The 39 Steps Review

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After stepping into a music hall at random, Richard Hannay finds himself mixed up with spies, a mystery woman and murder. On the run, he uses his wits to escape the police and is, literally, attached to a blonde with which he shares the rest of his journey, filled with intriguing characters.


The ultimate testament to the genius of Sir Alfred Hitchcock is that, in his centenary year, he is still being egregiously ripped off left, right and centre. When you've seen 1935's The 39 Steps again, note all the bits and pieces Hitch casually makes up which you've seen in chase/ thriller/action films made in the last few years. Never mind Gus Van Sant's silkscreen Psycho, if you took all the Hitchcock bits away, Enemy Of The State, Ransom and Snake Eyes would simply collapse.

Like Bruckheimer-Simpson, Hitchcock instantly understood that plot means nothing as long as the hero keeps running. Richard Hannay (Donat), Buchan's macho hero incarnated as a tweedily decent chap, impulsively steps into a music hall and finds himself mixed up with spies when a mystery woman (Mannheim) begs him to take her to his hotel room and is murdered after passing on some clues. Sought by the police for the killing, Hannay heads for Scotland.

In a train carriage en route, he attempts to hide from the coppers by smooching a convenient blonde (Carroll). Uncharitably she gives him away and, after an escape, the pair have to yomp across the moors while handcuffed together. The thrills keep coming, as Hannay eludes the police and the villains through such ruses as stepping unprepared in front of a political meeting to deliver a stirringly meaningless speech. But the director is also excited by the pervy touch of having hero and heroine cuffed together and playing up their sexual attraction and natural mutual suspicion. In the middle of the action, there's a starkly brilliant sequence as they shelter with a dour crofter (Laurie) and his wife (Ashcroft), and Hitch sketches in the bleakness and the unfulfilled yearning of the woman's life. It all winds up back at the music hall, with a little man called Mister Memory (Wylie Watson) and a mastermind (Tearle) short of a finger; after the curtain has fallen, you'll be happy for a week.

After the curtain has fallen, you'll be happy for a week.