While not as common in the old days as today, sequels were still fairly common business, as a star was often asked to reprise a role from one of their most popular movies. But how often are the supporting players such a hit that they get their own spin-offs? Well, that's exactly what happened with Naunton Wayne & Basil Radford.
Both men had been appearing in films throughout England in the early thirties after some stage work. Neither had worked together before Alfred Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" brought them together in 1938. The duo played the roles of Caldicott (Wayne) and Charters (Radford). Radford had previously appeared in Hitchcock's "Young and Innocent," but "The Lady Vanishes" would vault the two men into a new kind semi-stardom.
Caldicott and Charters are the comic relief in the film, two Englishmen completely obsessed with getting home in time for the cricket match. They probably represent Hitchcock's own satirical view of himself and his countrymen, as the two bumble through the film, being embarrassed to be in the same room with a woman changing clothes, and simply being bewildered and confused the entire time. Their performances together are magical, a kind of alchemy that happens when two performers play off each other instinctively (see Laurel & Hardy). They duo are among the first characters seen in the film, as they make their entrance into a crowded hotel waiting for a snowed-in train, and then express displeasure at Margaret Lockwood being shown to a hotel room before them (below at 4:30).
The duo were such a hit that their characters were written into the next film by screenwriters Frank Laudner and Sidney Gilliat, "Night Train to Munich" (directed by Carol Reed), and later were spun off into their own film, "A Crook's Tour." This charmingly slight film is thoughtfully provided by the good folks at Criterion on their two-disc version of "The Lady Vanishes," and while the film is a bit of a Hope/Crosby globe-trotting knockoff, the duo are wonderful and actually work quite well as anti-heroes bumbling their way through a spy ring.
Wayne & Radford would reprise their roles (sometimes named Caldicott & Charters, other times not) in many other film, and even had their own radio show for a while. And after their death, the characters were even resurrected by the BBC for a short-lived Agatha-Christie-type TV show.
To me this is fascinating, that a random grouping of two actors, undoubtedly cast very quickly, could go on to become so successful that they transcend their creators and take on a life of their own. It's a tribute to the magic that can happen when too good performers strike sparks off each other, even if those sparks are in a decidedly reserved, British nature.
-Young and Innocent
-The Lady Vanishes
-Night Train to Munich