Review of The 39 Steps (1935)

5 May

The 39 Steps (1935) is a British mystery/thriller/romance film based on the adventure novel The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Frenzy (1972), The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)).

Written by Charles Bennett (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)).

Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Peggy Ashcroft, Godfrey Tearle, John Laurie Frank Cellier and others.

Here’s an early Hitchcock classic, with the familiar theme of an innocent man on the run.

Our hero is a Canadian man, who displays neither a Canadian accent or exceptional hockey skills, but other than that he is very happy-go-lucky type of guy, quite kind, jokes a lot, is totally unsuspicious and stays calm even after a woman is stabbed during the night in his apartment. This is kind of odd, since the stabbers leave after killing the woman. They probably got out of the house and were like „Oh, shit, we forgot to kill the guy! I swear, we’d forget our heads if they weren’t attached to our necks. Oh well, let’s just wait for him on the street, he’ll walk right out of there after he finds the chick with a knife in her back.”

Of course he knows he has to bail and we get a cool transition from a screaming woman, who finds the girl’s body to a train blowing it’s horn. The guy is now on train and the police gets on that train. He escapes and goes to some crofter’s house and the police find him, sure, it’s interesting that they are able to find him this quickly all the time, but even more amazing is the fact that characters keep reading about the developments of this investigation in the newspapers. Multiple times, even during one day. In 1930’s newspapers knew how to work, no wonder now printed press is dying.

Some negative aspects creep up here and there. There’s some sped-up shots during a foot chase, which look just cheesy. We also have the age-old „saved from a bullet by a book” trick, which was even getting old by the 1930’s. It’s not exactly a smart movie, but it is fast-paced and entertaining one and we still this kind of action romances today pretty often.

Robert Donat is very charismatic as the lead. He acts and looks something like a blend of Clark Gable and Brendan Fraser. Kind of goofy, but at the same time very suave and at times malicious. And he has a nice chemistry with Madeleine Carroll as the romantically reluctant female lead.

The last shot is just perfect. Not that Hitchcock’s movies lack perfect shots. Although some film critics tribute Hitchcock with calculating and polishing every single shot of his movie to perfection and knowing exactly what emotion that will bring out in the viewer. I don’t think I necessarily agree, I think it’s more that he was so talented that his intuition was what told him the exactly right way to film scenes. Of course, with years of experience he also developed masterful technique, but this movie was still made quite early in Hitchcock’s career.

Overall, I wouldn’t count this as one of Hitchcock’s definitive works, but it still is a nice little romantic man-on-the-run flick. However, I don’t recommend this as an introduction to Hitchcock’s work and suggest picking up some of his later, more refined classics.

“Shit, man! Though, it would’ve been more impressive if I hadn’t seen that War-vet missing both legs there by the punch bowl.”

One Response to “Review of The 39 Steps (1935)”

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  1. Review of Rear Window (1954) « karlails films - February 10, 2013

    […] by Alfred Hitchcock (The 39 Steps (1935), Torn Curtain […]

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