The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Strangers of a Train

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Lady Vanishes is often imitated but never equalled. Many movies have done the “person vanishes but their accomplice finds out they apparently never existed” plot; but never has it been done as immaculately as The Lady Vanishes. Likewise train is the perfect cinematic device; there are an infinite amount of possibilities for scenarios based on trains and Hitchcock sure took advantage of this throughout his career.

The Lady Vanishes is a movie with a great sense of adventure to it, travelling through the picturesque mountains of a politically unstable Europe. It’s never identified what country the movie is set in, only that is “one of Europe’s few undiscovered corners”, letting the viewer’s imagination fill in the blanks. I also love the charming miniature of the train station and hotel in the opening, making no attempt to disguise that is it just that, complete with little moving figures and a car driving with no one in it.

Once the lady vanishes, is it a head scratcher, leaving me to hope this better have a dam good outcome and not cop out. The intensity ramps up to crazy levels as the mystery deepens with the atmosphere created by the train sound effects and the impending claustrophobia increases. On further viewings all the elements of the mystery make sense; the couple lying to avoid scandal, the cricket fans lying so they won’t be late and the relevance of the serenading man, genius! My favourite scene in the move is the sequence in the cargo bay in which Redgrave and Lockwood investigate magic props and start doing impressions; it’s such a fun scene to watch.

The film’s first act in the hotel could be a movie by itself; a sort of screwball comedy set in a hotel full of characters slightly off their rocker. Michael Redgrave reminds me and even looks like Errol Flynn here. Playing an adventurous free spirit and a character who could have come right out of a screwball comedy as evident by the manner in which he infiltrates Margaret Lockwood’s room, creating a ruckus in order to “put on record for the benefit of mankind one of the lost folk dances of central Europe”. Lockwood herself also plays an adventurous, free spirit (“been everywhere and done everything”), yet it takes the two of them some time to realise they have more in common with each other than they think.

The two English gentlemen who talk about nothing but cricket on the other hand showcase the British turning a blind eye to the spread of fascism in Europe. They are the only two who would stand to another country’s so called national anthem and dismiss a newspaper article on England being on the brink of war as sensationalism. On a lighter hearted note they even discuss how baseball is referred to as rounders in the UK in a still relevant joke (“Nothing but baseball you know. We used to call it rounders, children play it with a rubber ball and a stick”). Of course it wouldn’t be an unashamedly British movie if someone did mention tea (“What you need if a good strong cup of tea”).

Advertisements

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Proper Action and Sh*t

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Hot Fuzz is my favourite comedy of the new millennium as well as in my top 5 favourite films of said era. I already thought Shaun of the Dead itself was a perfect film yet Hot Fuzz is even better. There are so many film and pop culture references, inside jokes and foreshadowing ranging from the subtle to the more obvious. Just how long does it take to write a movie this layered? It’s like Bad Boys meets The Vicar of Dibley meets The Wicker Man. British comedy has long been about quality over quantity, just look at the small episode count of British sitcoms or films by Aardman Animations which employee a similar style of humour to Hot Fuzz; there is more comedy in this one film than several Hollywood comedies combined. The pacing and consistency of the jokes in Hot Fuzz is perfect, never is there more than 10 seconds that I’m not laughing. For me the best laugh was saved until the end when the swan attacks the police officer in the car.

Those moments when Danny (Nick Frost) asks Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) about films he has seen; just how many times have I been in this situation in real life when someone names films one by one (usually junk food films) and when you say you haven’t seen one they keep going onto you about it. Angel himself manages to be a likable character despite his overt political correctness but for me Timothy Dalton steals the show. He really is one of the last of his kind as a Shakespearean trained actor who can play these types of debonair villains; here he just has the smuggest look on his face.

It’s easy for a film to mock bureaucracy but this seems to be one film which speaks in its favour, then again how many films can make the act of filling out paperwork look exciting. The film’s use of fascism and the concept of “The Greater Good” (the greater good!) as a theme surprisingly is highly thought provoking.

Hot Fuzz satirizes action movies by being grounded in reality and with Danny’s misconceptions between fantasy and reality yet at the same time also celebrates them. Having an action movie with British police officers, set in a small English town and full of Hollywood action movie tropes; the concept works on so many levels – likely because there doesn’t exist a tradition of cop movies in the UK. Plus having the bad guy’s hideout being an outlet for an actual British supermarket chain is another stroke of brilliance. There’s just something refreshing and satisfying watching these Hollywood clichés spoofed in a British manner. Action movies have never been a favourite genre of mine, especially this brand of shaky cam, fast cut action, but the action scenes here are legitimately edge of your seat thrilling. The film’s use of CGI blood is my only complaint but when a film is this amazing I can look past this one flaw. Thank you Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg for improving the greater good of British cinema (the greater good!).

The Divorce of Lady X (1938)

Heathcliff and Cathy’s Other Film

The Divorce of Lady X stands out above other screwball comedies for three reasons. Firstly it’s one of the few screwball comedies filmed in Technicolor which also helps the superb miniature work at the beginning of Trafalgar Square, even if there are a bunch of empty buses driving. Second, it’s the only British screwball comedy I’ve come across to date. Its fun watching typical screwball situations with an entirely British cast, set in Britain with very British lines of dialogue (“You got marmalade all over your newspaper”). All in all, it’s a very British affair.

Third and by far most importantly in what has to rank as one of the most bizarre of pre-stardom roles, it stars Laurence Oliver. Yes, the master of Shakespearean tragedy, perhaps the most respected and dignified actor of the 20th century as a stuffy gent who at first is delightedly full of himself but soon gets into all sorts of crazy shenanigans at the mercy of a screwy dame.  Merle Oberon plays one of the most manipulative characters I’ve seen in any film (and just for the record, that improvised cape made from a bed sheet she wears is such a brilliant touch) and yep, Oliver goes head over heels for her despite all the anguish she causes him, plus her telling him she previously has had four husbands. Of course all this is made believable, both by the abilities of these two actors but also because of the film’s sexual tension and undertones.

In fact the film’s first act is just one big farcical sequence centered around the sexual politics of the time; the fact that an unmarried man and woman sleeping in the same room was considered scandalous. Of course as film critic Andrew Sarris defines the screwball comedy genre, “a sex comedy without the sex”.