Saturday 28 October 2023

Movie Review: The 39 Steps (1935)

Genre: Spy Thriller
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll
Running Time: 86 minutes

Synopsis: In London, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) meets espionage agent Annabella Smith in the chaotic aftermath of shots being fired at a performance by Mr. Memory, an expert at recalling factoids. Annabella mentions a key address in Scotland that holds the key to a nefarious plot, but she is soon killed and Hannay is identified as the prime suspect. He escapes onto a train heading to Scotland and meets fellow traveler Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). After a rocky introduction they team up to try and clear Hannay's name and thwart the conspiracy. 

What Works Well: This brisk Alfred Hitchcock thriller adapts the 1915 John Buchan book with a thrill-a-minute attitude. From the opening melee at a music hall performance to the climactic revelation, the action is filled with quality twists, narrow escapes, and a spikey romance. Hitchcock executes every chapter with delightful care, always seeking the interface between serious and buoyant. Highlights include Hannay's acrobatics at the Forth Rail Bridge, a flock of sheep enabling an escape, and handcuffs forcing Pamela and Hannay together despite her deep mistrust.

What Does Not Work As Well: Hitchcock overuses gathered crowd scenes as a set-piece device (three in 86 minutes). The conspiracy details are opaque and ultimately more bizarre than satisfying, and the antagonists are largely ignored as characters and instead lumped into faceless bad-guy territory. 

Conclusion: A suspense-filled adventure delivered with a wink.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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