New DVD Spin: The Lady Vanishes, Sawdust and Tinsel New from Criterion

The "I [heart] Criterion" Discs of the Week

The Lady Vanishes (The Criterion Collection)

In Alfred Hitchcock's most quick-witted early thriller, beautiful Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), traveling across Europe by train, meets Dame May Whitty's charming old spinster, who then disappears as though she never existed. So Iris turns into an investigator and finds herself drawn into a complex web of espionage and high adventure. With Michael Redgrave, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Paul Lukas and Cecil Parker.

In an essay for the original Criterion DVD edition, Michael Wilmington, film critic for the Chicago Tribune, noted that in The Lady Vanishes Hitchcock "pushes the romantic comedy-thriller form to perfection. Endlessly imitated, the film remains unique, even in Hitchcock's canon. In no other movie but North by Northwest was he able to blend these two genres so perfectly. . . . As much as Stagecoach or Casablanca, this is a film full of people one remembers and loves."

The master's witty mystery from 1938, made during his English period before coming to Hollywood, was one of The Criterion Collection's first home video releases, bearing the spine number #3 in a catalog that recently broke the 400 mark. Now Criterion gives this vintage favorite a re-issue upgrade with a newly refurbished transfer in a two-disc set. The Lady Vanishes arrives with a crisp, well-balanced black-and-white image (1.33:1, slightly windowboxed) that noticeably improves on Criterion's 1998 edition. The audio is clean and strong enough in DD 1.0 monaural.

Criterion's usual rich plate of bonus material kicks off with an audio commentary by the always listenable film historian Bruce Eder. Crook's Tour is a 1941 feature-length film (81 minutes) that brings back the cricket-loving duo Charters and Caldicott in their own comic adventure, starring Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne reprising their roles in The Lady Vanishes. "Mystery Train" (33 minutes) is a new video essay about Hitchcock and The Lady Vanishes by Hitchcock scholar Leonard Leff. Also here are excerpts from François Truffaut's legendary 1962 audio interview with Hitchcock, plus a stills gallery of behind-the-scenes photos and promotional art. The 20-page booklet accompanying the discs gives us illustrated essays by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and Hitchcock scholar Charles Barr.

Sawdust and Tinsel (The Criterion Collection)

Ingmar Bergman presents the battle of the sexes as a ramshackle, grotesque carnival in Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), one of the late master's most vivid early works. The story of the charged relationship between a turn-of-the-century traveling circus owner (Ake Grönberg) and his performer girlfriend (Harriet Andersson), the film features dreamlike detours and twisted psychosexual power plays that presage the director's Smiles of a Summer Night and The Seventh Seal, works that would soon change the landscape of art cinema forever.

Criterion delivers Sawdust and Tinsel with a new, restored transfer of the film (1.33:1), featuring five minutes of material not included in previous U.S. editions. It's in Swedish, of course, with a new and improved English subtitle translation. The audio commentary is by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie. We also get a video introduction by Bergman from 2003. The booklet holds a new essay by critic John Simon and an appreciation by filmmaker Catherine Breillat.

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Mark Bourne