Film Review: The 39 Steps (1935)

Rating: A
Length: 1hr 26
Release: 18.11.1935
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
About: While on vacation in London, Canadian Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) becomes embroiled in an international spy ring related to the mysterious “39 steps.” Then he meets agent Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim), who is soon killed in his apartment. He must elude the police, who are hunting him for murder, while he tries to stop Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle) from sending secrets out of the country. Hannay is assisted by Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), an unwilling accomplice who discovers the truth.

The Good

  • The romance, while a secondary part of the plot, is a brilliant addition to the story. Both Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll do have that wonderful hate/love chemistry you often see in films where two people are forced together for travel.
  • It’s a perfect example of a government corruption leads to a civilian fugitive. I grew up on Enemy of the State and others which are often loud, fast and convoluted. This strips it all back, keeps the tension while focusing more on the characters than set pieces.
  • How can you not love Hitchcock. The camera work is different to anything we’d see today, but that is no bad thing. I found it charming and intimate.

The Bad

  • Not the film’s fault, but the quality of the print I watched wasn’t brilliant in places and made those sections difficult to watch.

The Ugly

  • I didn’t like how it opens. Not the very first scene, but Hannay’s encounter with Miss Smith onwards. Maybe this is of another time, but his casual acceptance of taking Miss Smith home, having never interacted with her before is all rather odd. Her hiding and revealing everything to him, I like. However I just wish there was something that revealed her making a choice to pick him and more of an understanding as to why he agreed and why on earth he was so calm about it all.

Final Thoughts

A short and simply plotted thriller that would benefit from playing a little more on the romance.

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