Average review score based on 11 user reviews
The 39 Steps is based on a spy novel of the same title by John Buchan. While I only read part of it, now I would like to read the rest…regardless, the book, written in 1915, practically established the whole genre of the espionage story. I would argue that the movie does the same for the movie arena.
The story is about a man named Hannay who takes home a perfect stranger of a woman after a show at a music hall only to have her explain that she’s a spy and the Professor—with a half a pinky—is after her.
The next morning, she is found murdered.
Thus begins a well-written and well-filmed set of adventures that culminates back at the very same music hall at the end of the movie.
There are several major themes of the movie—the stage, obviously, music (in the tune Hannay keeps whistling), and I’m sure there are more I’ve yet to unearth. An interesting irony is that while Hannay and the woman he met on the train are handcuffed together, they both want to get away from each other; but when she slips out of the handcuffs, they both want to stay together.
Finally, this movie was much more than I expected for a 1935 movie. Granted, it’s early Hitchcock, but it’s probably one of the best of his early films (if not THE best prior to 1947 and Notorious). A well-done romantic thriller that’s still worth watching.
I just ordered the Criterion Hitchcock "set" which includes "The 39 Steps", a movie I've watched many times over the last 20 years, but NEVER in a form this crisp and well-transfered; it's been restored beautifully, and as with all the films("My Man Godfrey" and "The Lady Vanishes", to name two)that have been kicking around with duped, grainy, fuzzy prints for the last 60-some years that were FINALLY restored-it's almost like watching a new movie-even if you'd thought you'd memorized all the dialogue and action! There's just so much that's missed in a bad print. Here, we have Hitch at his finest....there just isn't a dull second in this film. It's really as sure-fire as any movie ever made, in terms of entertainment. I believe this too was Hitchcock's first huge breakout international hit, although happily for us, he didn't "go Hollywood" for another 3 years or so(and gave us the later "Lady Vanishes"-another Criterion must-have).
One caveat: if you're like me(hopeless film buff), you often get these Criterions for not only the fantastic quality of the print but for the often illuminating audio tracks, usually provided by experts of one type or another; I've never quibbled with any of them before, but I have to say, don't expect Marion Keane's wall-to-wall droning to be worth it. There's generally two kinds of film "discussion"(not counting the sort where the actual director or actors gab, which we get with new films): the sort that's superb, like Rudy Behlmer's on "Adventures of Robin Hood"-an amalgam of film history, film technique, on-the-fly biographies of the actors you're watching, tidbits about the production locations, etc.etc.-nd then there's the OTHER kind:
film "semiotics". In other words, a commentator turns a smashing, hugely exciting and entertaining movie into a dull excercise in psychoanalysis. Virtually NOTHING is said about any of the particulars of "The 39 Steps" that isn't a parsing of the symbolism, the framing, that sort of thing. That stuff's there, of course, and I'll hand it to her that the speaker *does* mention Robert Donat's acting several times(it's excellent, of course!)-but you know, for all her blather about the poignancy of the scene of the Crofter's wife, you'd think that she might bother to tell us the actress' name(Peggy Ashcroft), the fact that this was one of her few films, that she was a huge stage star eventually, etc. The sort of thing that other audio tracks do so well.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock August 13, 1899- April 29, 1980
Based on a novel by John Buchan
Adapted by Charles Bennett
Released August 1, 1935
Wylie Watson as Mr. Memory
Alfred Hitchcock as Litterer by the music hall
Often considered one of the best films from his early period. (Hitchcock made most of his films in the US after 1939)
This film was also one of the first to introduce the concept of the "Macguffin", a plot device around which a whole story seems to revolve, but ultimately has nothing to do with the true meaning or ending of the story
John Buchan's novel was adapted to film again in 1959
Released April 15 1959 in Denmark
Directed by Ralph Thomas
Screenplay by Frank Harvey
It was Peter Vaughan's first film
Great Hitchcock film, with a cameo!
willtrib EasyCityBooks NOLA
This movie is one of the classics. It's a british spy movie about a man who is convicted and tries desperately to prove his innocence. This is a highly watchable movie that is slightly, just slightly, like the James Bond movies.
About what you could expect for a "spy thriller" made this long ago.
Poorly written with lots of gaps in the story. Donat walking the miles of the Highlands of Scotland on foot.. . . showing up at all the right places. At one point, the "bad guy" wants to keep his ill doing from his wife, and later on she is part of the cover up, etc.
I would have expected more from Hitchcock. His "spy" movie Saboteur was much better.