A man in London tries to help a counterespionage agent. But when the agent is killed and the man stands accused, he must go on the run to both save himself and also stop a spy ring which is trying to steal top secret information.
Richard Hannay is a Canadian visitor to London. At the end of "Mr Memory"'s show in a music hall, he meets Annabella Smith who is running away from secret agents. He accepts to hide her in his flat, but in the night she is murdered. Fearing he could be accused on the girl's murder, Hannay goes on the run to break the spy ring. Written by
Claudio Sandrini <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The "commercial traveler" played by Gus McNaughton who reads the newspaper article aloud on the train describes the woman who discovered the body as "charwoman Elizabeth Riggs," but when we see the article in closeup a moment later, that sentence states simply that "a cleaner" discovered the body. See more »
Music hall announcer:
Ladies and Gentleman, with your kind attention, and permission, I have the honor of presenting to you one of the most remarkable men in the world.
Heckler in Audience:
How remarkable? He's sweating!
See more »
Trust and betrayal have been a recurrent theme in several of Alfred Hitchcock's works. The 39 Steps, made in 1935, has the all the classic elements of the master filmmaker that set the standard for later Hitchcock films. The 39 Steps has the classic Hitchcockian theme of an average, innocent man caught up in extraordinary events which are quite beyond his control. The sexually frustrating institution of marriage is another major motif present in the film. The strained and loveless relationship between the crofter and his wife, the placid relationship of the innkeeper and his wife, the (physical) bond between Hannay and Pamela can be examined in terms of degrees of trust between the couples. In fact, the short 'acquaintance' between Hannay and Smith and Hannay and the crofter's wife are also built completely upon trust. It is these couples, and the chemistry between them (or the lack thereof) that drive the entire film.
Over a span of four days, the smart and unflappable protagonist, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is involved in a circular journey to prove his innocence and expose the hive of intrigue. He is involved in chases and romantic interludes that take him from London to the Scottish Highlands and back again and he assumes numerous identities on the way - a milkman, an auto mechanic, a honeymooner, a political speaker among others.
The opening of the film, the first three shorts do not show him above his neck. With his back to the camera, he is followed down the aisle to his seat. He is then assumed to be lost in the crowd. This gives the audience the feeling that he could be anybody. Later when he takes in the identities of a milkman, a mechanic, a politician one realizes that he is Hitchcock's archetypal 'everyman' who unwittingly finds himself in incredible dilemmas.
In one of the brilliantly managed sequences on the train, Richard Hannay throws himself at a lone girl and forces a kiss just as a detective and two policemen pass by their compartment. It reveals his desperation to remain free until he can prove his innocence. In the scene after Annabella staggers into his room with a kitchen knife in her back, Hannay sees her ghostly image (which is superimposed) talking to him, `What you are laughing at right now is true. These men will stop at nothing.' The double exposure achieves a result which is a tad chilling and sad. The hallmark of Hitchcock's style is his ability to completely shock his audience by deliberately playing against how they would be thinking. In such episodes as the murder of the woman in Hannay's apartment or when the vicious professor with the missing finger casually shoots Hannay, the action progresses almost nonchalantly leaving the viewers stunned.
A great story, interesting and likeable characters, slyly incongruous wit, classic Hitchcockian motifs and a great MacGuffin are just a few things that make the The 39 Steps the quintessential Hitchcock.
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