|Where is his face?|
Alfred Hitchcock may have been best known for his Hollywood nightmare fantasies, but before he made Rebecca in 1940, he made some magnificent thrillers in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s. One of these films is a little picture known as The Lady Vanishes in 1938. Boy was that film fun! It had all of the ingredients of a modern good Hollywood blockbuster. It had romance, thrills, comedy, and a smuggled political message. One year later after that classic was released, Hitchcock left for Hollywood. Around at the same time, World War Two started. So what would be the most Hitchcockian thing to do in England without any help from Hitchcock? Well, that would be make a lot of generic espionage thrillers that could also be propaganda that would lift up people's spirits at the same time. Brilliant, lads.
To be honest, some of those films would become unmemorable dull cheesy crap. But since this is a blog-a-thon honoring the "best" Hitchcockian films, I've decided to write about the 1940 film called Night Train To Munich. The director of the film was Carol Reed who would later direct other classics such as The Third Man, The Fallen Idol, and Oliver!. He later claimed that this film was an unofficial sequel to The Lady Vanishes. Let's see if that is true or not and whether it's better than the Hitchcock thriller.
Our movie begins in 1939 when the Nazis march into Prague. There, a super important scientist a.k.a the MacGuffin that has nothing to do with the emotional conflict is flown to the safe country of England where the Blitz hasn't happened yet. Unfortunately, his daughter named Anna (Margaret Lockwood after she divorced Micheal Redgrave and realized that she's a daughter of a Czech scientist) is arrested and put into the miserable concentration camps. There, she meets and is befriended by fellow abused prisoner who goes by the name of Karl Mansen ( Paul Henreid ). One night, they escape from the camp in the probably most easiest way to escape prison, which is to turn off the lights so the guards can't see you. Wow. At least, it can't be insulting for the thousands of people who died trying to escape the camps during the war. And for that matter, why doesn't the prison scene feature the horrific torture/killing of many innocent people. But at least, Carol Reed had an excuse for no one knew what was really happening inside the camps until later.
Anyway, the couple runs/hop on a boat to England where it's always happy and free. There, Anna manages to find her father who now is working for Britain. How? She writes a cryptic ad in the newspaper at her fellow escapee's suggestion. That way, no enemy spy could ever read it. Since her father is working for Britain and is in possible danger form the Nazis, he's guarded by Dickie Randall, a British officer disguised as the charming Gus Bennett played by Rex Harrison. Did I forget to mention that Gus Bennett is a really bad singer? Well, he is. Unless you're a fan of My Fair Lady, grab some earmuffs during those singing parts. Even Anna can't stand it for she says to him;"Pity nature didn't give you a voice". Yikes.
Well pity the fool for he can't keep a close eye on Anna for she and her father gets kidnapped by some Nazi agents. Among them is Karl Mansen who was actually a Nazi spy to begin with. Surprise. At least Dickie is smart for he volunteers to get them back from Germany. He disguises himself as a German army engineer major. In other words, Rex Harrison plays a Nazi and according to a Criterion essay, he loved it. Let's move on before I'm scarred for life. He tells the Germans that he and Anna used to be lovers, and he might get her to be on their side so she will persuade her dad to cooperate. Clever idea. After a night of literally no sex, he persuades the pair to get on a train to Munich accompanied by Mansen and two guards. Once they get to Munich, they would leave on a plane where they would pass over the ice cream mountains- yes the sets are that bad- to the land of freedom . You're a clever spy, Dickie.
Who should also be on the train at the exact same time? It's my favorite characters, Charters and Caldicott, of course. Now if only they could get Dame May Whitty to be the Czech scientist. Anyway, they spot Dickie because he used to go to college with them. This arouses Mansen's suspicions and to make a long story short, he realizes that the Army Major is just Dickie Randall in disguise, and he has orders to arrest him when they get to Munich. So much of your plan now, Dickie.
However, Charters and Caldicott happened to a) miss their valued golf clubs, b) listen to the conversation and c) be British at the exact same time that Britain declares war on Germany. They decide to help Dickie, Anna, and her father escape but not before a big chase. How? Since this is a thriller, I'm not going to spoil anything. Sorry. It wouldn't be fair to let the tension loose.
Overall, this film is surprisingly good fun. The acting's great, the thrills are genuine, and the smart writing reminded me of its predecessor, which was The Lady Vanishes. In fact, it reminded me too much of that film. It has a clever damsel in distress, a charming eccentric Englishman, ordinary people getting into extraordinary adventures, an elderly MacGuffin, a villain thought to be a hero, a sort-of generic plot, a train, a climax involving guns, Charters and Caldicot, and a trip around Europe. However, this movie has special things to stand on its own. One is that Charters and Caldicot are much funnier and heroic in here, and they aren't useless to the narrative like they did in the first one. The heroes have much more of a reasonable relationship here than in the other film, and Paul Henreid plays such a stark contrast as a villain rather than in his famous role in Now, Voyager that I didn't recognize him at all. The major reason why it works is that it has a death-defying stunt among the Alps that has a great deal. All of those ingredients make this a fun, thrilling adventure.