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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Charters and Caldicott

The Lady Vanishes shall possibly qualify as one of Hitchcock's best. Hitchcock, as we all know, was a great director, more so because he never selected Fardeen Khan in any of his classics. Of all his classics, Dial M for Murder has the best storyline in my opinion, but The Lady Vanishes holds a special place on the list for me.


Because of Charters (played by Basil Radford) and Caldicott (played by Naunton Wayne). Between them, they added a new dimension to the movie. The plotline takes its own course, racing through the hotel and a train and thereafter, culminating in an impressive climax.

Charters and Caldicott remain in the side throughout, providing (for most people) comic relief of sorts. But of what sort?

The entire team gets stranded in a random hotel in a place called Bandrika, goodness knows where. Until then C and C look like simple, ordinary characters. Until... there's a call for a random Mr Seltzer, and the manager goes to find him.

Charters overhears that it's a call from London. He was already looking crestfallen at the lack of radio coverage and at the fact the newspaper is from last month. But now, his expression changes: he picks up the phone, and - I couldn't believe my ears - asks the person on the other side about what's happening to England at the test match at Manchester.


I sat straight. And when the person on the other side responded that he wasn't aware, Charters responded, to my delight, the following:

I fell in love with him that very moment. Haven't I felt like that like, say, a million times over the years?

The movie progressed. When Iris (Margaret Lockwood) and Mrs Froy (May Whitty) were having a meal in the salon, Charters and Caldicott were seated at the next table. The following conversation followed:

Charters: It wasn't out. But for the umpire's blunder he'd still be batting.
Caldicott: What do you mean?
Charters: I'll show you. I saw the whole thing.
(pours the sugar cubes on the table)
There's Hammond, there's the bowler, and there's the umpire.
Waiter (at next table): Sugar?
Iris: Two please.
Mrs Froy: Dear me. There's no sugar.

Charters: Now watch this very carefully. Grimmett was bowling.
Iris: May I trouble you for the sugar?
Charters (dumbstruck): What?
Iris: The sugar, please.
(A speechless Charters passes it over)
Thank you so much.

I couldn't believe my ears. I really couldn't. A movie. Two characters. Discussing Hammond and Grimmett.

Of course, I needed to look up - how many times did Grum get Wally out in all?

I checked. Six times, in all. One of them bowled, one caught in the field, so ruled out for bad umpiring, in all expectations. However, there were two LBWs, both at Trent Bridge in 1930, and two caught by the wicketkeeper, at Headingley in 1930 and again at Trent Bridge, in 1934. We shall never get to know which of the four this was, but then, I was so terribly excited at the mention of Grum and Wally that the plot momentarily escaped my mind.
Of course, as the title suggests, Mrs Froy vanished from the fray. Iris joined hands with Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) in a frantic search inside the train. They bumped into our duo, and the following conversation followed:
Iris: I was having tea about an hour ago with an English lady. You saw her, didn't you? 
Charters: Well, I don't know, I mean, I was talking to my friend, wasn't I? 
Caldicott: Indubitably. 
Iris: Yes, but you were sitting at the next table. She turned and borrowed the sugar. You must remember. 
Charters: Yes, I recall passing the sugar. 
Iris: Well then you saw her. 
Charters: I repeat we were deep in conversation. We were discussing cricket. 
Iris: Well, I don't see how a thing like cricket can make you forget seeing people. 
Charters (furious): Oh, don't you? If that's your attitude, there's nothing more to be said! Come, Caldicott. "A thing like cricket!" 
Gilbert: Wrong tactics. We should've told him we were looking for a lost cricket ball.

Aah, yet again. It was me all over again! Charters was echoing my voice - in exactly the same tone when anyone dared to utter anything as blasphemous as "a thing like cricket!"

And then, when they landed in London, eager to catch the train to Manchester, they got to see this:

Was a test really abandoned at Manchester due to floods? The movie was released on 1st November 1938. Of course there was an Ashes that year (Hutton scored 364, England scored 903/7 and won by an innings and plenty, remember?)!

But what happened at Manchester? This.

Thank you, Hitchcock, for providing me with the only movie whose events coincided with a real test match. I now know that the movies events were from 8th to 12th July 1938.

Yes, The Lady Vanishes is my favourite Hitchcock movie now.


  1. sugar buns,
    why post such women-unfriendly writeup?

  2. And your love-story with cricket continues :) nicely written/edited :)

  3. cricket??
    *rolls her eyes*
    wake up,we've won the cup.
    over with this NOW

  4. first time reader.. you have a great blog :)

  5. Yay :) ! I have felt kinship with movies and novels for various such reasons... for cricket this is indeed my second :), Bhuvan and company notwithstanding!

    Actually, I lie - there was an episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot that talked about Headley Verity's grand day out... at the very end of "Four and Twenty Blackbirds"!


    see from 8:20 onwards :).

  7. Apoorva: Thanks! Now I have to watch this!!
    Janani: Thanks.
    Anonymous 2: Women-unfriendly?
    Anonymous 3: Come, Caldicott. :)

  8. I did not know about this movie and every screen shot is making me crazy. I have seen around 12 Hitchcock movies and this one I will see not for him...just for cricket...

    You are absolutely right."a thing like cricket!" from any one's mouth can make me a killer like Dr. Hannibal Lectre. I will get immense pleasure to see that human being suffering.

    There are fools who dont know when "we were deep in conversation. We were discussing cricket. " we generally stare at nothing...I mean people like you, me and Mr. Charters.

    And at last, salute you for discovering another gold mine. :)

  9. If you enjoyed watching Charters and Caldicott then you'll love their website