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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 18.92%
Average: 2.7%
Pretty Bad: 2.7%
Total Crap: 2.7%

2 reviews, 25 user ratings

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39 Steps, The
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by Charles Tatum

"A spiral stare case"
5 stars

Although the two remakes are pretty well known, this early film by Hitchcock is fantastic, one of the best films of the 1930's.

Hannay (Robert Donat) is a typical Canadian in London on business when he goes to a music hall to see some vaudeville-type acts perform. During the set by Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson), the man who can remember anything, a fight breaks out in the unruly crowd and gunshots ring out. Hannay escapes into the street on the arm of the pretty Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim), who asks Hannay to take her home with him.

Annabella is not after what you, or Hannay, thinks she is after. Annabella was at the show to try and stop a state secret from leaving Great Britain. She is a spy who caters to the highest bidder, and is trying to get to Scotland to contact a gentleman there who knows more about the case. The couple retires for the night (in separate bedrooms), but someone stabs Annabella to death and Hannay escapes the two men who were following them earlier that evening.

Hannay wants to go to the police, but ends up on a train bound for Scotland himself. He is suspected of Annabella's murder, and now being pursued by the two men (foreign agents), and the police. On the train, he tries to find help from Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), who does not believe him and turns him in. He escapes into the Scottish countryside, and eventually finds the man Annabella was looking for. The climax takes place in the packed London Palladium. As with complex mysteries like this, I cannot give away too much information or else it would spoil the entire film.

"The 39 Steps" is one of many "innocent man on the run" films Hitchcock would direct over his career, and this is right up there with more expensive films starring James Stewart or Cary Grant. Robert Donat is handsome and winning as the lead, looking like the theoretical love child of Liberace and Errol Flynn. Madeleine Carroll is lovely, and a perfect foil for Hannay, rightly not believing him.

Most impressive here is the screenplay and direction. The supporting cast are not just figures who show up to move Hannay and the story along, but well drawn characters who are all memorable. Watch for the isolated farm couple Hannay stays with, played by John Laurie and Peggy Ashcroft. Or the Professor's family. Or Annabella. Or the two women's underwear salesmen on the train. They all could have been given more scenes and dialogue, but they are perfectly written in their respective parts, and never seem "thrown in" just to be there.

In the 1930's, film makers were still getting used to working with sound, and there are some real clunkers out there from the period. Hitchcock shows grand finesse with his camera, using stunning movements and great cinematography. The sound is actually pretty good for this period of film, and the pace is just as quick as any film released today. The only two drawbacks are a badly done special effect involving a flying machine, and having Hannay "remember" clues Annabella gave him, but these are both brief and minor. The final shot of the film says so much about Hitchcock's favorite innocent man theme, it is beautiful.

"The 39 Steps" is one of those films I am sure you have passed over at the video store on the way to something else you really wanted to see. Go back and check it out, it is a wonderful eighty or so minutes.

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originally posted: 11/20/03 07:26:45
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User Comments

4/14/16 Katrina Weiss fast paced, good mystery 4 stars
4/25/15 David Hollingsworth Wonderful early Hitchcock favorite 5 stars
4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
12/09/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Exciting and sometimes funny 4 stars
7/13/09 millersxing The villainy is lackluster; sliightly below Hitch's high standards for suspense. 4 stars
12/19/07 Pamela White early Hitchcock but good effort 4 stars
10/21/07 fools♫gold Oh Hitchcock, how does it end? 5 stars
12/15/06 cher ok when watched it 2-3 times but becums utter suckfest after watching it 50-bajillion times 3 stars
12/13/05 Edward Cantu I was so ingaged in the plot that it didn't matter that it was in black and white. 4 stars
11/23/05 mytee hitch's best 5 stars
11/17/05 Conor excellent 5 stars
9/02/05 Zack best of hitchcocks british films 5 stars
1/24/05 Peter-John Johnson Excellent!!!!! 5 stars
9/27/04 Anthony Sun contrary to some, this pic holds up amazingly well. a definate classic 5 stars
9/18/04 Michael Very entertainingly written. Script is witty, quick-moving, and always thinking ahead 5 stars
6/22/04 Sean Scanlan Alfred Hitchcock is the best director 5 stars
5/31/04 Daveman Hitchcock's masterful manipulation techniques are in full swing here. 5 stars
2/17/04 Mr. Blonde Step right on up to a delicious spy thriller from ol' Hitch. Takes all the right steps! 4 stars
1/03/04 Heidi If you've never seen it, you'll be surprised at how good it is. 5 stars
12/11/03 john I love Hitchcock but this one has always seemed forced and unconvincing - doesn't hold up 2 stars
11/18/03 Charles Tatum Fantastic early Hitchcock 5 stars
4/27/03 R.W. Welch Hitchcock's breakthrough film, using intrigue & touches of humor. Prints now a bit degraded 4 stars
9/07/01 Padraic Coffey Possibly my favourite Hitchcock movie. 5 stars
8/07/01 E-Funk Hitch's best British film. This guy invented this formula that all the hacks try to copy. 5 stars
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  01-Aug-1935 (NR)
  DVD: 02-Nov-1999

  02-Jun-1935 (U)


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