Today marks the 100th anniversary of actress Margaret Lockwood’s birth, who I must add was also the daughter of a British colonial railway clerk. I mention this because the two films she’s best remembered for are incidentally set on trains. Both The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich also have a lot in common aside from their shared star and use of trains. But before I get into their similarities, let’s take a look at each film on its own and how Lockwood fits into them.
THE LADY VANISHES (1938)
A group of travelers on a trans-European train is delayed for a night because an avalanche has blocked the railway line. While awaiting their departure at a hotel, tourist Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) befriends the elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), who she later accompanies on the train when their journey resumes. On the train, Iris suffers a bout of unconsciousness and wakes up to find Miss Froy has disappeared, and there’s seemingly no trace of her ever being onboard. After fellow passengers deny Miss Froy’s existence, Iris sets out to search the train for clues, with the help of a musician named Gilbert (Michael Redgrave).
While it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Iris Henderson, director Alfred Hitchcock considered a few other actresses (such as Lilli Palmer and Vivien Leigh) before giving the role to Margaret Lockwood, who at the time was relatively unknown. Also unknown to screen audiences at the time was Michael Redgrave, a rising stage star who made his film debut with The Lady Vanishes. While Hitchcock and Redgrave didn’t get along during production, the director was greatly impressed by Lockwood, telling the press that she had “an undoubted gift in expressing her beauty in terms of emotion” and had “extraordinary insight to get the feel of her lines [and] to live within them”. Despite the high praise, the director and star never had the opportunity to work together again, but The Lady Vanishes proved to be one of the bright spots of both their careers.
NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940)
As German forces take over Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Axel Bomasch (James Harcourt), a Czechoslovak scientist, is flown to Britain. Meanwhile, his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood) is arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where she is interrogated by Nazis who are after her father. There she meets Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid), a fellow prisoner who helps her escape. Together they flee to England, where they make contact with her father and Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison), a British intelligence officer working undercover as an entertainer named Gus Bennett. Just as the father and daughter are reunited, the Gestapo manages to kidnap them both and takes them back to Germany. Now disguised as a German officer, Randall must save them before they reach their final destination.
Unlike her experience with Alfred Hitchcock on The Lady Vanishes, Margaret Lockwood already had an established working relationship with director Carol Reed, though Night Train to Munich ended up being the last film they made together. Reed and Lockwood first collaborated on a film called Midshipman Easy in 1935, and from 1937 to 1939 they made one film together per year: Who’s Your Lady Friend?, Bank Holiday, and A Girl Must Live. And in 1940, three films they made together were released: The Stars Look Down, Girl in the News, and of course Night Train to Munich. Their last film collaboration ended up being one of the most memorable movies amongst both their vast filmographies.
As I mentioned before, The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich have a lot in common aside from having Margaret Lockwood as its star and the train locale. What the two films share isn’t a mere coincidence either, as both of their screenplays were written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two memorable supporting characters found in both films: Charters and Caldicott (played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), two eccentric, cricket-obsessed English travelers. The pair doesn’t appear in the novel The Lady Vanishes was based on and was created especially for the film. Charters and Caldicott proved to be such a popular pair that they teamed up again in three other unconnected films, including Night Train to Munich.
When Night Train to Munich was initially released, it drew a lot of comparisons to The Lady Vanishes (which came out two years before), and some publicity for the 1940 film even claimed it was a sequel. While there are obvious differences within the plots of each film, both are similarly situated in war-torn Europe and feature the same leading character types: a clever young woman in distress (as manifested by Lockwood) and a somewhat peculiar upper-class Englishman (as played by Michael Redgrave and Rex Harrison). And on top of the content within the films, both were helmed by acclaimed British directors, both of whom are particularly remembered for putting together thrilling mysteries.
Despite the similarities, both films are able to differentiate themselves from one another and are great little thrillers. The Lady Vanishes leans more towards the mystery side, while Night Train to Munich relies more on war and espionage. And though its title says otherwise, Night Train to Munich has a broader scope and doesn’t spend too much time on the rails while The Lady Vanishes essentially takes place in its single locomotive location.
With all that said, there’s a lot to enjoy out of both films, whether or not it’s something they have in common. And while the characters she plays in these two films would probably prefer a quieter journey, taking the train with Margaret Lockwood on board proves to be an exciting, memorable ride.
I wrote this entry as a part of the Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon, where bloggers are writing about her films on the occasion of her 100th birthday. Click the banner below to read more posts celebrating the actress!