Friday, June 22, 2012
You know, in public, I tell people my favourite Hitchcock films are Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho and North by Northwest. In private, I mean the ones I enjoy most and can watch again and again, and in fact do on a regular basis when I haven't watched, say, Vertigo for over a decade, would include The Birds, Notorious, The 39 Steps, The Trouble with Harry and, my favourite of all, The Lady Vanishes. What I love about it is nothing happening for the first half hour, by which I mean no plot. We forget we are even watching a thriller and become engrossed in the characters. The whole film unfolds into a great mix of suspense and humour, with splendid performances, great characters and sparkling dialogue.
Set in Bandrika, a fictional European country, a group of travellers eager to get back to England are stuck in the only hotel in town after an avalanche has rendered travelling by train impossible until the morning. Amongst them is musicologist Michael Redgrave, spoilt yet sparky socialite Margaret Lockwood and governess May Whitty. Best of all are the two Cricket-obsessed, uptight, stiff-upper lipped Brits Caldicott and Charters, played deadpan by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford. Permanently unimpressed at everything in general, and flabbergasted that no one seems to speak English, the feckless couple seem to get the short end of every stick. Though this was the first time Wayne and Radford had acting together, their repartee made them look like a comedy double act (the not too distant cousins of Laurel and Hardy) who'd known each other all their lives (or at least since Oxford).
The success of The Lady Vanishes meant the winning formula was reproduced for Night Train to Munich (1940), a comedy thriller directed by Carol Reed. Though not a sequel as such, it felt like a loose one if only because so many elements from The Lady Vanishes were repeated. It was written by the same duo, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, starred the same actress, Margaret Lockwood, as well as Wayne and Radford who actually keep their same names from the Lady Vanishes, Charters and Caldicott. It's like they've been typecast after one film together. Indeed, the poster for Night Train to Munich features them in the bottom corner: 'Ha! Ha! Ho! Ho! Laugh with the comedy pair of Lady Vanishes'.
They were Charters and Caldicott again in Crook's Tour (1941) and Millions Like Us (1943). A falling out with the BBC in 1945 meant they were contractually unable to portray the characters Charters and Caldicott any more. This didn't stop them from playing essentially the same characters under different names though: Parratt and Potter in Dead of Night (1945), Woolcot and Spencer in Double Bedlam (1946), Stalker and Gregg in Passport to Pimlico (1949) and Fanshaw and Fothergill in That's my Baby (1950), amongst many others.
Though Radford died in 1955 and Wayne in 1970, this didn't stop their characters Charters and Caldicott being used again: in the 1979 remake of The Lady Vanishes and a 1985 BBC TV series called Charters and Caldicott.