39 Steps

39 Steps

4.6 13
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Godfrey Tearle

     
 

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This classic British thriller was one of Alfred Hitchcock's first major international successes, and it introduced a number of the stylistic and thematic elements that became hallmarks of his later work. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian rancher on vacation in England, attends a music hall performance by "Mr. Memory" (Wylie Watson); in the midst of the show,… See more details below

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Overview

This classic British thriller was one of Alfred Hitchcock's first major international successes, and it introduced a number of the stylistic and thematic elements that became hallmarks of his later work. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian rancher on vacation in England, attends a music hall performance by "Mr. Memory" (Wylie Watson); in the midst of the show, shots ring out and Richard flees the theater. Moments later, a terrified woman (Lucie Mannheim) begs Richard to help her; back at his room, she tells him that she's a British spy whose life has been threatened by international agents waiting outside. Richard is certain that she's mad until she reappears at his door in the morning, near death with a knife in her back, a map in her hand, and muttering something about "39 Steps." Discovering that a group of thugs are indeed waiting outside, Richard slips away and takes the first train to the Scottish town on the dead woman's map. Richard learns that he's now wanted by the police for murder, and he must find a way to clear his name. He begins trying to do so with the help of a woman he meets en route, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), who serves as his unwitting assistant, even after she tries to turn him in. The 39 Steps was later remade in 1959 and 1978 -- both without Hitchcock's participation.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide
Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps firmly established the director's reputation beyond the boundaries of the British isles, but it did far more than that: it was also the film where Hitchcock's reach and grasp as a filmmaker began growing by leaps and bounds. He'd already made three excellent thrillers (The Lodger (1926), Blackmail (1929), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)) that had attracted considerable attention in America, but The 39 Steps, as a piece of screencraft, assembled all the best elements in those widely scattered successes (spread across eight years of his career) between two covers in a way that riveted audiences and industry observers. It played exactly the way that British movies weren't supposed to, lively and piercingly funny, rather than stodgy and dignified; it was almost as much a comedy as a thriller, which was something new in any country's cinema; and it was almost as much a battle of the sexes in the jousting of its two leads (Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll) as it was a quest by the hero to prove his innocence of a murder charge; by the end of the movie, we want to see not only how Richard Hanney (Donat) proves his innocence but also how he and Pamela (Carroll) manage to stay together. Not coincidentally, The 39 Steps was also the first of his major films in which Hitchcock ripped up and threw away most of the contents of the underlying source (a novel by John Buchan that had been a best-seller then and which has remained a perennially popular read ever since) -- he later followed this practice in his subsequent treatments of Josephine Tey's A Shilling For Candles (as Young and Innocent), Ethel Lina White's The Wheel Spins (as The Lady Vanishes), and Francis Beeding's The House of Dr. Edwardes (as Spellbound), among other literary properties. In the process, he struck a blow for the director as a creative voice in his own right, independent of and superior to the novelist (at least where actual screen adaptations were concerned), who might take one or two good ideas, a name or two, and perhaps a setting and a scene from a chapter and junk everything else, making it his own. In a time when producers and studios still occupied a place of cultural inferiority (even in their own minds) to the authors and publishers of the printed word, this was no small achievement, especially considering that it was done well and, thus, justified itself. So, in his own way, working within the thriller genre in The 39 Steps, Hitchcock helped open the way for virtually every major director who came after him. Bruce Eder
All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps firmly established the director's reputation beyond the boundaries of the British isles, but it did far more than that: it was also the film where Hitchcock's reach and grasp as a filmmaker began growing by leaps and bounds. He'd already made three excellent thrillers (The Lodger (1926), Blackmail (1929), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)) that had attracted considerable attention in America, but The 39 Steps, as a piece of screencraft, assembled all the best elements in those widely scattered successes (spread across eight years of his career) between two covers in a way that riveted audiences and industry observers. It played exactly the way that British movies weren't supposed to, lively and piercingly funny, rather than stodgy and dignified; it was almost as much a comedy as a thriller, which was something new in any country's cinema; and it was almost as much a battle of the sexes in the jousting of its two leads (Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll) as it was a quest by the hero to prove his innocence of a murder charge; by the end of the movie, we want to see not only how Richard Hanney (Donat) proves his innocence but also how he and Pamela (Carroll) manage to stay together. Not coincidentally, The 39 Steps was also the first of his major films in which Hitchcock ripped up and threw away most of the contents of the underlying source (a novel by John Buchan that had been a best-seller then and which has remained a perennially popular read ever since) -- he later followed this practice in his subsequent treatments of Josephine Tey's A Shilling For Candles (as Young and Innocent), Ethel Lina White's The Wheel Spins (as The Lady Vanishes), and Francis Beeding's The House of Dr. Edwardes (as Spellbound), among other literary properties. In the process, he struck a blow for the director as a creative voice in his own right, independent of and superior to the novelist (at least where actual screen adaptations were concerned), who might take one or two good ideas, a name or two, and perhaps a setting and a scene from a chapter and junk everything else, making it his own. In a time when producers and studios still occupied a place of cultural inferiority (even in their own minds) to the authors and publishers of the printed word, this was no small achievement, especially considering that it was done well and, thus, justified itself. So, in his own way, working within the thriller genre in The 39 Steps, Hitchcock helped open the way for virtually every major director who came after him.

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Product Details

Release Date:
06/26/2012
UPC:
0715515096317
Original Release:
1935
Source:
Criterion
Region Code:
A
Presentation:
[B&W]
Time:
1:26:00
Sales rank:
5,451

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Robert Donat Richard Hannay
Madeleine Carroll Pamela
Godfrey Tearle Prof. Jordan
Peggy Ashcroft Margaret
Lucie Mannheim Miss Smith/Annabella
John Laurie John
Wylie Watson Mr. Memory
Helen Haye Mrs. Jordan
Frank Cellier Sheriff Watson
Jerry Verno Voyager
Peggy Simpson Young Maid
Miles Malleson Director of the Palladium
Gus McNaughton Voyager
Marianne Stone Actor

Technical Credits
Alfred Hitchcock Director
Michael Balcon Producer
Charles Bennett Screenwriter
Ian Hay Screenwriter
Albert Jullion Production Designer
Bernard Knowles Cinematographer
Louis Levy Score Composer
Ivor Montagu Producer
Alma Reville Screenwriter
Joe Strassner Costumes/Costume Designer
Derek N. Twist Editor
Otto Werndorff Production Designer
Jack Whitehead Special Effects

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Scene Index

•New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural
•Audio commentary by Alfred Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane
•Hitchcock: The Early Years (2000), a British documentary
•Original footage from broadcaster Mike Scott's 1966 TV interview with Hitchcock
•Complete broadcast of the 1937 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation
•Visual essay by Hitchcock scholar Leonard Leff
•Excerpts from Francois Truffaut's 1962 audio interview with Hitchcock
•Original production design drawings
•English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
•PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Cairns

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