Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 86 mins
The 39 Steps is a British film about a man who finds himself accused of the murder of a secret agent, forcing him to gon on the run while top secret information is up in the air.
Back in the years just before the Master of Suspense broke into Hollywood and dominated the world stage, Alfred Hitchcock was a prolific filmmaker in Britain, and The 39 Steps was the film that really helped him on his way to eternal stardom. With that said, the film pales in comparison to his later works, and although it features a few more idiosyncracies than came to be the case in Hollywood, it’s by far from the most tense or exciting of his works.
You could say that the film feels a little dated, but given that it was only made five years before his fantastic adaptation of Rebecca, and with the likes of Suspicion, Notorious and Rope coming in the years after, The 39 Steps feels like it’s missing some of the magic that we now know Hitchcock to be fully capable of.
Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the reality is that the movie business underwent an enormous transformation in the years between 1935 and 1940, which is an undeniable factor in why The 39 Steps just doesn’t seem all that spectacular nowadays.
With that said, however, from a modern perspective, I really couldn’t find myself all that enthralled by this movie. Its premise is simple, and should set up for an excellent chase over the course of an hour and a half, however due to less-than-exhilarating pacing, a directing style that doesn’t quite provide the intensity of thrills and suspense that can be the case, and characters that don’t have immense depth or ambiguity, The 39 Steps just didn’t have enough to really grab me at any point.
Despite that, there are still elements of the film that do impress. There are early hallmarks of Hitchcock’s brilliance to come, particularly in the film’s closing act, while it does have a rather more quirky and unique side to it, given that Hitchcock clearly had a lot more creative control over the film than in some of his bigger Hollywood productions later on.
What’s more is that the lead performance from Robert Donat is fairly likable, and you’re able to connect with him to an extent that allows you to support him on as he attempts to avoid falling into a world of trouble, even if the characterisation throughout just isn’t sharp enough to really prove fascinating.
Overall, I wasn’t stunned by The 39 Steps, given that it just doesn’t have the depth or intense suspense that I know Hitchcock is capable of. Looking back with hindsight, it’s difficult to watch this film in and of its own for me, but it does still provide some entertainment in its more unique and quirky elements that we didn’t see in Hitchcock’s later works, which is why I’m giving it a 6.9.