39 Steps/A,A-

Voyager/1935/124m/FS 1.33

     "What is the 39 steps? Come on answer up! What is the 39 steps?" is the cry of Richard Hannay. Hannay is the everyman hero of Alfred Hitchcock's wonderful 1935 action thriller, The 39 Steps. The quintessential Hitchcock innocent, Hannay is  sucked into a hive of intrigue pursued by a swarm of nasty spies. Before all hell breaks loose  in the audience of a music hall, Richard Hannay asks the act, Mr. Memory: "How far is Winnipeg from Montreal?" The innocuous question is posed three times by Hannay and foreshadows another question. When gunshots go off in the theater, the crowd panics through the exit and an exotic woman latches onto Hannay, seeking refuge in his apartment. Hannay's apartment is a reflection of the character. There are no clues about his identity. The only thing we will find out about Hannay is what we learn from his actions in The 39 Steps. Hannay, a mystery at the center of a mystery is shadowy conceit. 

A tough audience. İVoyager

     Hitchcock wastes no time in drawing the viewer into his adventure. Hannay is trapped by the situation and reacts to every circumstance. It's a race against time and some nasty enemies before Hannay gets a chance to save the day. Though the film is 60 years old, the style is very modern. Hitchcock takes his time and moves with a quick step. 
     Many elements of future Hitchcock thrillers evolve from The 39 Steps. The theme of an innocent man drawn into a nightmare is a favorite Hitchcockian element. The banter between Hannay and Pamela resembles dialog that might bring a comedy to life; yet, the tone of The 39 Steps remains serious. Hitchcock's fascination with grand venues 
     Hitchcock set up many visual link with compositions or situations that hint at events to come. Take a look at the shot of the hands of Annabella Smith and Hannay when he takes the map from and see if it reminds you of a later plot element? Think about Hannay's question for Mr. Memory and how it reflects on the later action. 
     Robert Donat, playing Hannay, is a terrific everyman. He is dashing, yet a regular man. Charming, resourceful and determined, Donat makes a great Hitchcock hero. It's hard to believe this is the same actor who a couple of years later made the shy school teacher, Mr. Chips a signature role. Donat played the adventurer in a number of other films like The Adventures of Tartu, Knight Without Armor, or Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo. Madeleine Carroll makes a spiffy Pamela, a paradigm of the modern Hitchcock heroine.
     I have never seen  The 39 Steps look so good. The Criterion team has managed to hunt down excellent elements and with judicious use of digital paintbox techniques, they have made a sparkling transfer to DVD of this marvelously entertaining film. The images are sharp, and contrast, even in the more difficult scenes, is very well handled. If I had the slightest qualm about the transfer, I might have liked a bit more contrast punch, but that's a quibble. All important shadow detail is maintained meticulously. The soundtrack is thin, but clean and without hiss. 
     The audio commentary delivered with a narrow range of expression by Hitchcock scholar Marion Keane often cites little more than a description of the scenes or the actor's. Commentary on Hitchcock's visual style is never fully explored, but they are at least a jumping off point to thinking about the stylistic flourishes that make Hitchcock unique. A documentary, The Art of Film: Vintage Hitchcock is included as a bonus. It's not in very good shape, but it does offer a wealth of Hitchcock early film clips. There's also a nostalgic recording of the Lux Radio Theater adaptation of The 39 Steps starring Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino. The 39 Steps is a first class DVD package.

The Feature Archive has articles ranging from Akira Kurosawa to Blonde Bimbos, The Heistmasters and Frank Darabont.

Click on the image above for a "dream interview" with director John Ford.  
Check out the  Movie Poster   Archive for short bios and images of Susan Hayward, Kirk Douglas, Katharine Hepburn and many more. This month's featured star is  Clark Gable.

Imaging Science Foundation promotes proper standards in home theater viewing. ISF trained technicians offer monitor calibration services to consumers. The difference in a  properly calibrated monitor can be astounding. Click on the image to find an ISF member near you.

National Preservation Film Board
Learn about what this organization is doing to preserve our film heritage. Want to know the guidelines for proper handling of film? This is the place.

Home Theater Reference Reviewing System

When you read a DVD review it's of utmost importance to know what equipment is being used to evaluate quality. Click on the projectors to find out more.