27 October 2014

The 39 Steps

The Thirty-Nine Steps 1935
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Based on novel  by John Buchan
  • Cast: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Peggy Ashcroft – The Nun’s Story
    • John Laurie – The Avengers, Hamlet, Richard III, Henry V, As You Like It
  • Why? A classic
  • Seen:  October 25, 2014 with YW in our read-book-see-film group
A couple of years ago when we were in London we saw a programme on the BBC about the area where part of this book took place. I don’t remember much but we thought at the time that the book sounded interesting so we bought it when we came home.  Recently we found the film too. Coincidentally I’ve recently read about John Buchan’s work as minister of propaganda during the First World War. He sort of invented the spy novel, not my favourite genre but the book was interesting enough.
The film is so much better!  Though an early Hitchcock many of his famous trademarks are already evident: close-ups of feet, trains, bridges, shadows, a woman’s scream becoming a train whistle. All effectively filmed in handsome black and white.
The story is minimal but Hitchcock isn’t known as the master of suspense for nothing.  The film is much more exciting than the book.
But its real strength is in its characters. The hero is the least interesting but the three main women are fascinating, tough, brave and intelligent. Several of the bit parts are even better: the kindly innkeeper, the chirpy maid, the mousy bespectacled daughter of the villain.  On the screen for only seconds they are somehow full-fledged individuals.  How does he do it?
And it’s funny. I’d forgot how good Hitchcock is. It’s a film to watch many times to savour the fast pace and the details. And to catch the glimpse of Hitchcock, which we all missed this first time.

4 * of 5

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