The 39 Steps


Hitchcock is not only the master of suspense, but he is also the master of dizzying plot twists (probably one of the aspects of becoming the master of suspense). In one scene, the protagonist of his film could be completely changed and his life altered forever over one simple action, protecting a small woman from a rushing crowd. Hitchcock is able to throw stakes at you with no thought as to whether or not you can keep up. This technique has been tried by several other directors but no one succeeds at it like Hitchcock does.

Hannay, our protagonist played by Robert Donat, attends a vaudeville show. During this show in the middle of Mr. Memory’s incredible feats of remembering facts, a gun goes off and everyone rushes outside away from the blast. On his way out, Hannay notices a small woman being overtaken by the swelling crowd. He puts his arm around her and whisks her into the safety of outside. But she looks like she is not safe at all. She goes home with him and tells him her story. She is some sort of spy working to uncover a plot against humanity. But she is getting pursued by someone. Her pursuers catch up to them and they kill her, but are able to make it look like he did it. Now on a long protracted chase to discover the plot and clear his name, he must use everything in his witty power to prolong the inevitable (death). This movie also includes a love interest, but it wouldn’t be worth it for me to tell you much about it other than at a certain point they are handcuffed together for a good portion of the movie.

This film is what made Hitchcock an international name. It solidified his reputation as a good thriller director. This is considered his first masterpiece. It is easy to see why. The witty dialogue, the unrelenting pace, the romantic entanglements that his suave protagonist can get into and out of just as easily, and being falsely convicted of a crime he didn’t do are all on easy display here. They play off each other and compliment each other at the same time. This is of course helped by the wonderful cast. Robert Donat is a smiling, chain smoking, suave son of a bitch. His cockiness translate into an interesting repartee with the romantic lead. Madeleine Carroll is cast in prototypical Hitchcock romantic lead. There is a whole lot about her except her resistance to the protagonist and eventually sympathy for him. But she is able to elevate the character and make her interesting. She delivers her lines like she was in a screwball comedy, which this film feels like at certain stages. These two together along with Hitchcock’s expert hand at establishing great plot points and locations gel together to make a great movie worth wasting an afternoon over.

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