THE 39 STEPS (1935) B/W 85m dir: Alfred Hitchcock

w/Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie, Helen Haye, Wylie Watson, Frank Cellier, Peggy Simpson

From The Movie Guide: "Along with THE LADY VANISHES, one of Hitchcock's best British films, and a prototype for so much of what would follow in his American career. For those who love a grand spy mystery, a wild chase, and a harrowing portrait of an innocent man struggling to prove his innocence while the world turns inexplicably against him, THE 39 STEPS is ideal. ...

"This is one of the best films of its genre and it richly displays Hitchcock's complete and playful mastery of the language of filmmaking. The handcuffing sequence (which still influences films today, e.g., the remake of D.O.A.) is one of the cinema's greatest. Hitch also has great fun with the sound bridge linking a screaming woman with a train whistle, and the final assassination attempt recalls THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Carroll makes for an appealing heroine and Donat brings his oddly wispy quality to the man on the run. He looks curiously androgynous in this film; the oh-so-trim mustache and his lilting voice add a vulnerability to his character which distinguishes it from the run-of-the-mill hero. Tearle [as Professor Jordan] is splendid, as is Watson [playing Mr. Memory] in his most famous role, but who we really like are Peggy Ashcroft and John Laurie. This gifted stage actress and this striking, reliable actor of many films lend something in tense to the married couple Hannay [Donat] encounters while on the run. Ashcroft is extremely moving as a woman strangled in her marriage and home life, desperately grateful for whatever the strange Hannay may bring into it. Such scenes as this linger in the memory as long as the more typically Hitchcockian setpieces, and it does credit to the master director's versatility. (It somehow seems more his style that he actually handcuffed Carroll and Donat on the set one day to get them used to their scenes together ... he of course then vanished from the set!)"

Adapted from the John Buchan novel by Charles Bennett, Alma Reville (Mrs. Hitchcock), and Ian Hay.

Hitchcock's American film which most resembles THE 39 STEPS in narrative, structure, and themes is the equally stunning NORTH BY NORTHWEST with Cary Grant.