“The Lady Vanishes”…and reappears

Lady Vanishes_image 4Just saw Hitchcock’s delicious 1938 mystery, “The Lady Vanishes.” The genre is that seemingly impossible contradiction in terms, a comic thriller. It’s all about spying, of course, which was the great theme of the pre-war years. Spoiler alert! Miss Froy, the kindly old English governess turns out to be a British spy, trying to get a top-secret message back to London.

As this sweet old lady actually managed to get her message through, she would have been, had she been real, one of British intelligence’s more successful agents. According to “The Second Oldest Profession” by Philip Knightly, British intelligence in the 1930s was understaffed and inept. Most agents were recruited from the upper class, and their aim was to preserve traditional old Britain at all costs. Their natural enemy was the Soviet Union and the dreadful working class. By comparison, Hitler seemed benign. So serious systematic intelligence gathering in Germany began far too late.

The film was made just a few years before Bletchley’s top math geniuses managed to crack Enigma code. Clever Miss Froy’s secret message is conveyed rather more simply. It is encoded in a musical phrase, relayed to her by a accordion player under her hotel window.

Math and music are closely linked. There is a hallowed tradition for embedding secret numerological messages in music. Bach played musical games with the notes corresponding to his name. Schubert did too. But not until a few years ago was it discovered that Plato embedded music in his writings. Researchers now believe that he secretly followed the heretical Pythagoras, who believed not in the old gods but in the underlying mathematical order of the universe.

But who, in the chaotic 1930s, could believe in any underlying order?







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