The 39 Steps (1935)

Hitchcock is on an exponential curve in terms of quality and entertainment. Just as The Man Who Knew Too Much was so much better than his previous offerings, this is an even more impressive improvement on that.

I don’t love it though (unlike someone else in my household), there are more likeable films to come with more endearing leading men. Robert Donat is an oddity, he’s only 30 in this but looks older, and he isn’t at all sexy or charming. The way he kisses Madeleine Carroll was almost guaranteed to have her turn him in and I don’t like Richard Hannay’s entitlement either (what would I have called this in the past? did I even notice it?) Just why does he think that Pamela should have known he wasn’t a murderer?

However, I love his turn at the political meeting, and Hannay’s nonsense isn’t that far removed from what a real politician might waffle.

What I love about Hitchcock’s films, is that there are so many good roles for women, and not just for leading ladies. In this, we have: Peggy Ashcroft so touching as the crofter’s wife (‘Glaswegian’ accent not withstanding), the uncredited Hilda Trevelyan at the inn who is a hoot in her misunderstanding of the situation between Mr and Mrs Henry Hopkinson, and poor doomed spy Lucie Mannheim.

Madeleine Carroll is fine as the lead though she actually isn’t in much of the first half of the film. I was surprised to discover that she was was once one of the most highly paid actresses in the world in the late thirties. She is certainly not immediately on my list of memorable actresses from that period. I love her dishevelled look while handcuffed to Donat and, of course, she rocks glasses.

There are few flashy Hitchcock touches, it’s almost as if he was confident that the strong story and good dialogue was enough. His way of not bothering to explain or show how, say, Hannay got off the Forth Bridge, or how he got from the floor of the house at Alt-na-Shellach to a local police station, or how Hannay and Pamela got from a Highland hotel to Scotland Yard, worked better in The 39 Steps than it did in the just choppy The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Best line: “It’s a whole flock of detectives.”

Alma fact: continuity
Appearance by a cat or dog: none
Transport: a train, a car, an autogyro
Source: Carlton

Thanks to 1000 Frames of Hitchcock

One thought on “The 39 Steps (1935)

  1. I seriously don’t think Hannay thought he could convince Pamela of his innocence – and I like to think the kiss was more about desperation than entitlement. The look on her face in that capture is priceless – I think we’re clearly being told that what Hannay is doing is ridiculous (and will almost certainly fail) but it’s all he could think of!

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