As I mentioned a while back, up until about a month ago, I had managed to go my whole life without ever seeing a single actual Hitchcock film, as difficult as that is to believe. Prodded by watching Dial M for Murder, I resolved to devote November to rectifying that as much as I was able, and to that end Grace and I have decided to watch as many Hitchcock movies as we can in the next few weeks, in chronological order. We started off with The Lady Vanishes and Rope.
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
The second-to-last of Hitchcock’s British films, The Lady Vanishes is widely held to be the much-needed hit that allowed him to broker a lucrative move into Hollywood. Though not anywhere near as highly regarded as some of his later masterpieces, The Lady Vanishes was the highest-grossing British film to date at the time of its release, and is probably better known than any of Hitchcock’s other movies from the period.
The first thing that surprised me was how much The Lady Vanishes resembled a silent film. There’s a great gag at the beginning (that probably played better when the picture was first released than it does with modern audiences) when it seems like it’s going to be a silent film, before the soundtrack is suddenly filled with noise and people talking over one-another.
It’s a cute film, charming, and at times surprisingly sexy for a movie from 1938. My favorite part was probably the two British gentlemen who are in a hurry to get home in time for an important cricket match. I’m not the only one, either, as the characters were apparently so popular that they appeared in several other, unrelated films, and even eventually got their own TV series years later in 1985.
Jumping ahead a full decade from The Lady Vanishes, Rope finds us in territory pretty familiar from my earlier viewing of Dial M for Murder. Rope is also the first of four collaborations between Hitchcock and James Stewart. I’d seen James Stewart in a couple of other, less famous things and not liked him much, but he was great here.
Really, I liked pretty much everything about Rope. The ratcheting tension, the dinner party setting, the long, continuous takes (one particularly nerve-wracking one involving a long shot of someone clearing off a table is especially impressive), the lighting, the incredible cyclorama backdrop. The whole shebang. I spent the entire movie waiting for the neon letters outside the apartment’s side windows to come on, and when they finally did, I was not disappointed.
Maybe the best thing I can say for the film is that I was so wrapped up in it that I actually missed most of the cinematic trickery going on, which is usually a thing I love about movies, and I now need to go back and look for upon some inevitable future re-watching!