Saturday, March 15, 2008


This movie, included on the new Criterion DVD set of THE LADY VANISHES, stars two supporting actors from that movie, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, playing the same two characters from that film, the conservative, cricket-loving, stiff-upper lip Charters and Caldicott. They are stuffy and bumbling but likeable, and resourceful when they need to be. They were so popular in the Hitchcock film, they appeared as support in the same roles in NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH a couple of years later, and were made the stars of two B-comedies in the 40's. This one feels like a Hope & Crosby "Road" picture. The film begins with the two on a bus tour of Iraq, thinking all time of getting back home in time for the results of an important cricket match. The bus breaks down and they get a hand from a sheik who happens to have gone to the same school as Charters. In Saudi Arabia, they get tangled up in a spy ring and accidentally wind up in possession of a phonograph record of a song by singer Greta Gynt which includes the plans for a Nazi attack on an oil field. The spies follow them to Istanbul where they have an adventure in a fake hotel (and almost end up dumped in the Bosphorus River via a fake men's room door). Then it's on to Budapest where they meet up with Charters' horse-faced sister (Noel Hood) who is also Caldicott's fiancée. It turns out (unsurprisingly) that Gynt isn't really a Nazi but a British agent who is trying to help the duo out of the danger they're in. Things come to a head in a castle on the Rumanian border where our heroes face a firing squad. Of course, with Gynt's help, all is fine in the end.

Though this isn't as funny or surreally whimsical as the American "Road" movies, it has its moments, and Radford and Wayne are worth seeing. I found myself always giggling when Wayne kept getting Gynt's name wrong--her stage name is La Palermo, but he keeps calling her La Thingamabob, La Thingy, and La Whatzit. The fake hotel, set up with dozens of people just for the benefit of our duo, is a nice idea but gets mostly wasted. There's an amusing slapstick scene in a café in which they try to stop Gynt's record from being played. I did not recognize most of the supporting players who provide average B-level support, though Gynt does stand out. There was only one more Charters and Caldicott movie, but Radford and Wayne frequently appeared together to play very similar characters (DEAD OF NIGHT, QUARTET). BTW, we find out here that their full names are Hawtrey Charters and Sinclair Caldicott. [DVD]

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