THE 39 STEPS (1935)

The 39 Steps 1939 Cover It's a little known fact that the author who wrote the book this film was originally based on, John Buchan, wrote it whilst recuperating from an illness at St Cuby, Cliff Promenade, Broadstairs. Nice little fact that, isn't it? And has absolutely nothing to do with the Director: Alfred Hitchcock: or the Actors: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, and Lucie Mannheim. Especially in 1935, and for about 84 minutes.

The 39 Steps : The Film - The Book

Now can you hazard a guess as to what the following three scenarios all have in common? (1) A female spy dying from a knife wound to her back. (2) An innocent man trying his best to evade being captured by the police. And (3) A dubious professor that lives' in a nice place somewhere in Scotland.

No. None of these scenarios have anything to do with the preparation of Haggis, silly. In one way or another, these are the circumstances that the Canadian man about town -- Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) -- has to deal with, just to stay alive.

Yeah. Honestly. As soon as a female spy -- called Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) -- is murdered in his apartment, Richard evades the police -- first by train, then by farm -- until he encounters the person who killed her somewhere in Scotland -- Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle). Plus, to make matters even worse for Richard, not so long after he escapes from police custody, he is then captured again, and is handcuffed to a passenger who spotted him whilst jumping off of the aforementioned train -- Pamela (Madeleine Carroll).

Still, that's most probably why what next transpires begins when a two innocent people do the Highland fling in the marshes. As love-birds hide in a hotel - spies find it very hard to dwell - I hear that the theaters all the rage - and the mystery of the 39 steps are finally unveiled off stage.

When I first sat down and watched 'The 39 Steps', I wasn't really sure what to expect if I'm being honest with you. Part of me suspected a slow and meaningful thriller of the meandering variety. Whilst the other part of me suspected that I'd fall a sleep twenty minutes or so into this flick.

The 39 Steps Retro Film PosterI was wrong. In part. I did not fall a sleep. I was mesmerized. From the very beginning to the very end. Due to the fact how well this movie was put together.

Well, it was made in 1935, dear reader! Three years before Superman was born. And for the life of me, I would never have guessed that movies of this era were so fast paced, full of cinematic scope, character, and pleasing to the eye! Try to think of a roller-coaster ride from London to Scotland -- and you'd have a pretty good idea of how I feel about the first part of the film. Then try to think of a timely mix-mash of 'The Defiant Ones' and 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' -- and you'd have a pretty good idea of how I felt about the second part of this film too. 

Granted, there were parts of this escapade were the overall story seemed to drag on for a bit too long -- mainly in some of the initial escape scenes. But by in large this is one jovial hunter / hunted adventure, full of ups and downs, twists and turns, plus highs and lows, thus making it the classic it is today.

Robert in The 39 Steps Film

Robert and Madeline in The 39 Steps
Here, check out some of these filmic-facts for its back-story. (1) 'Gaumont-British Picture Corporation' released this sixty thousand pound thriller on the same day that England introduced the driving test -- the 1st of June, 1935. (2) Even though most of this movie was shot in Lime Grove Studios, Shepherd's Bush, England; the majority of the exteriors were shot at: Welwyn Studios, Welwyn Garden City, plus Edinburgh, South Queensferry, Glen Coe, and Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland. (3) I kid you not; Alfred Hitchcock handcuffed Robert Donat and Madeleine Corroll both together, and pretended to have lost the key for a couple of hours, just to get them in the right frame of mind for their escape scene. (4) This adventure was loosely based on a novel published in 1915 by the Scottish / Canadian writer, John Buchan. And according to one of his sons, John was impressed with the film, despite the fact that it did not following the same plot-line as his original narrative. (5) If it wasn't bad enough that they had to import sheep for this movie, worst still, the bloody things ate most of the foliage on set, forcing the crew to buy extra plants from the local nursery. (6) On the same year this film was released, Orson Welles starred in a radio adaptation of this story, and so too did Evertt Sloane in 1948, Herbert Marshall in 1952, David Rintoul in 1992, and Tom Baker in 2001. Moreover, this film was remade in 1959 with Kenneth Moore, in 1978 with Robert Powell, and in 2008 with Rupert Penry-Jones. (7) If you look very closely: you can spot Alfred Hitchcock several minutes into this picture, throwing some litter in the Music Hall scene. (8) Whilst the 'British Film Institute' ranked this movie as the forth best film of all time in 1999, in 2004, 'Total Film' magazine named it the twenty-first greatest movie of all time.

The 39 Steps Film Poster

Hey! Did you catch point nine of my trivia spurge, dear reader? Relating to how great 'The 39 Steps' really is? Well, how can I top that, huh? This film is just a product of its time which has been spoofed, remade, and paid homage to ever since. As I said before, try to think of any movie you've seen where two characters have been chained together and then forced into an adventure, and this is what this film brought to cinema.

What a great concept, huh? For which we are forever in its debt

A great movie classic. Nuff said.


THE 39 STEPS (1935) THE 39 STEPS (1935) Reviewed by David Andrews on April 22, 2013 Rating: 5
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