Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "Handcuffed to the girl who double-crossed him."
Length: 86 minutes
Alfred Hitchcock directed many memorable movies over his long career, but one of his most charming remains his 1935 film The 39 Steps, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the restored version of this great movie on the Criterion Collection DVD. The film looked and sounded terrific, and the DVD contains some nice special features, too.
The 39 Steps opens at a London music hall, where we meet a man in the audience named Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian who is visiting Britain. There Hannay encounters a mysterious and attractive woman, and she goes back to his rented flat with him. Over a supper of haddock and bread, the woman tells Hannay she must soon get to Scotland to prevent some vital state secrets from falling into the wrong hands, but during the night she is murdered.
Hannay decides to travel to Scotland and try to figure out what's going on, and during his journey he learns from newspapers that the police have identified him as the prime suspect in the murder. He also meets a good-looking icy blonde named Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), and she reluctantly becomes his traveling companion. At one point, Hannay and Pamela become handcuffed together and wind up bedding down in a room in a country inn that way!
The film follows Hannay as he goes through a series of dangerous adventures, and at the same time it shows the development of his romantic relationship with Pamela. There's plenty of humor in the movie, too, as when a crass salesman of women's underwear displays and discusses his products on a train. Or when Hannay asks a milkman if he's married and gets the response, "Yes, but don't rub it in."
The DVD offers a running commentary on The 39 Steps by Marian Keane, a member of the film studies faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I found her rather scholarly commentary quite informative, but it sounds like she's reading an essay most of the time. The DVD also provides a 29-minute documentary narrated by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. on Hitchcock's work from 1926 through 1938. I particularly enjoyed seeing scenes from many of the films Hitch directed during these years, including The Lodger (1926), Blackmail (1929), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Sabotage (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), and The Lady Vanishes (1938).
Something unusual on the DVD is the Original Press Book feature, which consists of reproductions of 1935 marketing materials for the film, including biographical information on Hitchcock, Donat, and Carroll. There are also some amusing suggested catchlines (as they were called in the 1930s) for the movie, such as "Fated to be mated with the one man she hated." I also enjoyed the DVD's Production Designs feature, which reproduces 15 outstanding drawings done for the film by its art director. The DVD also contains an audio recording (with Lux soap commercials included) of the radio play adaptation of The 39 Steps, which originally aired on December 13, 1937, and starred Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino.
Selected Special Features on the DVD: