Shocking Blocking (16)

By: Joshua Glenn
February 19, 2011

I’m not one of those obsessive train-thriller buffs, but I am a sucker for early Hitchcock, British WWII propaganda and quasi-propaganda movies, and Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford; so The Lady Vanishes is one of my all-time favorites. In this scene, fifteen minutes from the movie’s end, the enigmatic Miss Froy (May Whitty) finally breaks character — she’s a spy who’s been posing as a harmless governess (“Bless me, what an unpleasant journey!”) — and breaks it down for her fellow English travelers. “We’re not in England, now,” she says; in fact, they’re embroiled in a Central European revolution. A tableau vivant forms around Miss Froy: though the cricket-mad Caldicott and Charters (Wayne and Radford) remain blinkered and obtuse, the no longer woolly-headed musicologist Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) and formerly shallow socialite Iris (Margaret Lockwood) gaze fiercely into the future. The dining car, where the English characters had gathered for afternoon tea, represents their beleaguered island home — outside it, the savage continentals have gathered. They’re poised to strike. Let them: England shall rise to the occasion!

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An occasional series analyzing some of the author’s favorite moments in the positioning or movement of actors in a movie.

THIRTIES (1934–1943): It Happened One Night (1934) | The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) | The Guv’nor (1935) | The 39 Steps (1935) | Young and Innocent (1937) | The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) | The Big Sleep (1939) | The Little Princess (1939) | Gone With the Wind (1939) | His Girl Friday (1940)
FORTIES (1944–1953): The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) | The Asphalt Jungle (1950) | The African Queen (1951)
FIFTIES (1954–1963): A Bucket of Blood (1959) | Beach Party (1963)
SIXTIES (1964–1973): For Those Who Think Young (1964) | Thunderball (1965) | Clambake (1967) | Bonnie and Clyde (1967) | Madigan (1968) | Wild in the Streets (1968) | Barbarella (1968) | Harold and Maude (1971) | The Mack (1973) | The Long Goodbye (1973)
SEVENTIES (1974–1983): Les Valseuses (1974) | Eraserhead (1976) | The Bad News Bears (1976) | Breaking Away (1979) | Rock’n’Roll High School (1979) | Escape from Alcatraz (1979) | Apocalypse Now (1979) | Caddyshack (1980) | Stripes (1981) | Blade Runner (1982) | Tender Mercies (1983) | Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
EIGHTIES (1984–1993): Repo Man (1984) | Buckaroo Banzai (1984) | Raising Arizona (1987) | RoboCop (1987) | Goodfellas (1990) | Candyman (1992) | Dazed and Confused (1993) |
NINETIES (1994–2003): Pulp Fiction (1994) | The Fifth Element (1997)
OUGHTS (2004–13): Nacho Libre (2006) | District 9 (2009)

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READ MORE essays by Joshua Glenn, originally published in: THE BAFFLER | BOSTON GLOBE IDEAS | BRAINIAC | CABINET | FEED | HERMENAUT | HILOBROW | HILOBROW: GENERATIONS | HILOBROW: RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION | HILOBROW: SHOCKING BLOCKING | THE IDLER | IO9 | N+1 | NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW | SEMIONAUT | SLATE

Joshua Glenn’s books include UNBORED: THE ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO SERIOUS FUN (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen); and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: 100 EXTRAORDINARY STORIES ABOUT ORDINARY THINGS (with Rob Walker).

What do you think?

  1. PS: in a terrific lowbrow movie like this, nobody has to SAY “This train car represents in England.” In middlebrow movies they’re always doing that sort of thing: i.e., Russell Crowe as Capt. Jack in “Master & Commander”: “England is under threat of invasion, and though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is our home. This ship *is* England. So it’s every hand to his rope or gun, quick’s the word and sharp’s the action. After all… surprise is on our side.” Crew: “Huzzah, huzzah!”

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