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The 39 Steps (Criterion Collection Spine #56) (1935)

2 Ratings: 3.5
Art House & International and Classics movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock's first great romantic thriller is a prime example of the MacGuffin principle in action. Robert Donat is Richard Hannay, an affable Canadian tourist in London who becomes embroiled in a deadly conspiracy when a mysterious spy winds up murdered … see full wiki

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
1 review about The 39 Steps (Criterion Collection Spine...

More Thrilling Than James Bond.

  • Apr 23, 2007
While vacationing in London, Canadian Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) attends a theatre and watches the amazing memory man recollect extraordinary facts and pass on information on a wide and eclectic range of subjects. The performance is chaotically interrupted. Hannay makes the acquaintance of a beautiful woman named Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim). Smith accompanies Hannay to his current residence and reveals to him that she is a secret agent that is trying to escape from a band of foreign agents that want her dead. She tells Smith about a secret organization known as The 39 Steps, that she is traveling to Scotland, and to be on guard for a man who is missing half of one of his fingers. That night, Annabella is murdered. Hannay fears for his life and sets out on a journey to prove his innocence by discovering the secret of the 39 Steps and breaking up the spy ring. A random series of encounters brings Hannay in contact with a beautiful, young woman named Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) who finds herself first unwittingly and then unwilling joining Hannay on his quest.

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest film directors of all time. His influence upon the medium is even greater than that of Orson Welles. Hitchcock started making films in the 1920s and a person can learn a great deal about the medium of film and how to tell a story by just studying his early pictures.

THE 39 STEPS isn't the best of Hitchcock's films, but it is a great example of how good a director he was. While watching the movie I was reminded of the pacing from an Agatha Christie story (though in fact, the movie is based on the novel by Scottish author John Buchan). The film is set in the era of Pre-WWI U.K., but other than the obvious changes in props and backgrounds could just as easily take place in the early 21st Century.

I really enjoyed THE 39 STEPS. The film is kind of an action-spy-thriller piece, but it's full of delightful humor (such as when Hannay and Pamela are handcuffed together). The movie is noted as being the film that got Robert Donat recognized as a serious actor by the Hollywood establishment. It's also known as a great example of Hitchcock's penchant for realism: Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll actually were handcuffed together for several hours because Hitchcock claimed to have lost the key (in actuality he had given it to a security guard for "safekeeping").

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys watching good spy films and for anyone who is a fan of Hitchcock. Also, if you're picking up this film to own, buy the Criterion Collection version. Other versions are much less expensive but Criterion has the best version of the movie available on DVD.

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