Criterion upgrades their 2007 DVD edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes for Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.
It looks again like Criterion is using the same high-def transfer they used for their DVD re-release, which in and of itself was a large improvement over the DVD they released in 1998. With this Blu-ray edition we do receive a cleaner, less noisy presentation that renders grain a little a little cleaner, but past that the image differences aren’t significant. The source print shows its age and similar to the DVD the picture is a little soft and fuzzy, with only a few moments of real clarity where some of the finer details can pop. Print damage is still pretty heavy, though nowhere near as bad as what we got with the original DVD, with its fair share of scratches, marks, and stains, with fading present at the edges a lot of the time.
But contrast is sharp, with some decent blacks and distinct gray levels, which are rendered a little better here. In all the transfer itself is much cleaner, allowing the image to be more filmic, but the condition of the source materials hold it back. Still, in comparison to the original DVD (which was a noisy, blobby mess) this is a revelation. 7/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The original DVD only contained an audio commentary as its significant supplement but when Criterion revisited the film in 2007 they added on quite a bit more, making it a more worthwhile special edition. Still, in the end, I wasn’t exceedingly fond of the newer features and going through them again I can’t say my feelings have changed.
First is the audio commentary by Bruce Eder, which appeared on the original 1998 DVD edition, which was ported from Criterion’s laserdisc. I’ve always liked his track for the film and Eder’s tracks overall. I know some don’t like them but he always has a passion and excitement for what he’s talking about, something that can lack from other academic tracks. Here he is again well prepared, obviously reading from notes, but he keeps the track going as he covers various aspects of the film’s production, Hitchcock’s career, and the careers and lives of many of the onscreen performers. As I said in the review for the original release the track isn’t very analytical but it’s entertaining, quick, and perfectly suits the film, and Eder loads it with some decent insights.
For the remaining supplements you next get Crook’s Tour, the complete film starring Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, reprising their characters of Charters and Caldicott who appear in The Lady Vanishes. Apparently these characters became quite popular and appeared in various movies and programs over the years (even television in the 80’s.) I liked the characters in Hitchcock’s film but on their own I find them a bit much, or simply just “tacked on” in something like Night Train to Munich. In Crook’s Tour the two find themselves in a case of mistaken identity as they’re confused for secret agents and come into possession of a record album that contains secret plans. They’re then chased across the Middle East, completely oblivious of course, by various evil characters. I can’t say it did much for me, though it was at least somewhat amusing and it’s innocent enough. This is the third of four Charter’s and Caldicott films (including The Lady Vanishes, and then another title that has been released by Criterion, Night Train to Munich.) There’s also a sub-section called About Charters and Caldicott which offers brief notes on the characters and their popularity. As a whole this supplement is interesting but not necessary to view. If you’re a fan of the film or the characters then this supplement is a treat as it’s not available on home video in any other way. Many will also be pleased with the transfer, which is given a full 1080p/24hz presentation that doesn’t present any significant problems in either the transfer or source materials, other than some mild damage to the print and maybe some slight boosting in the contrast. The feature runs 81-minutes and has been divided into 18 chapters.
Hitchcock/Truffaut presents a 10-minute excerpt from the interview between Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock, recorded in 1962. Snippets of this interview have also appeared on other Hitchcock releases from Criterion. Next to the commentary this may be the best supplement since we actually get to hear Hitchcock talk about the film (though sometimes I think he’s yelling over the translator who is relaying the information to Truffaut.) He gets into the technical aspects of the film, such as a sequence involving two very large drinking glasses, the actors, and other similar films. The interview plays over clips and photos of the film. A subsection called about the interview presents a brief note on the 50-hour interview.
Mystery Train is a 33-minute video essay on the film by Leonard Leff. Speaking over sequences from the film, photos, posters, and so on, Leff covers some of the same ground as Eder does in his commentary, including Hitchcock’s early treatment by the British studios and his move to the States. But the bulk of it surrounds the production of The Lady Vanishes, including the adaptation of the book and the differences between the source and film, Hitchcock’s techniques, characters and their personalities, and also gets into the censors and politics (though I think he might be reading too much into any political aspect the film might have.) Unfortunately I can’t say I really enjoyed this supplement, which is very dry and manages to make what is a quick moving and fun film almost a chore. Probably the most disappointing supplement on here.
A small Stills Gallery is also included on here, presenting set photos, posters (including what must have been the inspiration for the cover art of Criterion’s original release, what I consider one of the worst looking covers in the collection) and lobby cards. It’s a very small gallery, which you navigate through using the arrows on your remote.
Finally a booklet is included containing two essays, one by Geoffrey O’Brien, offering his analysis of the film, and then another by Charles Barr, which looks more at the English class system and how it’s represented in the film.
Missing from the original 1998 DVD release is the restoration demonstration (which would be different on this release anyways) and the essay by Michael Wilmington. These were also missing from the 2007 reissue
Again it’s still a nice edition, improving over the original DVD. Still, the commentary, which I’ve always liked, is probably still my favourite feature, and the Hitchcock interview snippets are always a pleasure when we get them. Unfortunately the other supplements, a dry visual essay and a forgettable though somewhat fun film, still don’t do much for me (though again I do appreciate the fact Criterion put in the effort to include a film that is otherwise unavailable in North America.) 6/10