A man in London tries to help a counterespionage agent. But when the agent is killed and the man stands accused, he must go on the run to both save himself and also stop a spy ring which is trying to steal top secret information.
Richard Hannay is a Canadian visitor to London. At the end of "Mr Memory"'s show in a music hall, he meets Annabella Smith who is running away from secret agents. He accepts to hide her in his flat, but in the night she is murdered. Fearing he could be accused on the girl's murder, Hannay goes on the run to break the spy ring. Written by
Claudio Sandrini <email@example.com>
The serial number of the autogyro has been reversed, showing that the stock shot has been reversed for effect. See more »
Music hall announcer:
Ladies and Gentleman, with your kind attention, and permission, I have the honor of presenting to you one of the most remarkable men in the world.
Heckler in Audience:
How remarkable? He's sweating!
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Most people associate Hitchcock with suspense but he was also a master of dark comedy. "The 39 Steps" illustrates his ability to blend the two genres into a movie that works well on both levels. If he had turned up the comedy a tiny bit it would be just as hilarious as the best 1930's screwball comedies like "Bringing Up Baby" and "The Awful Truth". Imagine Katherine Hepburn handcuffed to Robert Donat as they wander the Scottish moors. But the chemistry between Madeleine Carroll and Donat is too good to replace her.
Hitchcock cast a great ensemble for "The 39 Steps". Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Teale and John Laurie are outstanding. The supporting cast are all excellent. Yet in the midst of all this it is Peggy Ashcroft who absolutely shines.
Donat's misadventures while "on-the-run" from the law are the original "series of unfortunate events". It seems that he just can't go anywhere without being identified and chased. Hitchcock's technique is to lull you into thinking it will be an ordinary scene and then to casually throw something menacing into the scene, so the viewer can never relax. These are like getting a slap in the face before you have a chance to set yourself up for the blow. By comparison with the sinister delicacy and urbane understatement of "The Thirty-nine Steps," modern melodramas are obvious and crude.
There are many cool things to watch for:
CAMEO-As Donat and Mannheim board a bus early in the film, director Hitchcock makes his customary cameo appearance as a passer-by who tosses litter onto the sidewalk.
MATCH CUT-One of the most revolutionary edits in cinema history is in here; after the maid finds Lucie's body her scream dissolves into the hissing of a train whistle.
MISE EN SCENE-If you ever wandered what this was ("putting-in-the-scene" is a single shot sequence without cuts to another camera or transition to another scene), Hitchcock's closing shot is probably the all-time best example. As Donat, Carroll, and the police gather backstage around the dying Mr. Memory, on-stage behind them (visible from the wings) and performing for the Palladium audience is a chorus-line of girls high-kicking to the tune of Tinkle, Tinkle, Tinkle from the film Evergreen (1934). After Mr. Memory confirms the espionage plot, the camera angle changes slightly and Donat and Carroll fill the frame facing away from the camera. Donat still has the handcuffs dangling from his wrist. They spontaneously join hands - this time of their own free will.. The film fades to black.
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