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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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We have always loved Nova Pilbeam in this film and we named a cat after her.

Pilbeam stretching in the sun

I think we should name any dog we have Towser.

This is an enjoyable romp of a film but at the same I can’t think of any other British Hitchcock film that has as much resemblance to real life as this does. It actually unwittingly tells us quite a lot about mid-thirties Britain.

A Britain in which an obviously bright girl was clearly not destined for university or a job but was heading straight into marriage. One where said young woman may be in charge of the household but she has a maid and a cook to ensure that all she has to worry about is the film’s plot.

Cars were still being started with cranks and there were still plenty of horse drawn vehicles about.

Petrol stations weren’t really stations but places where little boys would operate the single pump for you (perhaps this was a Hitchcock touch but you can imagine him witnessing this and noting it down for later use).

Roadside cafes were called carmen’s shelters and lorry drivers were called carmen.

And you could get huge mugs of tea there.

A Britain with lots of smoking and very fancy party hats.

And perhaps more damning, a Britain with tramps and dosshouses.

And less damning, a Britain where broken china wasn’t thrown away but was mended.

And finally, a Britain where bands played live in hotels in blackface (any good reason for that?)

Alma fact: continuity
Transport: cars, a train
Animals: dog
Source: Alfred Hitchcock – The Early Years DVD (Concorde Video)

Thanks to 1000 Frames of Hitchcock.

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I love the joy on these two women's faces.

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I know that Hitchcock had problems with Sylvia Sidney (though the stories say more about her than anything else) but she raised this film a notch for me. What an extraordinary face she had. It’s a shame she just missed the silent era with those expressive eyes. And can you imagine Celia Johnson and Sidney doing an eye off?

 

 

 

 

John Loder was pretty good too in a solid and humorous way although he towered over Sidney which was unintentionally comical. Oskar Homolka’s eyebrows were nearly as expressive as Sylvia Sidney’s eyes. It is a shame we don’t really know what his character’s motivations were. The film has several unexplored aspects such as how did the Verlocs meet, and where. Why is he happy to provide for her and her brother? Is it just altruism or is it a cover? Does he like running a cinema? Why is Mrs Verloc an American when her little brother is British (we are told they have only been in the country a year)?

I've seen this film described as a masterpiece which it patently isn’t, mainly because despite an explosion at the end, it actually just fizzles out. The climax of the film is Mrs Verloc’s killing of her husband for the death of Stevie and clearly Hitchcock and co had no idea how to wind up the film when the audience would have no stomach for her NOT getting anyway with it. Therefore, we know nobody is going to listen to her confession and that she couldn’t be punished because of what Verloc was responsible for so we just wait for the film to end. And that is done poorly with a halfhearted cinema evacuation and an off-screen explosion.

There are many great sections in the film - notably the scenes in the aquarium, the pet shop, Stevie’s journey across London, and Verloc’s murder. Mrs Verloc being haunted by images of Stevie are really well done particularly the boy running towards her out of the crowd. And Hitch was wrong, it was okay blowing the boy up, what wasn’t okay was blowing up that adorable puppy. People, be honest, we always care more the fate of cute animals, don't we?

Finally, I love when Sylvia Sidney's prowess with a needle is highlighted.Sewing a sail in 'Sabotage'This is Sidney in Dead End (excuse the quality):
Sylvia Sidney knitting in 'Dead End'

Alma fact: continuity
Transport: oh yes!
Animals: cat, canaries, puppies!
Source: Alfred Hitchcock – The Early Years DVD (Concorde Video)

Thanks to 1000 Frames of Hitchcock.

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