Angela Lansbury as Miss Froy in “The Lady Vanishes” (1979) – reviewed by George

It seems like heresy for an Alfred Hitchcock lover to say this, but hey, Alfred, I’m sorry; this is an improvement on your film! It owes a lot to you, but it is still a better movie.
And why is that, you ask. Well, first it’s in Panavision and Technicolor, and while your film was a studio production with model work and rear-screen projection, this version does have interiors filmed at Pinewood, but also has exteriors filmed in Austria, with the co-operation of the Austrian Federal Railways. So there’s some very exciting footage here that is less artificial. Also, and maybe more important, the Screenplay is by the great George Axelrod, who wrote the screenplays for “Phffft”, “The Manchurian Candidate”, “Bus Stop”, and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. And he based his screenplay on the one for your film, the one by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, rather than on the story by Ethel Lina White.
So yes, nods to you, but the wonderful changes that he wrought…! First Iris is now Amanda (Cybill Shepherd), Madcap American Heiress, who drinks too heavily, and Gilbert is now Robert (Elliott Gould) who is a reporter without personality quirks, just a really nice guy, who doesn’t approve of Amanda, but still doesn’t want to see her pushed around. Amanda’s grandfather was the definition of fabulously wealthy and he said in his will that when Amanda married she would get a million dollars. But he didn’t specify how many times she could get married, so she has made a game of it. Anytime she needs money she marries and gets another million, which she splits with the groom for a previously agreed-upon percentage, and then splits, period. Since marriage is strictly a financial transaction, she is still pure as the driven snow, except for all that booze. She needs a cleanse. For instance, the bump on her head is now caused by her own soused dumbness: she comes downstairs to the inn’s dining hall in a clinging, bare-shouldered white satin gown, wearing a German officer’s helmet with the spear thing on top and a tiny mustache painted below her nose. She climbs onto one of the long tables and makes the Heil Hitler salute while spouting fake German in a guttural voice, and she is in 1939 Bavaria. Pretty dumb! A group of Nazi soldiers comes over and starts rocking the table – she falls off flat on her back – and hits her head on the floor.
The next morning she comes downstairs hungover and with an aching head, and suddenly people are yelling at her, “The bus is here! It is leaving right now! You must get on the bus or miss your train!” She says, “I told the maid to pack for me” and runs upstairs where luggage and clothing are strewn around as if by a windstorm. She runs back downstairs screaming, “Send my things on!” and heads for the bus in that same white gown which she will wear for the rest of the train trip.
On the train she encounters the usual suspects: the surgeon Dr. Hartz (Herbert Lom), the Baroness (Jean Anderson) and her servants (taking the place of the Doppos), the Todhunters (Gerald Harper and Jenny Runacre), and with “also starring” billing (by this time the characters had been used in several other movies) Charters and Caldicott (Arthur Lowe and Ian Carmichael).
And of course Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury in another fine portrayal). Here she is not a spy who has been working as a nanny; she is a real nanny and music teacher who has worked for six years for a family whose head is high up in the government. He is not a Nazi, but a patriot, whose power has been slowly nullified. He does have a Nazi son (Wolf Kahler of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) who is pursuing Miss Froy because he knows his father has told her something that should not leave Bavaria. And Miss Froy’s part has been somewhat enlarged; she opens the movie hiking and whistling.
The set pieces on the train are followed fairly closely, and Robert slowly comes to believe Amanda’s version of events, even in the midst of everyone else on the damn train saying that she’s lying or crazy.
An excellent film with suspense and action and humor, and fine direction by Anthony Page (director of “The Adams Chronicles” and the “Bill” movies with Mickey Rooney as a mentally challenged man), with really good performances by all concerned, especially Shepherd, who is really stretched, doing action and drama as well as comedy.

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