The 39 Steps comes back to that classic Hitchcock theme of throwing the everyday man in an absurd adventure - the cinematic equivalent of an idle day dream. The film itself is a little clunky, but still full of merit. There are some great technical elements; the seamless interior to exterior car shot or the clever scream/train horn cut. The cheeky comic tone, aced by Robert Donat, is a risque delight to enjoy.
There is some beautiful photography in this film and wonderfully atmospheric landscapes. There are also some technically rather impressive shots - how about the moment when the camera suddenly circles around the back of the car and it drives off into the distance? Never seen anything like that in a film of the period. Some interesting stuff about marriage and freedom -see Donat's speech. Beautiful, magical. memorable
More interesting for how it anticipates his mature work than for the intrinsic merits of the film itself. There are some fine aspects: the dark mood of the first half, the psychological use of the sublime landscape of the moors, the risqué eroticism of the stockings scene and the chemistry between our heroes; but it's also pretty clunky, tonally unsure of itself and severely lacking in polish. Very enjoyable though.
Brilliantly economical, perfectly paced, and totally entertaining. Maybe my favorite Hitchcock to watch; it has a memorable moodiness that makes it totally unique. Donat is my favorite Hitchcock hero, with a combination of humor, grace, and self-effacing wit that outdoes both Grant and Stewart for me. Peggy Ashcroft is absolutely superb in a small early role that's a pleasantly profound surprise in this context.
Why is this always neglected while POS like Rope and Psycho are lauded. Probably Hitchcock's best use of comedy is in this film and he brilliantly uses it to invite us in this adventure. After all, if you were stuck in such an over-the-top conspiracy, how could not make fun of the absurdity. In short, the character's ironic statements help make this believable. Stop re-watching his bad crap and watch this good crap.
Filled with lots of themes that would continue to haunt Hitchcock films to come, this is an easier film to digest when the second half comes around and the screwball elements come in. There are plenty memorable characters, especially women, and it plays out entertainingly enough.
The more I see of Hitchcock's pre-Hollywood work the more I love him, as if I didn't enough already. The first half is gorgeously dark (just like Miss Smith) and every bit as ominous as Hitchcock's later works such as Notorious. The second half turns lightens things up with some screwball comedy elements (I would love to have seen Donat and Carroll in a straight comedy) and wraps up with a great finale. Great stuff.