames of Hitchcock.

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The Reg Allen motorcycle shop on the corner of Grosvenor Road and Hatfield Road was a bit of an oddity but it felt timeless so to see it closed is sad but I guess inevitable.

Look at the price of those driving lessons at the Actonian School of Driving. I wonder how old the sign is.

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I am so familiar with this film that I do wonder what there is to say.

So here are some random notes:

I adore the model shot at the beginning. I think that Orson Welles missed a trick when he didn’t include models in Citizen Kane if he really did say that the RKO studio was “the greatest electric train set a boy ever had.”

The chap who put that up thinks it’s awful! Personally I think awful is the insertion of a modern horse race in MGM’s 1935 Anna Karenina when Vronsky falls off his mount. MGM was the richest studio at the time and stunts like that had been done successfully for years so there is no reason for them to be so cheap (and particularly since the rest of the sequence is so exciting). Hitchcock having fun with his own train set isn’t really that terrible a thing to do.

Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave had textbook onscreen chemistry. I know that Andy disagrees but I could have done with seeing that chemistry between Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll in The 39 Steps. He is a bit of arse at the beginning though.

Redgrave and Lockwood
Redgrave and Lockwood
Redgrave and Lockwood

There are a couple more notable duos in The Lady Vanishes. One pair seem more boorish the more I watch the film but it would have been shorter if Charters and Caldicott hadn’t been cricket obsessed rotters. Linden Travers makes the most of a small role as “Mrs” Todhunter. Lots of things can be said about Hitchcock and women and most of it is annoying bollocks about the Hitchcock blonde (go on pretend that Ingrid Bergman is blonde (though I concede it is a thing post Grace Kelly) but he knew how to populate his film with interesting and rounded female characters and how to get good performances from them. Looking further into this film we have the high-heeled nun Catherine Lacey memorable for her change of heart, Googie Withers and co as Lockwood’s chums (think how funny their dialogue is), and scary Mary Clare as the steely baroness. And May Whitty!

My favourite scene is the fight in the luggage van which is beautifully choreographed, rather tense, and bizarrely at the same time hilarious.

Fight in the luggage van

Alma fact: continuity
Transport: train, cars, ship
Animals: calf, rabbits
Source: Alfred Hitchcock - The Early Years DVD (Concorde Video)

Thanks to 1000 Frames of Hitchcock.

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