The 39 Steps (1935)
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Over a span of four days, the smart and unflappable protagonist, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is involved in a circular journey to prove his innocence and expose the hive of intrigue. He is involved in chases and romantic interludes that take him from London to the Scottish Highlands and back again and he assumes numerous identities on the way - a milkman, an auto mechanic, a honeymooner, a political speaker among others.
The opening of the film, the first three shorts do not show him above his neck. With his back to the camera, he is followed down the aisle to his seat. He is then assumed to be lost in the crowd. This gives the audience the feeling that he could be anybody. Later when he takes in the identities of a milkman, a mechanic, a politician one realizes that he is Hitchcock's archetypal 'everyman' who unwittingly finds himself in incredible dilemmas.
In one of the brilliantly managed sequences on the train, Richard Hannay throws himself at a lone girl and forces a kiss just as a detective and two policemen pass by their compartment. It reveals his desperation to remain free until he can prove his innocence. In the scene after Annabella staggers into his room with a kitchen knife in her back, Hannay sees her ghostly image (which is superimposed) talking to him, `What you are laughing at right now is true. These men will stop at nothing.' The double exposure achieves a result which is a tad chilling and sad. The hallmark of Hitchcock's style is his ability to completely shock his audience by deliberately playing against how they would be thinking. In such episodes as the murder of the woman in Hannay's apartment or when the vicious professor with the missing finger casually shoots Hannay, the action progresses almost nonchalantly leaving the viewers stunned.
A great story, interesting and likeable characters, slyly incongruous wit, classic Hitchcockian motifs and a great MacGuffin are just a few things that make the The 39 Steps the quintessential Hitchcock.
However if you are a more discerning moviegoer who values a great script, exquisite understated acting, wit, humour and intelligence, and you are willing to overlook the technically rough bits (come on, this was 1935, you cannot measure it by 2005 standards !!) - then enjoy, because you are in for a treat.
Robert Donat is one of the most charming heroes that ever graced the screen, and but for his frail health and loathing of the Hollywood pzazz (he later refused some great movie parts offered to him, which eventually went to the likes of Erroll Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Jr) he might have become one of the greatest. Watch the dinner scene with the crofters, in which he manages to convey his plight to the wife entirely without words. Great acting. Also the wickedly funny bravura piece at the political rally.
Madeleine Carroll must be among the coolest and feistiest of Hitchcock's favoured blondes, not as insipid or irrelevant as many of the others were. She is a veritable icicle and it takes a long time for her to thaw, but then watch the sparks fly.
I feel a little sad for the people who cannot be bothered to check out this movie because of the tinny sound or the b&w photography. Forget about those superficialities and concentrate on the real values - the script, the acting, the lighting, photography and camera work -, just allow yourself to get carried away with the fast paced action, and you'll love it.
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.
A lot of good intellectual analysis has been written here on IMDb and elsewhere about The 39 Steps. And the film deserves it. The 39 Steps is not only a great romantic adventure with the usual Hitchcock humor blended seamlessly into the mix, but it is also rich in allegory, metaphor and even subtle symbolism. Many of Hitchcock's typical themes appear throughout the film - marriage in its various forms, human relationships, and the many varieties and scales of deceit. But the purpose of this review is not to indulge in the meta-text of The 39 Steps, but rather, to discuss its entertainment value.
It is lovely to look at, but lacks much of the cinematographic experimentation and play of Hitchcock's earlier films. It is perfectly scripted - each character has a distinct personality and predicament, and they are all very believable and very well acted. The plot provides suspense, comedy, a powerful but unexaggerated analysis of belief, paranoia and propaganda. Suffice to say that the film can be seen from many perspectives and tends to hit its audience at many levels.
The camera work is more consistently focused on the story than many of Hitchcock's films, and the script offers a lot of activity jammed into a relatively short length. No time is wasted and the film zips by. Despite the lean and economical style, The 39 Steps is easily followed and doesn't require a great deal of thought or interpretation. However, as previously stated, the film can certainly inspire interpretive and critical thought if that's what you are looking for.
The 39 Steps is a gift, and never a burden. Highly recommended.
There are two criticisms commonly made of this film. The first is that there are logical imperfections in the story. This is true of almost all Hitchcock films (as well as those of most other directors). The point is that Hitchcock had an unsurpassed ability to maintain a flow in the unfolding of his story on the screen which totally distracts his audience from the type of mental agility required to even be aware of them. Only when dissecting the story on a sequence by sequence basis will such imperfections become significant. The second criticism is that this film, whilst based on John Buchan's novel of the same name, departs very considerably from the story in the book. I am not a purist about this, books and films are totally different media and must be judged independently. In some cases it must be recognised that a book is structured so that it is almost impossible for a film to remain true to the original book. What I do believe is important is that the film-goer should be entitled to know how true a film is to a previously read and perhaps long loved book. If a film is described as "the film of the best selling novel........", then it should be as accurate a dramatic presentation of the story in the book as possible. (Where the original is a play, not a book, the dramatic medium is already much closer to the movie form, and I believe such a description should only be used when most of the original dialogue from the play is accurately reproduced in the movie.) By contrast, if a film is described as "based on............" then the filmmaker should have considerably more freedom; and if the phrase used is "inspired by........" then a largely independent dramatic presentation should be expected. In the case of "The 39 Steps, Hichcock's film comes into the latter category, but a later (and in my opinion generally inferior) 1978 film of the same name can legitimately claim to be much more closely based on the book. In this instance I personally do not regard the original book as sufficiently important to be sacrosanct, but those who differ from me about this may feel they have an adequate reason for preferring the 1978 film.
Today "The 39 Steps" is seldom shown in movie theaters and, when a home video rather than the actual film is under consideration, attention needs to be given to the medium and technology with which it has been reproduced. The catch phrase "digitally remastered" is often used to reassure a purchaser that he is buying the best possible product, but this may be totally irrelevant. The nuances of shade in a good black and white photograph can often be artistically more significant than those of colour in a colour print, and the same is true for many early movies. But home video versions of black and white films are usually disappointing as these nuances are seldom reproduced accurately, if at all. It is regrettable that, largely because of this, many young people today have no appreciation of the artistic appeal a really good black and white movie film can have. Home video versions of "The 39 Steps" as both DVD's and videotapes have been released by a number of different distributors and these vary in quality enormously. In general DVD's are capable of better rendering of these subtle shade differences than videotapes, but either can be satisfactory. The first requirement is that the distributor has used a high quality master for the material copied, not an old tape that has already been played numerous times. The next is that proper equipment designed for copying from black and white masters is used. Too often copies of old black and white films are made with equipment that is designed only for copying colour films. In such cases the nuances of the multitude of grey shades present in the master are likely to be totally lost. Many of the copies of Hitchcock's film still being sold are particularly bad in this respect, with highlight areas that are totally burnt out instead of containing a mass of detail. The best advice is to consult a website such as that of Amazon.com, where the various versions available are listed and priced, with user comments that indicate how satisfactory the final product has been found by the purchaser concerned. My advice is DO NOT LET YOURSELF BE HAD - THIS WILL ONLY ENCOURAGE THE MARKETING OF SUB-STANDARD MATERIAL.
Thus, began my visual journey of great movies starting from Hitchcock's later Movies of 60s and then 50s and then 40s ..... and then 30s ! Although personally, I had a halt there on watching Movies of the 30s as I could hardly enjoy some of the movies made during that decade.
But, this Movie struck me so hard that it left a great impact on my Mind. Undoubtedly, The 39 Steps(1935) remains as the greatest movie ever made till date. Its still a step ahead then other great classics such as "Vertigo" & "North by Northwest".
Amongst the many reasons why this Movie is great, are its almost flawless & moving script, precise editing & great dialogs. And finally, the impact which it creates on us through medium of various emotions of all the characters.
Its a story about a Charming Young Man 'Mr. Richard hannay' played by Robert Dannat, who gets entangled in a spy chase when he tries to shelter a counter-espionage agent in his house. When the Agent is killed by the Spies, he is on his run from the Police and the killers from London all the way to Scotland country side. Almost after the second half, he gets handcuffed to the lead lady 'Pamela' played by Madelline Carol who also thinks that he is the murderer. In his aggression to claim his innocence, together both the leads continue the journey further, resolving the clues which they get, and finally arriving to the memorable end with dramatic twist.
The detailed thought which was put in while drafting the screenplay of this Movie is surely remarkable. Like how Hannay directs Pamela to fill the registration book of the Hotel as he cannot write since his right hand was handcuffed to her, And Like how good Hannay delivers a great speech in a political gathering, telling only the truth, being misunderstood as a political addresser, And like the perfect handling of the conversation between Hanny and the Unhappy Housewife during their very short acquaintance, And many many more.
The Beauty of the Movie is that it creates a strong bond with the viewers. We get involved into the Movie and enjoy the charm, erotism, fear & curiosity, throughout. This is the Magic of Alfred Hitchcock.
Watch it on priority. Relish this magnum opus of perfect 10/10 thriller ever made in the history of cinema !
There is no director in the history of the cinema who liked a good chase film better than Alfred Hitchcock. This one's a beauty with a wrongly accused of murder Robert Donat, running from London to Scotland and back again to find some spies to clear his name. Along the way Donat picks up a lovely and first unwilling traveling companion in Madeleine Carroll who is arguably the first of his blonde heroines.
Donat and Ronald Colman rivaled for roles somewhat, they seem always to be cast as the same type of characters. Of course Donat worked primarily in the UK and on stage while Colman was strictly a movie actor since the silent days. Colman is the only other guy who could have done this and other Donat parts. It's a pity there are none like either of these guys around today.
When Geoffrey Tearle thinks he's disposed of Donat by shooting him, Donat's life got saved by a hymn book in his breast pocket. Whether that was a device in the original novel by John Buchan or something Alfred Hitchcock improvised the inspiration for it was definitely taken from the attempted assassination of former President Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. While running for president on the Progressive ticket that year, Roosevelt was shot in the chest in Milwaukee. What saved his life was a copy of his speech and an eyeglass case in his breast pocket.
The whole thing here is how the espionage is being carried out and I won't reveal it. But if you've seen Torn Curtain remember why Paul Newman was the only guy they could send on that espionage mission.
This is probably Hitchcock's best film from his pre-Hollywood period and shouldn't be missed.
Playing fast and loose somewhat with John Buchan's (1916) novel, Hitchcock nevertheless directs a fast-moving, riveting story of political intrigue and paranoia with some truly hair-raising scenes (the Forth rail bridge scene springs to mind).
Hitchcock makes his usual cameo appearances. Apart from the one noted here, he's also in one of the early scenes after Arabella Smith fires the pistol. The music hall audience panics and make for the egress, 'Hitch' being one of the crowd. He's also one of the detectives seeking Hannay after he leaves the train on the Forth bridge.
There are some really sparkling lines of dialogue: cold, hungry and tired after tramping across the moors in (what I suppose is Fife), Hannay encounters a crofter (played by John Laurie, later famous as Fraser in Dad's Army): Crofter (to Hannay who has asked him for a bed for the night): Can you sleep in a box bed?" Hannay: "I can try" Crofter: "Can you eat the herring?" Hannay: "I could eat half a dozen right now".
Once inside, the crofter's (much younger) wife asks Hannay the following, after hearing that he lives in London: "Is it true that the women in London are beautiful?" Hannay: "Some of them are but they wouldn't be if they stood next to you." My word, what a charmer!
In case you were wondering, the thirty-nine steps in the original book referred to the steps down to the sea at a secluded bay, the spy involved arranging to be extracted by a submarine when the tide had covered up to the thirty-ninth step from the top. This is not alluded to in the 1935 film version, other than to give a name to the network of spies involved. Hannay was a mining engineer and Arabella Smith in the book is a man! It's a short-ish film too, coming in at about an hour and a quarter. It's occasionally on British terrestrial telly and never fails to please. Why they tried to remake this (in 1953 and 1978) is anyone's guess as you can't improve on perfection.
The story concerns Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) a handsome young man who owns a London flat. A mysterious woman comes to him for help, claiming that she is being hunted by some spies. Hannay helps her, but when she is murdered in his home it look like he is to blame, and he has to go on the run from the police (who obviously want him for the "crime") and the spies (who want him to find out how much he actually knows). En route, he has many adventures as he flees across the South Scotland landscapes, including being handcuffed to a woman (Madeline Carroll) who happens to think he is guilty of the murder.
This is splendid from the word "go". It has enough memorable set pieces for a dozen films, its pace is invigorating, the plot is constantly turning up new surprises, and the performances are just about perfect. Hitchcock spent his career narrating tale of innocent men on the run (indeed, many consider it to be his "favourite" theme) and this is one of the very finest examples of that. Anyone interested in Hitchcock or cinema of the '30s simply must, must, must see this film.
But as I was adjusting to the classic black and white visuals and the abrupt editing, I began noticing the same Hitchcock themes and flourishes that I've seen in the later favorites like North by Northwest. The train scenes, the cases of mistaken identity and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the innocent man on the run who meets an icy blonde, it's all here. The 39 Steps is Hitchcock through and through, that's for sure.
I thought the story was pretty good, if a little abrupt in places. There's lots of tension, a bit of occasional sexually charged humor, and another thrilling escape for the protagonist always seems just around the corner. Any fans of Hitchcock's other movies will probably appreciate this.
Robert Donat gives one of his best performances of his career as the protagonist.The chemistry between him and Madeleine Carroll,and especially a young Peggy Ashcroft (A brilliant performance)is wonderful to behold.John Laurie must also be mentioned,as the sinister farmer. One of the best chase-movies ever. Rating: ***** out of *****
So when a film like "39 Steps" comes around, you really feel a burning need to say something positive. Not because it's a brilliant film, a shining example of early Hitchcock, etc. It's because "The 39 Steps" hasn't lost a step since it was made 70 years ago. When does that ever happen? Even most great novels from the 1930s, or paintings or music, falter down the stretch.
We have all the elements of movie thrillers in times to come, to the point of parody. Lone innocent man on the run from something he doesn't understand. Strange woman appears at his doorstep and whispers vague warnings of a deadly plot. Strange woman turns up the next morning with knife protruding from the exact center of her back. Man on the run from the law finds himself bumping into a woman who may be able to help him, if she can get herself to trust him first.
It's all very cliché, and even though "The 39 Steps" gets credit since this was much more original when it was released, we the jaded viewers of today would still find it a tired exercise to watch a film loaded with clichés, whether or not they were novel at the time. But "The 39 Steps" takes these elements and does strange things to them, playing with audience expectations and throwing a curve. Just when you think something is going to happen, it doesn't.
In one funny scene, Robert Donat confronts a milkman while trying to escape his apartment building under the baleful eye of two sinister men. He tells the milkman he needs help, a woman has been murdered in his apartment and now they are after him. The milkman shakes his head. Donat realizes he needs a change of tack. He explains he is a bachelor who has been spending the night with a married lady friend, and one of the two men outside is her husband.
"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place," the milkman says with a conspiratorial grin, pulling off his white coat so Donat can put it on and get away unnoticed. "I only wanted to be told."
These curves grow only more clever and outrageous as the show rolls along. And roll it does, with very little stopping for breath. There's one poignant pause, at a crofter's cottage in rural Scotland where the tenant is a nasty, sanctimonious cheat with a sad young wife, a woman of soulful beauty played hauntingly by Peggy Ashcroft, not yet a Dame. Things happen between the Scotsman and Donat, in the usual not-as-you-expect-way, but just as things are looking their bleakest, the woman steps in and saves him, risking apparent cruelty from her husband down the road.
"Do all the women in London paint their toenails?" the Scotsman's wife asks, and Donat's Richard Hanney seems like he'd be one to know. He speaks in a singularly tweedy and under-the-breath way that suggests a sleazy schoolmaster trying to seduce a teenager while her parents sleep in the next room. All this Jack-The-Lad stuff's out the window when the fuzz arrives, and he finds himself up against suspicious sheriffs, an FDR lookalike with a missing digit, and a nagging tune he can't get out of his head. Finally, there's Madeleine Carroll, a woman who gets handcuffed to him and finds herself believing his shaggy dog story against her better judgment.
There's so many great scenes in this movie, and a lot of them verge into spoiler country. Best advice here is to see the film for yourself, and see what I mean. But my favorite moment is Hanney's improv stump speech for candidate "McCrocodile." It's a classic moment because while Hanney is an impostor, everything he says in his speech is true. When was the last time you saw a politician do that? No wonder they lead him from the stage in handcuffs...
For 1935 there is quite an erotic scene where Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll are handcuffed together while lying down on a double bed.I would be surprised if this scene got through the American film censors at the time, after all, "Extacy" (1932) starring Hedy Lamarr had been banned over there initially.I believe these two films were before the American "Hays Code" in Cinema had been been created.1940s censorship by contrast was far more draconian.My DVD shows the British Board of film censors certificate as an "A" which means for adults only.Even after 70 odd years the scene where Madeleine is pulling off (to dry) and putting on her stockings again is still quite erotic!I really liked the way Hitchcock gradually built up their initial hostile relationship into romance.He uses a similar device to "hook" the viewer in "The Lady Vanishes" (1938).
Oh how I wish Hitchcock had filmed sequels to both these films as he left this viewer wanting to see more of their leading men and ladies playing their respective characters!!.
Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is in the audience of a London theatre enjoying the performance of Mr Memory (Wylie Watson) - "Am I right sir?", when he meets the mysterious Annabella Smith, a young woman in trouble (Lucie Mannheim). He takes her back to his flat where she gives him some important information about a gang of spies who are trying to kill her. During the night she is murdered and Hannay is of course the chief suspect. On the run from the police he heads for Scotland which is where Annabella has told him the spies are located. During the train journey he meets Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) who turns him in to the police. Upon arrival in Scotland Hannay manages to find the ringleader of the spies, Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle), which places him in even more danger but he escapes only to fall into the hands of the police. He gets away from them and is reunited with Pamela who reluctantly teams up with him (she doesn't have much choice as she has been handcuffed to him). However, she eventually begins to believe his story and realises he is innocent after all so helps to clear his name. Pamela and Hannay return to London where they see "Mr Memory" who is once again performing in a theatre. Professor Jordan is also there but Hannay spots him and the film is brought to a dramatic but satisfying conclusion.
Some favourite lines from the film:
Robert Donat (to Lucie Mannheim): "It sounds like a spy story". Mannheim: "That's exactly what it is".
Mannheim (to Donat): "I had to get away from the theatre quickly. There were two men there who wanted to kill me".
Godfrey Tearle (to Donat): "Well Mr Hannay, I'm afraid I've been guilty of leading you down the garden path - or should it be up - I never can remember".
Donat (to Madeleine Carroll): "There are 20 million women on this island and I've got to be chained to you".
Donat (to Carroll): "May I ask what earthquake caused your brain to work at last?".
Donat (to Wylie Watson): "What are the 39 steps?".
The film was remade in 1959 with Kenneth More and again in 1978 with Robert Powell but neither of these remakes can compare with the original Hitchcock version. For anyone looking out for Hitchcock's regular cameo appearance this comes as Hannay and Annabella board a bus to go back to his flat. (Hitchcock is seen as a passer-by throwing some litter into the street). 10/10. Clive Roberts.
Robert Donat has a more exciting British vacation than most Canadian tourists. Behind every door, there's a cop. Jump out a window and two spies are waiting. Any train compartment hides a girl to be kissed. And if he enters a political rally, he'll probably have to deliver the keynote address. Everyone he speaks with has clever things to say quite rapidly; the dialog piles up like the set pieces, spilling and tumbling effortlessly toward epiphany. Best of all Donat gets to enjoy that peculiarly English institution, the prewar music hall, not once but twice in its greatest screen portrayal. These sequences glow with the specific that lends universality to the parochial.
What a pain a lot of modern filmmakers must have when they look at something like this. It's a rebuke; it's proof money doesn't buy quality. With 200 million dollars, we don't make stuff this good. This movie has all the hallmarks of budgetless Depression-era British film-making, but it looks fine and is nearly great. So if all it takes is writing, carpentry, acting, photography and editing, why isn't every movie this good? Some guys make it look easy.
After Hitchcock got to Hollywood, his movies, while suffering no general decline in excellence, gradually lost that free and easy weightlessness that characterizes his early period. FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT still has it, to an extent, and MR AND MRS SMITH has it in spades, but by SABOTEUR and SPELLBOUND he was more and more a formalist. This trend of course culminates in bravura exercises like VERTIGO and PSYCHO, so I'm not complaining. But SECRET AGENT and 39 STEPS and LADY VANISHES delight me with a more cheerful elegance, and I can watch them more often.
Hitchcock said it best:"the rapidity of the switches, that's the great thing about it",and "one idea after another, and with such rapidity";yes,this is the striking quality of the "39".Donat was an actor that Hitchcock liked much.The director had an idea about the kind of male lead he could use in his movies :the dignified type,as he called it,the Colman/Olivier type (in fact,he even worked with Olivier):Grant,Stewart,Cotten,Donat,Connery .This was his idea of a male lead.Of course,he was functionalist, pragmatic, practical, so some of his male leads are,for the needs of a given movie,more European than others.He complained about "compromise casting".So,Donat fitted remarkably Hitchcock's idea of a male lead.
"39" has a gladsome blonde,the glamorous Madeleine Carroll,as "Pamela" .She embellishes a funny sexy scene,when she takes off her stockings.
Hitchcock was deft in '35,with The 39 Steps,as he was deft 41 years later,with Family Plot,in '76.50 years of artistic vitality (plus several volt-faces). Michelangelo Antonioni had a similarly long career,and Fellini was near.John Ford had an even longer activity.
True, it's also a little less 'polished', if you will, compared to Hitchcock's 50s and 60s work, but considering how so few years it came out after the advent of sound, many sequences are rather incredible, if only for what little is used. I loved seeing the chases, one on a train, another through a mountain-side, and another that is more like a "hide-don't-find" moment after Richard and (very reluctant) Pamela escape from the spies and hide under a bridge covered with sheep. Even the climax of the picture speaks to Hitchcock's unequivocal gifts at painting suspense but also throwing in a sliver of pathos; watch "Mr. Memory" in the final shot explaining about a formula or other and see how Hitchcock regards such silly things as "plot details", unless it's at the expense of something of a joke (i.e. on the train with the Hard Day's Night 'old man' and the other guy joking about the paper).
What matters is that the story keeps moving and, under the circumstances, makes some sense. And here we get somewhat a pre-North-by-Northwest tale where average Joe, Richard, brings to his home Miss Annabella Smith, who's a spy and is running after shooting someone at the Memory show they both just left from. Morning after, he finds she's dead with a knife in her back, he's the blame, and has to run to find people she's mentioned to him (which Hitchcock shoots eerily in a faded close-up over a map of her face repeating things she said earlier in a different tone of voice). Throughout this short but invigorating film, we get lots of comedic bits, like Richard's stumble into a town hall meeting and giving a speech to buy some time. Or even a lovely romantic piece that's like a slice of a silent film as Pamela almost escapes but decides to curl up on the couch instead.
It's overall a beautiful, tense but very funny movie by a filmmaker who knows his stuff inside and out, and isn't worried about showing a good time in the midst of some unconventional technical choices.
This is the most important pursuit-film in the Hitchcock's British period as ¨North by Northwest¨(1959)is in American stage. The movie combines imagination,thriller,action and satirical comedy. Picture contains the usual elements argument in Hitchcock as the wrong guilty,pursuits,and the McGuffin,this time are the 39 steps. Elegant and charming Robert Donat(1905-1958)submitted to continuous escapes is top-notch.Delightful Madeleine Carroll(recent her acting for John Ford) as distinguished and elegant blonde is marvellous .The support casting is frankly excellent,John Laurie,Helen Haye and famed theatre actress Peggy Ashcroft(born 1907) who win an Oscar(1985) by ¨Passage to India¨(David Lean).The film is a Gaumont British production by the great producer Michael Balcon.As almost always the screenwriter is Alma Reville,Hitchcock's wife.Besides his usual musical conductor Louis Levy and a dark black and white cinematography by his habitual cameraman Bernard Knowles. The motion picture is magnificently directed by the master of suspense.
What's also impressive about it is how much it presages Hitchcock's later favorite kinds of scenes. The man stuck in a public space, the exits covered by his pursuers, who must try to improvise his way out of danger. In this instance, Robert Donat sneaks into a political meeting and is mistaken for the keynote speaker. He stands at the podium and gives a rousing speech full of political malarkey that has the audience on its feet clapping and shouting. His pursuers still manage to nail him and lead him away in manacles but as the police escort him through the door, the audience turns and cheers him again while he waves his grinning farewell with a shackled hand. (A situation nicely handled in "North by Northwest," too, at an auction.) The fact that it works is evidenced by the thousand times it's been copied. (Vide, "The Prize.") The script is quite funny, and sexy too. Scotland looks so barren and windswept. It's hard to believe those bens were once covered by natural forests.
The performances are up to par. Poor Donat died of asthma, which is an unpleasant way to go. Madeleine Carrol was a beautiful blond, one of Hitchcock's first. He seemed to like frosty blonds, but he was never a sentimental mope. Years later he was shooting at a location only a few blocks from where Carrol lived and never bothered to visit her. Peggy Ashcroft, as the farmer's wife, gives a first-rate performance. And she has an inner beauty that transcends anything resembling glamor. She looks almost compellingly homely in this part. One wants to be a kitten and curl up in her lap, certain of being treated gently.
Great stuff here.
The plot of The Thirty-Nine Steps is simple and like all of Hitchcock?s films, entirely subordinate to the development of characters and theme. The film concerns the adventures of a Canadian Richard Hannay ( the handsome Robert Donat), who while visiting London, becomes involved in a deadly game of espionage when a murder is committed in his flat. To establish his innocence, he must discover and bring to justice a ring of spies known as ? the thirty-nine steps.? Throughout the entire film there are two major themes, the disparity between appearance and reality and that theme of trust. For example, throughout the entire film, Hannay assumes at least four different ?roles.? First, he avoids the murderous spies by pretending to be a milkman. Another, is the scene in which he tries to avoid the police by posing as a political candidate and of course, gives a speech. However, my favorite is the scene in which a handcuffed Hannay and Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), give off the appearance that they are newlyweds.
Perhaps the most striking example is the fact that the spies themselves are able to masquerade as police and their leader, the dangerous spy with part of his small finger missing, isn't exactly who he claims to be either. To everyone else, he is the well-respected member of society, Professor Jordan, but to his fellow spies he is their dangerous leader.
The theme of trust, is all over this film. Should Pamela trust Richard? Should Richard even trust her? These are also similar to the relationship of Cary Grant and Eva-Marie Saint in North by Northwest. The fact is Hannay is forced and compelled to trust others in his attempt to establish his own innocence. The scenes involving the farmers and innkeepers wives, also carry this theme, as they both insist on helping. It is their husbands, who are reluctant.
One of Hitchcock's most entertaining films, and my um personal favorite. My favorite scene is when the two lead characters, Hannay and Pamela are handcuffed and on the run, and not a minute passes and they are already bickering and she says to him "How far are you going to get shackled to me?" Donat instantly fires back "Save that question for your husband!?