Look at the date: 1938, the same year as Neville Chamberlain’s Munich agreement. This early-ish Hitchcock, showing as part of the Margaret Lockwood season at BFI Southbank, was made in the run-up to the last war and has debates over appeasement and engagement scribbled lightly all over it, while at the same time remaining funny, creepy (in a way already peculiar to Hitchcock) and always entertaining, both in the moment and in the realisation that you’re enjoying a particularly witty and playful script.
We begin in a fictional, presumably Alpine, central European country where various parties, including Margaret Lockwood’s bride-to-be, Iris, Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford’s pair of cricket-fancying bounders, Caldicott and Charters, and May Whitty’s tweedy governess, Miss Froy, are gathered in a small hotel run by Emile Boreo’s Fawlty-esque manager and awaiting the next morning’s train, delayed after an avalanche. When it leaves, Miss Froy disappears from Iris’ view and everybody proceeds to deny the old lady’s existence, apart from Michael Redgrave’s caddish academic who joins Iris in a wilful search for the old dear in the face of brutal opposition from the train’s varied cast of characters, from an Italian magician to an Austrian doctor. ‘What’s happening in England?’ ask Caldicott and Charters. But it’s the cricket they care about, not politics or anything else beyond the crease. Another adulterous British couple refuse to get involved lest they reveal too much about their affair. The ‘foreigners’, meanwhile, mostly seem to be part of a horrible conspiracy. Very much of its time (in a good way), and very enjoyable.
Cast and crew
Dame May Whitty