Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Lady Vanishes: Miss Froy Disappears Again
not widely read today, Welsh mystery novelist Ethel Lina White’s work was
adapted for the screen by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Alfred
Hitchcock. While the great American detective
writer just did a punch-up job on the adaptation of Her Heart in Her Throat that would become The Unseen, Hitchcock inherited a troubled production and turned it
into one of the defining films of his pre-Hollywood career. For some reason, every forty years or so
someone decides to remake The Lady
Vanishes. The latest premieres on
PBS this Sunday night as part of the current season of Masterpiece Mystery (promo here).
Carr is young, rich, hedonistic, and unencumbered by any family ties. She and her vapid friends are partying their
way through the Balkans, because that seems to be the place to be in the 1930’s. After a jealous spat, she decides to return
to London rather than continue to her pack’s next destination. It will be a hectic journey.
her way onto the train after her reservation is suspiciously lost, Carr either
succumbs to sunstroke or is knocked unconscious. Coming to in time to make her express, the
woozy Carr is less than thrilled by her compartment companions. The sour-faced Baroness and her entourage are
not exactly welcoming either. However,
the kindly Miss Froy, a governess employed by one of the Baroness’s relatives,
takes Carr under her wing. Of course, as
viewers surely expect, when the drowsy Carr awakes, Miss Froy is nowhere to be
found and nobody will admit to having seen her.
faithful to the original source novel than the Hitchcock classic, Fiona Seres’
screen adaptation has no Caldicott, Chambers, or any talk of cricket
whatsoever. Max Hare, the earnest
engineer-surrogate for Michael Redgrave will not be much help either. Carr is more or less on her own, as the
Baroness and her co-conspirators try to “gaslight” the “hysterical” woman into
silence. Unfortunately, Hare and his professor-mentor
have the intuition of burnt toast, never picking up on the malevolent glares,
pregnant pauses, and conspicuous lies coming from the villainous looking
Middleton is a bit bland, but she comes unhinged rather impressively. Sadly, Tom Hughes is a weak, plodding
presence as Hare, comparing poorly with not just Redgrave, but Elliott Gould in
the questionably conceived 1979 remake.
However, the supporting cast is quite strong. Former Bond villain Jesper Christensen is
quite entertaining chewing the scenery as the sly doctor, while Pip Torrens brings
humane depth to the tele-film as the Reverend Kenneth Barnes, one of television’s
rare positive portrayals of a clergyman.
(The retro opening credits are also surprising cool.)
Director Diarmuid Lawrence makes the most of the
claustrophobic setting, but rushes through the climatic turning point as if his
cast were late for their connecting trains.
Obviously it is wildly unfair to compare this The Lady Vanishes to Hitchcock’s early masterwork, but it just does
not have the same verve as Masterpiece’s first-class
reboot of The 39 Steps. Reasonably diverting for a Sunday evening
unwind, The Lady Vanishes airs
tomorrow night (8/18) on most PBS outlets nationwide.
Labels: Ethel Lina White, Masterpiece Mystery