One of Hitchcock’s earliest hits, The 39 Steps sees The Master unravelling the soon-to-be-typical plot of an innocent man on the run, trying to prove his innocence. The film stands out for several reasons; Firstly, the performance by Donat as the innocent Hannay, chased by both the Law and the spy ring he must infiltrate to save himself, is probably the best of his career. He easily shows the frustration his character must be feeling as his attempts are thwarted at every turn, but keeps the British stiff upper lip attitude, a sense of humour, and manages to convince us that he has the ability to charm Pamela while handcuffed to her. The rest of the cast are strong, including Carroll as Pamela, Mannheim as the mysterious Miss Smith, and Tearle as the devious Professor Jordan. Secondly, the sets and scenery are fantastic, moving from London to train, to the misty moors of Scotland, and back. Thirdly, we see the beginnings of the technical skill Hitchock was becoming proficient in, with many memorable cuts and fades. Finally, the humour Hitchcok injects into the story raises it above typical thrillers of the day, without having the budget of his American counterparts. There are many visual gags, and subtle sexual innuendo, provided in part by the excellent cameos. As an early Hitchcock chase thriller, this has everything you could wish for.
Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly, the features are sparse, with only a gallery and biographies. As the film is so old, there is not much archive footage, and most people involved with it are dead, though interviews with fans, or with Hitchcock’s family like on other DVD’s would have made this better. Probably only Hitchcock fans will buy though simply to have a good version of the film
As always, please leave your comments on the film- is this as thrilling as Hitchcock’s later chase films? Where does it rank in your list of favourite Hitchcock films?