Top critical review
The Credibility Vanishes
on 2 July 2015
Few films are perfect, and this 1979 version of 'The Lady Vanishes' isn't one of them. Neverthless, it does have its strong points.
One of the problems with this film is that at certain key moments of dramatic tension it turns into the kind of screwball comedy which is inclined to send itself up. Being a remake of a film from 1938, this treatment of the material might have seemed quite clever and ironic to a late 1970s audience, but unfortunately it also drains the drama of credibility and leaves one wondering why they bothered to make it in the first place. In other words, this film does not always strike the right balance between its comedic and dramatic elements.
This is also one of those films in which the supporting cast are often better than the two leads (Elliott Gould and Cybill Shepherd) whose playing sometimes exhibits the kind of slapdash looseness and lack of precision which harms the film as a whole. Because Shepherd and Gould have a habit of talking across one another's lines, the witty and clever aphorisms which the script does contain are too often reduced to inaudible gibberish - although, of the two of them, I would say that Gould is the better.
Aside from this, the film does have a number of things going for it. Hitchcock's 1938 film was a visibly and audibly studio-bound production, whereas this version benefits greatly from being shot on location in Austria and from its use of a generally more believable and realistic train. The Hitchcock film also has quite a lengthy preamble - set in a hotel, or inn - whereas this version cuts to the train (and the chase) far more quickly. I think that is to its advantage.
Britons will probably take particular pleasure from seeing Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael in the roles of Charters and Caldicott. In fact, the pair of them do much to keep the film as a whole buoyant and alive for its duration. The cast also includes Herbert Lom - who is on good form, here - and Gerald Harper who (although he doesn't receive much of a billing) puts in a good turn as a senior British politician/diplomat who is conducting an illicit affair and doesn't wish to be found out. Angela Lansbury is also well cast as Miss Froy - the vanishing lady of the film's title.
By my reckoning, there are now three major productions of The Lady Vanishes in existence. Hitchcock's 1938 film, this version from 1979 and the BBC production from 2013 - which I have yet to see. Overall, I'm giving this version three stars - which is what I think it deserves. Had it treated the serious moments more seriously, and therebye maintained the credibility of the situation, then I would have given it four.