Last night I bought and watched the Criterion Bluray of Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Lady Vanishes (’38). I realize that it’s one of Hitch’s best known and most respected British-period films (along with The 39 Steps) and that the mystery-on-the-train portion is expertly done. But I didn’t realize until last night that the first 26 minutes or so — over 25% of the running time — are quite boring and mostly superfluous.
The film begins with several British train-travellers stuck in an Eastern European ski lodge while the tracks are being cleared following an avalanche. And for 26 or 27 minutes all Hitchcock does is piddle around with character introduction, atmosphere and some light comedy that isn’t the least bit comedic. “What the bleeding hell?,” I was muttering to myself. “This is interminable. When does the moving-train stuff begin? I can’t take much more of this.”
It’s against the rules of the pre-Rebecca chapter of the International Society of Hitchcock-Worshipping Dweebs to mention this portion so they’ve ignored it in their reviews of the Criterion Bluray. What stunningly boring first act? The entire film is brilliant, and anyone claiming otherwise is to be pitied, or at the very least needs to watch it again. Am I the only critic-columnist to stand up like Lee Marvin and plainly state that over 25% of this Hitchcock classic is bullshit? If some Dave Kehr-level critic has declared as much I’d love to see the essay or article.