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This 1935 Alfred Hitchcock thriller is certainly worth a look.

  • Dec 25, 2009
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Recently I read the review by cpw1952 of Scottish author John Buchan's 1915 adventure novel "The Thirty Nine Steps" here on Lunch.  This of course was the book that director Alfred Hitchcock turned into a full-length motion picture in his native Great Britain back in 1935.  Quite coincidentlally around the same time my sister-in-law lent me her collection of Alfred Hitchcock's classic British films.  This confluence of circumstances prompted me to at long last watch "The 39 Steps".  This was something I had been threatening to do for years.  In the past I had attempted to watch some other early Hitchcock films but I always found it extremely difficult to keep up.  I am pleased to report that for the most part this was not the case with "The 39 Steps".  This is a film that grabbed my attention in the opening scene and simply never let go. 

According to Neil Sinyard's 1986 book "The Films of Alfred Hitchcock" "The 39 Steps" is "perhaps the most famous and acclaimed of his British films and one of the best thrillers of the decade".  It is easy to see why.  Richard Hanney (Robert Donat) is the chief protagonist in this film.  Hanney is a Canadian vacationing in London who inadvertantly finds himself entangled in a plot to steal state secrets that will have international ramifications if successful.  He gets mixed up with a mysterious female spy while attending a show at the London Palladium.  The beautiful young lady begs him to take her home and reveals that two men are trying to kill her.  Ultimately she is stabbed to death in Hanney's apartment but not before she reveals a few tidbits about the plot.  She mentions something called "The 39 Steps" and that the only person who could stop the plot resided in Scotland.  After she is killed Hanney finds a map on her person that reveals the whereabouts of the person in Scotland she was referring to. 

Hanney quickly goes on the lam when he realizes that he is being pursued not only the killers of the spy but also by the police who have reason to believe that he is responsible for the murder of the young lady.  He heads to Scotland and finally catches up with a respected professor but quickly discovers much to his chagrin that this is the man who is the chief architect of the plot!  Hanney manages to escape once again but finds himself handcuffed to a woman (Madeleine Carroll) who refuses to believe his fantastic story and thinks him a murderer.  The story eventually leads back to the London Palladium for a spectacular and unexpected resolution to this tale.

While certainly not one of his finest films "The 39 Steps" offers a unique opportunity to examine Alfred Hitchcock's technique at a very early stage in his fantastic career.  I found this film to be quite compelling from start to finish.  An absolute  must for film buffs of all ages and an interesting flick for general audiences as well.  Recommended.
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January 01, 2010
Glad you enjoyed the film, Paul. Nice review. Perhaps I should find a copy of it and watch it also. Goodness knows, I enjoyed the book!
About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Synopsis: Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is a Canadian rancher on vacation in London who sees a vaudeville act at the Palladium in which Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson) draws on his photographic memory to answer questions posed by the audience. When a shot rings out in the theater a frightened young woman approaches Hannay and asks for his help. The woman claims that foreign spies who plan to smuggle valuable military secrets out of the country are after her, and when she herself is later killed, Hannay finds himself both framed as the man responsible for her death as well as the next potential victim of the spy ring. Traversing through rural Scotland, on the run from both the police and the spies, Hannay finds himself attached to a cool but reluctant blonde, and together they have to figure out the meaning of the woman's last words and bring down the spy ring before the precious military secrets are smuggled abroad. THE THIRTY NINE STEPS is the film that established Hitchcock as the master of the mystery spy-thriller.
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Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Drama, Action, Adventure
Release Date: January 1, 1935
MPAA Rating: PG
Runtime: 1hr 27min
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