Other Hitchcock films may be more profound, but surely only North by Northwest is as formally perfect and as intensely enjoyable, and endlessly re-seeable, as The Lady Vanishes – an irresistible blend of topical anti-appeasement thriller, screwball comedy, and psychodrama, playing out the acute anxieties of Iris Henderson as she takes the train journey back from Central Europe towards an unpromising London marriage.
The anti-British prejudice of American critics and audiences had led them to dismiss, or at best patronise, Hitchcock’s early work, but by now they recognised his special talent, and New York critics voted this the best film of 1938 from any source; the Hollywood contract soon followed. As often, we should also honour Hitchcock’s writers, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, whose superlative script he only took on at a late stage.
This film is screening as part of The Genius of Hitchcock: Part Two. A full retrospective of Hitchcock’s 52 surviving films is taking place at the IFI from December 2012 to March 2013.
A six-week Evening Course, Shadow of a Genius, will look at the work of directors influenced by Hitchcock and will take place from February 5th to March 12th.