1. Using specific examples, describe how Hitchcock opens The Lady Vanishes. What tone, mood, or atmosphere is Hitchcock establishing for the audience very early on in this picture? Pay particular attention to the music.
I’m not very familiar with instruments, so I can only make a guess. I believe wind instrument(s), including the flute, some string instruments (a violin?), possibly an accordion as well. Anyway, they create a very cheery lighthearted atmosphere, which oddly enough, contrasts with the gloomy faces of the passengers that have been reluctantly displaced from their train. One bit of music comes from a soldier blowing a bugle from the clock, further frustrating an already frustrated hotel manager.
(NOTE: Just to remember the difference between tone and mood. Tone refers to the attitude of the “author” (or auteur in this case) toward a “subject” while mood is how the readers/audience is made to feel (or “meant” to be[?]))
2. Discuss the characters of Caldicott and Charters in this scene. What do the performances of Caldicott and Charters add to this scene.
Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne are an interesting comedy team to watch. It is interesting thinking of them as a comedy team because if asked of the average (American?) classic film viewer of the great comedy teams, they’ll probably answer The Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, the 3 Stooges, Crosby & Hope, etc. All of these comedic thrive on farce, slapstick, starpower, and chaos whether it’s done to others around them or (better yet) toward each other.
Radford and Wayne or rather Caldicott and Charters (as it is the characters rather than actors that make repeated appearances together in other films) don’t do physical comedy. In fact, they don’t do any kind of comedy as they have no sense of humour. In fact, it is possibly their complete lack of humour, stiff, upright manner and body language, and abundance of pomp and self importance (while given no importance by the other characters) that make them so amusing to watch.
The characters add an almost elitist kind of self importance that juxtaposes the lack of attention which they are given.
3. From their doorway entrance to their staircase exit, describe how Hitchcock uses dialogue, camera movement, and the placement of characters in the frame to establish Iris (Margaret Lockwood) as the star of this scene.
When Margaret Lockwood and the other actress enter the scene, it is difficult to tell which is supposed to be the lead actress. Especially since Lockwood’s position is veered off on the opposite end of the frame, facing stage right, opposite from the hotel manager. This blocking initially displaces the attention away from her and more toward the centered actresses.
However 1:52-2:02, once Lockwood and the manager turn toward the camera and walk away from the entrance, the reasoning behind the initial blocking makes much more sense as now Margaret Lockwood is in the forefront with the other actresses now in the background. The camera begins panning to the right, leaving the other actresses behind completely for a couple of seconds and letting Lockwood completely dominate the shots.
When all the actors stop walking, the blocking is reversed from the prior stationary positions. Margaret Lockwood is locked dead-center now with the most flattering lighting whereas the other actresses are facing their side and in less flattering light.
2:05-2:26 When the manager is speaking to the female group as a whole, everyone is in the frame (although Margaret Lockwood is still in the center). Whereas whenever Lockwood talks, the camera cuts to a 2 shot with just her and the manager. This is repeated a couple of times throughout this length of time.
While all the actresses are given witty dialogue, it is Margaret Lockwood that’s given the most dialogue. She is the one who establishes character by talking about her plans and personal concerns over the avalanche potentially disrupting those plans. Notice throughout the entire scene, the manager’s main interactions are with Lockwood. It is Lockwood that the manager is facing opposite against blocking-wise.
When they are all going up the stairs, the camera follows them. Lockwood takes complete charge by telling the manager to take them to their rooms and making orders for food and drinks for herself and her group. The camera position is back and toward the side of the stairs, so that even with her back to the camera, Margaret can still turn her head enough toward the manager to still establish visual dominance in the shot.