The 39 Steps (1935) / Thriller-Mystery
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some violent images
Running Time: 86 min.
Cast: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Peggy Ashcroft, Alfred Hitchcock (cameo)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Ian Hay (based on the novel by John Buchan)
Review published November 23, 1998
Robert Donat (Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness) plays Richard Hannay, a Canadian visiting London who travels to a local show. Gunshots erupt, and during the mad dash for the exits, he bumps into a woman (Mannheim, Bunny Lake is Missing) asking to go home with him. It turns out she fired the shots to get away from someone out to get her, as she babbles some hysteria about something called the 39 Steps and a secret formula that bad people are trying to get out of the country. This woman is murdered, leaving the Canadian is the likely suspect, forcing him to evade the cops and the baddies in order to bring down the spy ring and prove that he is innocent.
The 39 Steps is Hitch's (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rich and Strange) first foray into the prototype innocent-man-on-the-run story later done most effectively in the classic North by Northwest. This film is essential Hitch, plus a great deal of fun on its own terms.
Donat and Carroll (Secret Agent, The Prisoner of Zenda) are entertaining to watch, and the script, loosely based on the book of the same name, offers lots of commentary about the difference between the rich and poor in England.
The 39 Steps is most notable for the beginning of many Hitchcock styles and themes, from trick shots and superimpositions, to themes like the police that can't be trusted, and also his love of cool blondes. You know a movie is good when the main complaint about it is it should have been longer, as it runs just over 85 minutes.
The 39 Steps is exciting, funny, and still an all-around good time at the movies over 65 years later.
©1998 Vince Leo