The 39 Steps


The 39 Steps has the classic Hitchcockian theme of an average, innocent man caught up in extraordinary events which are quite beyond his control. Over a span of four days, the smart and unflappable protagonist, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is involved in a circular journey to prove his innocence and expose the hive of intrigue. The opening of the film, the first three shots do not show him above his neck. With his back to the camera, he is followed down the aisle to his seat. He is then assumed to be lost in the crowd. This gives the audience the feeling that he could be anybody. During a music hall brawl, Hannay agrees when a mysterious woman asks if she can go home with him. He takes her to his flat.   There, she tells him that she is a spy, being chased by assassins. Later that night she gets murdered and the man stands accused. En route, he has many adventures as he flees across the South Scotland landscapes, including being handcuffed to a woman (Madeline Carroll) who happens to think he is guilty of the murder. Donat is a charming lead and he plays it well. Carroll is well used as the traditional blonde cast by Hitchcock, she is a little disorganized but she is a match for Donat in early scenes. The 39 Steps stands out because it was one of the Master of Suspense’s first “talkies”; like any artist trying something new, his strokes are at once nervous and brash, and his motifs wonderfully contradictory.  It was made at a time when film-makers were experimenting with sound, yet Hitchcock uses silence to heighten the tension.



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