The 39 Steps (1935)
Genre: Comedy Drama Mystery Thriller (UK)
Starring: Robert Donat (Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Knight Without Armour) Madeleine Carroll (Secret Agent, The Prisoner of Zenda)
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Blackmail, The Pleasure Garden)
Overview: When a mysterious woman claiming to be a spy asks for help, our hero finds himself caught up in quite a bind of espionage, manhunts and sticky situations.
Acting: So much of what has come before was theatrical garbage, and suddenly it seems that Hitchcock, now with a decent amount of creative control, doesn't like that foppish crap all that much. This has fine roles and quality players, not like the actors of such terrible films as Number Seventeen. In fact I'd go as far as to say that these performances were just what I expected from our Master of Suspense, even though Peter Lorry wasn't in it.
Cinematography: The editing was clearly planned by Hitch, with such already recognizable effects as a woman finding a dead body turning to face the camera and opening her mouth to shriek just as the high-pitched train whistle squeals, chugging out of a tunnel. Classic. In 1935 it was clear that leaps and bounds in camera technology were happening quickly, because there's nowhere near as much of the God-awful cropping problems as killed the mood in so many films, Hitchcock included. Visually it was fine. No there were no grand scenes, but you did get the occasional art-moment and action stunt.
Script: The comedy is all wit. Scathing comments tossed back and forth escalate near the end when we have our hero forced to endure a situation with a dry pointed humour. As for the mystery itself, the script does a fine job of waiting for the right moment to spring it on you.
Plot: A fantastically diverse three-act tale of a man agreeing to help a woman, then realizing he's in over his head, then right when you think things are looking up, they get about as bad as you could have imagined. The last act is one of these terrific 'can he keep running and keep his head' plots that you really can't predict. It's pretty intense.
Mood: One thing I've noticed about early Hitchcock, is that when his films have a funny moment, somehow someone pegs it with the Comedy genre. That's a little retarded if you ask me. In this case though, the comedy factor was far more prevalent. What's nice is that it works, not this stupid light physical comedy as was attempted in the awkward Rich And Strange, or the completely unfunny so called 'Drama Comedy' Champagne. What truly sets this film apart is the richness of the Noir, while still not being overly serious. The suspense and the heartbeat-skipping escapes are truly what made this film a classic. Worth it.
"Shhh!!! At this rate we'll be found by step 17!"
Overall Rating: 78% (Worth The Hike)
Aftertaste: Little less than a month left to study as many of his works as possible and I'll admit I'm a little behind. Have no fear, you can get a little introductory taste of the Alfred Hitchcock Blog-A-Thon before it begins by visiting Emma over at All About My Movies. Her entry only makes me realize how much I'm looking forward to see all his brilliant works! A factoid tidbit: this is the movie that made him great. Since this one, the producers gave him far more leeway to make movies he knew were good. Finally...