1935, Black & White, 86 Minutes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Charles Bennett and Ian Hay
Based on the Novel by John Buchan
Original Score by Hubert Bath, Jack Beaver and Charles Williams
Cinematography by Bernard Knowles
Edited by DN Twist
Welcome to my live-blogging of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. This isn’t any in-depth analysis of The 39 Steps (for that you can check out the Criterion essay). This is just the film as I see it, literally. I was considering doing Psycho or Rear Window, the two Hitchcock films that I like more, but figured less people would be discussing The 39 Steps so I went with that (and, ya know, being the third Hitchcock film in my Top 20 of the all time is pretty damn impressive if you ask me.) I didn't know exactly what to write because Hitchcock is such a broad topic, and this was one idea I kept coming back to. Who knows if it'll be any good. But, enjoy it, or whatever it is you're gonna get out of this. Oh, but beware of typos and that sorta stuff. I am not reading through this again.
0.00.00 - Black screen. Hitchcock can even direct those! LOL, okay, maybe not.
0.00.07 - It starts off with one of those "British Board of Film Censors" cards certifying The 39 Steps has been "Passed for Public Exhibition to Adult Audiences".
0.00.18 - Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll in...
0.00.25 - The 39 Steps. Neato. I love the 39 Steps title card (above), with the letters (and numbers) reaching out at you as if in 3D. Stretching off screen to where we can't see them anymore.
0.00.40 - Aren't "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock" some of the finest words you'll ever see during the credits of a movie. Notice they didn't have "An Alfred Hitchcock Film" before it. Note to other directors - it's not just your film.
0.00.45 - In the credits there is someone for "Continuity". Some modern films could take note of that.
0.01.20 - As opening shots go, The 39 Steps has one of my favourites. Carnival-like music as the camera pans across a flashing sign "MUSIC HALL". Each letter igniting with light bulbs as the camera moves over it.
0.01.26 - The next shot is a ticket booth as people come and buy their tickets. I love the odd angle that the camera sits at. It probably serves no thematic purpose, but it looks nifty. Sort of puts you off balance right from the start.
Hitchcock doesn't show us the face of who we're following, just his shoes and his hand holding a hat as he enters the hall. How intriguing.
0.02.06 - Two men walk out on stage. One of them is a man who will become integral to the plot later on, but for now he's just a man who knows all the facts in the world. He commits to memory 50 knew facts every day. I wish I could do that, instead of committing pointless facts. His name is Mr Memory.
0.03.19 - A woman stands up to ask a question and we get out our first humourous moment. "Where's my old man been since last Saturday". My god woman, what day is it? Cause if it's been more than two days I'd be worried.
0.03.45 - And we finally see Robert Donat for the first time. He asks a question about the distance between Winnipeg and Montreal. Mr Memory doesn't answer him for some reason?
0.04.45 - We get back to Mr Donat and he asks the same question again. Hmmm, why is he so interested? It's revealed he's from Canada. The answer is 1424miles apparently.
0.05.30 - A bar fight..
0.05.50 - Somebody fires a gun. And now we're gettin' started!
0.06.10 - A woman (played by Lucie Mannheim) grabs ahold of Mr Donat's character. Outside the hall she asks him "May I come home with you?" How forward of her. He, quite prophetically tells her, "Well, it's your funeral." Oh, the irony.
0.06.40 - Hitchcock's now famous cameo. He throws a piece of litter on the path as Mr Donat and the mystery woman get onto a bus.
0.07.00 - We finally learn Donat's name - Mr R Hannay. He says he's from Canada for a few months and has taken a furnished flat in an apartment building. He asks her name and after a brief pause she let's out... "Smith?" teehee.
0.07.20 - Question time. He thinks she's an actress "Not in the way you mean." Even more intriguing.
0.07.45 - She's acting very suspicious. Making sure nobody can see her. Making sure the lights don't go on before she knows it is safe. This woman is bringing trouble. Poor Mr Hannay.
0.08.10 - Mr Hannay's coat is nice. If I were a fashionable traveler in the 1930s I would want that coat!
0.09.40 - They've swapped rooms now, but she's still a paranoid nitty. What is she up to?
0.09.55 - The phone keeps ringing. Ms Smith thinks it's for her. But how. And now she's hungry. God, she's demanding.
0.10.25 - "I suppose your name isn't really Smith" "Depends on where I am. But you may call be Annabella." I love this dialogue.
0.10.55 - And now a revelation!! She was the one who shot the gun at the music hall because she wanted to escape some men who wanted to kill her. "Really, you should be more careful in choosing your gentlemen friends."
0.11.00 - "Sounds like a spy story." Oh Mr Hannay, stop sprouting dialogue that will only prove to be true later on.
0.11.25 - Annabella is now telling Hannay that she is trying to keep a secret from being discovered. She's all very Femme Fatale.
0.12.16 - The mystery thickens. She's telling the truth. Two men outside looking sinister. Does any of this sound familiar to you? It should, Hollywood's been copying it for years.
0.12.48 - "Have you ever heard of the 39 steps?"
0.13.28 - And another clue. Be wary of a man with half of his pinky finger missing. "There is a man in Scotland who I must visit next if anything is to be done." It's as if Annabella knew she was gonna get iced in the next scene!
0.14.30 - Hannay is asleep, but in barges Annabella holding a piece of paper and as she falls over the bed she has a knife in her back. Oh deary me. This is not good for Mr Hannay, is it?
0.15.00 - Okay, so I love his coat and his dressing gown. It looks so warm and cosy.
0.15.22 - Aah, this a great bit. As Hannay looks down to the street at the men calling his house from a phone booth, Annabella's face is superimposed over the top, retelling the information he smirked at but now realises was all truth. "These men will stop at nothing."
0.15.40 - Wait. What was that piece of paper in Annabella's hand. It's a map with the place "Alt-na-Shellach" circled and path drawn out. Ya know, if this were a modern day thriller you'd laugh at the silly obviousness of it all "GO HERE!!!" but for whatever reason, Hitchcock just makes it seem perfectly normal for a man to do all this. That's why his "innocent man" movies were always so good. No matter how ridiculous the surroundings, it always made perfect sense that these men would do this.
0.16.04 - Another superimposed shot. Again, in today's movies it's annoying when a voiceover or something tells us a key note that we just heard (Like, yeah, you just told us that), but here it doesn't bother me. The viewer is much like the Hannay character. You have no idea how deep the story goes so you don't pay that close attention to the finer details, but when you realise the facts of it Hitchcock makes sure you're on the same page. He doesn't want to confuse you. He wants to make sure you can follow it and that you are going along with Hannay ever step of the way.
0.16.37 - "Quickly...quickly...quickly..."
0.16.55 - Aah, now this scene is genius. Hannay, trying to find a means of escape decides to ask the milkman for his uniform so he can get past the two men outside. He's so cheeky.
0.19.04 - I wish trains today looked like they did back then. Ya know the big steam trains. I know that's a random thought, but it's true. It was so grand back then.
0.19.10 - It's tense. Hannay is on the train hoping to escape, but will he make it? Oh, of course he will. It's too early for him not too. There's some reason great editing and cinematography in this bit.
0.19.26 - The cops show up, but why. Nobody knows what he has done at this time. How odd.
0.19.37 - And now we get an oft-used device where just as a character is about to scream - in this case the maid upon discovering Annabelle's body - we cut to something making a loud noise - in this case the train going through a tunnel and it's siren (or horn or whatever you call it on a train) going off. Back then I'm sure that was stunning, and I mean, when watching a movie like this you gotta realise that these things were cool back then. Alas, some people are nitwits and think it's stupid.
0.20.00 - Mr Hannay's cabin partners are two odd men. They're discussing corsets of all things. Comparing the old ones with the new ones, which appear to be made of some form of rubber.
0.20.16 - *gasp* Now they're actually showing a bra. BRA! In 1935. Wasn't that considering incredibly raunchy back then?
0.20.32 - Time for another tense moment as we stop at a train station. They open a newspaper. "Woman murdered in west-end flat." He knows he's in deep now. LOL, and now they're talking about corsets again.
0.22.12 - Ooh, a great shot of Hannay looking over the top of the paper to the man in his cabin.
0.23.20 - Have I mentioned how much I love his jacket?
0.23.44 - THE COPS! They're on the train - How will he get out of this one? And now another oft-immitated scene. The man on the run grabs a woman and kisses her so that the people looking for him will move right along. Yeah, I know you've seen it many times before, but I'm pretty sure this was one of the earliest times it was done.
0.24.25 - Alas, she rats him out. We can't tell yet, but this woman will be his partner in crime later on.
0.24.37 - The famous scene on the Forth Rail Bridge as Mr Hannay makes a daring escape from the movie train. He exits one of the cabin doors (back then the cabins had doors leading directing outside the train) and then moves along and goes back inside another cabin. Then down the corridor as the train comes to a screeching halt. A humourous moment in the dining cart followed by more chasing. And now... he's vanished. But we can see him hiding behing a steel girder. The train continues on. He's safe for now.
0.26.37 - The Scotland Moors.
0.27.01 - Mr Hannay must've walked for a long bloody time. He's now reached a farm in the middle of nowhere.
0.28.11 - The farmer and his wife are played by John Laurie and Peggy Ashcroft. I love the Peggy character. She's the archetype of the person who helps the man on the run simply because they believe he's innocent. The dialogue in these sequence is, for me, the finest in the movie. "Is it true all the women in London paint their toe nails?" Ashcroft's character is one who moved from the city to the country and misses it. She's really good in this brief part.
0.31.10 - The farmer thinks something is up, but the wife KNOWS there is. She sees a newspaper with an article about the murder. I wonder if Ashcroft was a silent film actress, she looks like she could've been.
0.32.20 - She's confronting him as the farmer goes to the barn.
0.32.44 - It's night time now and everyone's asleep. The farmer's wife wakes up the sound of a car horn. This is another great setpiece. She warns Hannay and is ready to make an escape, but the farmer wakes and thinks they're having an affair behind his back. It's such a tense scene. Will the farmer tell or not. More closeups of Ashcroft's face.
0.34.30 - I've decided she's my favourite performance of the film, even though she's only in it for not more than 10 minutes.
0.34.56 - The look on her face as he leaves just shows so much.
0.35.18 - Another great set piece - Hitchcock really does know how to pack em in, doesn't he? - as Hannay tries to escape from the police through the rocky mountains of the Scottish countryside. The use of silhouettes here is great and they definitely get some great scenic shots of the hills.
0.36.13 - The river is a particularly stand out moment of this chase.
0.36.26 - One thing that Hitchcock seems to have occasionally be putting in this movie is shots at odd angles. And for whatever reason, I really like them. Take the shot of Hannay under the Alt-na-Shellack sign. It only lasts for maybe 2 seconds, but it just looks so good. I can't really explain it (is there anything to explain?), I just think it's nifty how Hitchcock occasionally throws in something you don't expect, whether it be a certain shot or a character or whatever.
0.36.43 - He's reached the township now. We're smack bang in the middle of the second act here as Hannay continues to lose track of everything.
0.37.10 - Oh god, I can't understand a word these Scottish cops are saying.
0.37.37 - And now it gets even more interesting. Hannay believes he's reached the man in Scotland who will know what to do. But is anything ever this simple in a Hitchcock film?
0.37.43 - Well, he's definitely involved in some capacity, but what? Well, they're not giving it away just yet. Godfrey Tearle plays the Professor as he is called. He's really good. That sly smile he gives as the maid tells him the police are at the door is delicious.
0.38.17 - He's being introduced to all the party guests (they're having a party at the Professor's house) yet apparently he looks and smells perfectly normal despite running around the Scottish countryside for hours in five layers of clothing.
0.39.00 - These party guests are naffwits. They're sitting around asking the Sheriff (who was a party guest, not part of the policemen tracking Hannay) when he's going to catch the murderer who is wondering through the moors. Yet none of them seem to notice that a stranger just randomly showed up out of thin air mere minutes before the police showed up.
0.39.20 - Okay, this is the first time I've noticed this - Professor Jordon keeps his right hand in his pocket at all times! Every time I've watched this movie I've never noticed that, I just thought Hannay wasn't paying attention to notice.
0.39.28 - There's a man in a kilt! And were those knickerbockers???
0.39.49 - Ooh, a closeup of his uncovered hand and a brief glimpse of the other. Hitchcock knows how to lay the foundation for the surprise.
0.40.12 - They're now freely displaying his hands but not the part that counts.
0.40.30 - And it is revealed. Professor Jordan is the four-fingered man. But how can it be?
0.41.00 - "Well Mr Hannay I'm afraid I've been guilty of leading you down the garden path. Or should it be up. I never can remember." "It seems to be the wrong garden, alright." Oh god, this dialogue is great.
0.41.32 - Ever so briefly Hitchcock employs a POV shot of Hannay making his way towards an escape.
0.42.14 - The one thing that I always question about this part of the movie is what Annabella was actually trying to do. Was Professor Jordan the man she was going to see? Maybe the Professor lived there because another person for the good guys lived there? Who knows...
0.42.53 - Okay, so Mr Hannay was just shot. OMG!
0.42.55 - And now we've gone back to the farmer and his wife. Time for another oft-repeated plot device! Turns out in the pocket of the jacket the farmer's wife gave him was a hymn book, which stopped the bullet and when the Professor had left the room he escaped. It all seems so fresh even though we've seen it hundreds of time before.
0.44.00 - He's talking to the police in the large town (wherever Scotland Yard is).
0.44.25 - Well, that didn't take long for the Sheriff to doublecross Mr Hannay! Oh well, this will Surely lead to more wacky hyjinx, right? Right!
0.45.15 - He makes his escape from the policemen. Naturally, we don't see a struggle, just the actual escape. These coppers are pathetic. And mostly overweight. There's a mysterious man in a leather coat outside. "He must be inside spilling the beans" I never did get that "spilling the beans" phrase. I mean... what beans?
0.45.28 - And now for another scene that has been duplicated many times since. The man on the run joining in a parade or march of some sorts to hide from the police. Sandra Bullock did it in The Net!! I only mention The Net because that movie was essentially The 39 Steps on the Internet. It really was. Watch The 39 Steps and then watch The Net and they're very similar. I totally loved The Net when I was younger. These days it's not that special but I get a sense of glee while watching it (you know how movies you liked as a kid bring back memories). I might actually take my own advice and watch The Net later. Make it an on-the-run marathon!
0.46.09 - God, I'd never even realised myself how many scenes there are in this movie that are cinematic staples now. Right now we have a scene where Hannay enters a random building to hide from the police and is mistaken for somebody else and must now give a speech that he has no idea about to a group of people who all think he's someone else. But Hitch has a trick up his sleeve!
0.46.20 - As I've said before, Hitchcock's really good at making the audience know what page he is on. Continuously referencing things of importance and so forth. In this scene he's done two closeups of the handcuffs the police put on one hand before he escaped. He must continue to hide the loose handcuffs. This will prove vital soon.
0.46.48 - The speaker (played by Ivor Barnard) introduces Hannay as some political person I think. For some reason his character is a mumbling low-talker (hi Seinfeld!) Donat's acting in this scene is really great as he tries to slowly weasle his way through a speech.
0.48.00 - Aah, the return of the mysterious lady on the train! Madeleine Carroll. She remembers who he is, which for Hannay equals for weasling.
0.48.47 - The cops!
0.49.40 - This scene is just another where one of Hitchcock's leading men is suave enough to fool anybody. Cracking jokes and conversation with strangers just to prolong his capture and to, internally, think of a plan.
0.50.02 - So, Hannay is giving a speech about how he wishes countries wouldn't fight against each other and that everybody has a fighting chance. And this was four years before the start of WWII. Hmmm...
0.50.46 - The devilish banter between Hannay and Pamela (Carroll) is already starting. For me, this is one of the best screenplays. It just sparks.
0.51.36 - Wait a second. That's not the cops. It's the man in the leather jacket from before. And they're taking Pamela with them. Oh you just know this is leading somewhere delicious.
0.52.00 - "Isn't that police station. We're driving past it" "I'm afraid you must have misunderstood me miss, we're not necessarily going to this police station."
0.52.40 - We're now coming on my favourite scene in the film, back on the Scotland highland.
0.53.00 - The scene is the car driving at night, they stop just before a bridge. The area is covered in fog. The cinematography here is stunning, really. It just looks so atmospheric. A wonderfully written bit in the car tells us that the men are workers for Professor Jordan.
0.53.51 - SHEEP! IMDb trivia tells us the following
The 62 imported sheep, upon arriving at the sound stage, immediately went to work on the bracken and bushes that had been brought with them. The infuriated crew had to replace the real plants with ones hastily bought from a local nursery.
0.54.00 - And now they're stuck on this bridge because the darn sheep won't move.
0.54.04 - Hah! One of the Professor's goons handcuffs Hannay and Pamela together. Didn't I tell you wacky hyjinx would ensue?!? The look of Donat's face is priceless. I love it!
0.54.13 - And now they're on the run. They jump off the bridge. To a lot of audiences this scene would be silly, but I think it's thrilling. The design of it all is great.
0.54.32 - There's no picture of it that I can find but there's one quick closeup shot on Hannay holding his hand across Pamela's mouth as they peer out from under the bridge (no, it's not the shot to your left. It's much closer and it's more in the shadows)
0.55.05 - This scene must really be hurting Madeleine Carroll. Apparently she got cuts and welts on her wrists from being dragged around in cuffs all day, and she's being thrown around and falling over on the set and being dragged under railings. Suffering for her art, I suppose.
0.55.35 - Another waterfall sequence, expertly done. Again, the design and the cinematography just looks amazing (I think it's the fog that helps it). And yes, there is a scene of the two hiding behind a waterfall. Where else have I seen that recently?
0.56.26 - This one particular shot is glorious. It's the two men standing on a rock, but they only occupy the bottom left corner and the rest is just empty apart from fog and moonlight. It's glorious. The design in this sequence seems so gothic and macabre with all the fog, scary looking trees and such. I mean, I know it's all just sets and such, but I love the feel that they're obviously sets but that you can't quiet see the edges.
0.57.00 - *sigh* this odd couple banter is just so good. "There are 20 million women in this island and I get to be chained to you."
0.57.56 - Madeleine Carroll really isn't even in this movie for that long.
0.58.30 - Another famous sequence. The man on the run and the woman he's got with him unwillingly decide to stop at a hotel and must convince them they're a real couple. Let the people at the hotel not see the handcuffs.
0.59.59 - Donat's smile is so cheeky!
1.01.27 - More great dialogue. More odd couple hyjinx.
1.01.55 - This lady that runs the hotel is obviously stupid. Pamela is clearly distressed and upset yet all this old nitty can think about it how adorably in love they are. I love Donat's facial expression in this scene. It's sort of madcap or panto-esque.
1.02.22 - Mmmm, sandwiches. That reminds me: I'm hungry.
1.03.00 - How risque. A closeup of Pamela's legs as she rolls down her stockings. This comedy as they drag each other around the room is funny stuff.
1.04.19 - Hannay keeps whistling a tune. I can't actually remember what it signifies, but again, Hitchcock likes to make sure you're still following the story.
1.05.15 - She's smiling! It suits her.
1.07.39 - She's also a smart cookie. Well, sort of. I mean, it was smart to try and get out of the handcuffs, but maybe not so smart as to nearly break her hand trying to squeeze it through. OUCH! This scene is really good though. Not a single word or sound as she makes her escape while Hannay sleeps.
1.09.17 - And now the truth is about to come out for Pamela. A Hitchcockian trait of a woman eavesdropping at the top of the stairs. She finally discovers than Hannay has been telling the truth when the two goons from earlier arrive asking questions.
1.10.10 - "He'll be picking up our friend at the London Palladium." Who is the friend and why the Professor going to get him? All so intriguing. The 39 Steps does the whole spy thing so well. It's relatively easy to follow, but also intricately interesting. It makes me giddy watching it.
1.10.42 - And the old nitty to the rescue! Just as her husband was about to "spill the beans" she came in and shoed them away. Eep. There's not long to go now. The big conclusion is just around the corner.
1.12.30 - Now it's as if we're in romantic comedy territory!
1.12.50 - Hannay awakes and sees Pamela's missing... but then she pops up! You know, as much as I've said I love the coat that Donat's character is wearing (well, the one earlier in the movie), the outfits that Carroll's Pamela wears are really quite vile. A good vision of one is below and another further down. I think it's because bows are revolting and I hate them. OMG Remember when Renee Zellweger wore that dress to the Oscars and the back of it was this GIANT bow. Or this year when Charlize Theron wore that dress that had a big massive bow that looked like it was a tumour attached to her shoulder? Yeah... gross.
1.13.28 - Pamela mentions she overheard the two men mention the 39 steps. It's been a while since those words were actually muttered and we still have absolutely zero idea as to what they actuall are.
1.13.44 - "And he's picking somebody up at the London Palladium." "The London Palladium?" Hello climax.
1.14.17 - "You button-headed nilly" lol. Nice insult, Hannay!
1.14.47 - I honestly don't know why, but I always love shots from the point of view of a moving vehicle as it moves through a city with lots of lights and neon. The usual suspects are New York City, Las Vegas and Tokyo. This scene is on London and even though it's in black and white, it still looks amazing.
1.16.00 - It's CRAZY MONTH at the London Palladium.
1.16.06 - Hmm... this looks familiar. A club of sorts with a big flashing sign. Sort of gone full circle to the start of the movie. Can you guess the twist?
1.16.15 - There's a three stooges type of performance going on at the moment with pie-in-the-face routines and all!
1.17.30 - Ugh, that bow outfit is disgusting!
1.18.18 - Hannay, sitting in the pit, noticed a mysterious man sitting in one of the balconies. It's MINI-BONOCULAR TIME! Yay.
1.18.25 - It's the four-fingered professor! What is he up to. Scheming, no doubt. Oh here comes Pamela is her horrible floppy bow dress (below)
1.19.00 - *whistles* It's that tune that's been stuck in his head since the start of the movie.
1.19.13 - MR MEMORY!!!!! Of course. This is really an ingenius plot device. At the start of the film it appears to be nothing more than a piece of background noise, but now at the end he's back and it all makes sense. Have you figured it out yet?
0.19.38 - The Professor has a gun! Why on earth would be want to kill Mr Memory?
0.19.49 - Hannay's got it! "All the information's inside Memory's head." The deal: If this man can remember every single fact in the world, some Government agency used him to carry "the 39 steps" out of the country... but we still don't know what "the 39 steps" are. Oh, so intriguing. And really smart and so well played.
1.20.28 - Just as Hannay's about to be taken away by the police he breaks free and asks Mr Memory "What are the 39 steps?" and Mr Memory's face is one of blank horror. I wish I could find a picture of it! Oh, wait - I do! Yay.
1.20.34 - "The 39 steps are an organisation of spies, collecting information on behalf of the foreign office of..." *BANG* Professor Jordan shoots and Mr Memory goes down.
1.20.48 - Trapped up in the balcony he escapes the only way how, jumping onto the stage. The chaos in this scene is done really well I might add.
1.20.58 - And then, quite literally, the curtain comes down on the Professor as the police surround him.
1.21.28 - Backstage, Mr Memory is lead to a seat. He tells of how the formula he was going to take of the country was the biggest job he ever had to remember.
1.22.11 - LOL! Turns out the secret formula he was remembering was one that makes automobile engines completely silent! I know right, it's sorta lame - but it is 1935. It's sorta like how they kill all the aliens in Independence Day with a computer virus. It all comes down to something completely nerdy.
1.22.23 - And with that Mr Memory slumps and dies. Aww, poor guy. At least he donated his brian to science!
1.22.32 - And then in a wonderful closing shot Hannay and Pamela stand back from the crowd and slowly hold hands. It's an interesting tale for the children methinks.
And there we go. Finished. That was fun. I know it was enlightening or anything and it was basically just me telling you what was happening on screen, but it was good for me. I got a lot out of it.
So, as of right now The Film Vituperatem (the host of the Alfred Hitchcock blog-a-thon) doesn't have other people's entries up, but when he does I'll either update this or do a seperate entry. But, check 'em out.
I'm a bad person. When I use pictures on my blog (which is a lot) I rarely acknowledge them. Usually when it's just picture of a movie or whatever to go along with it I dig it out from my own personal collection of images (I have over 2000 movie pictures saved on my comp from over the years). But, I only had one 39 Steps image before I started this and, quite clearly, I have used more than that, so I'll try to list all the sites I got the lovely images from (I was surprised there were so many different ones for a movie from 1935! But that's Hitchcock I suppose.)
Classic Movie Favorites
DVD In My Pants
Movie Title Screen Page