Friday, January 18, 2013

The 39 Steps. A

I recently purchased the Criterion blu ray edition of The 39 Steps (a beautiful set, by the way), it being not only of the few Hitchcock films I hadn't seen, but also one of his most acclaimed early works. And of his British productions, it seems to be easily the best. The story is an excellent one and very exciting, the first of the director's wrong man thrillers. The locales are terrific, as Hitchcock employs both urban life and the countryside, moving between them quite naturally. It's a visual trademark of most of his espionage films, found especially in Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur. Generally Hitchcock's British movies are praised as teases, so to speak, good pictures with glimpses of the greatness yet to come. But The 39 Steps holds its own along with the master's best work. The scene and plot constructions are meticulous and devilishly clever, while the casting of Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll makes for one of the best screen couples in any Hitchcock film (Carroll, it should be noted, appears as the first official Hitchcock blonde). The other great joy of The 39 Steps has to be Hitchcock's balance of comedy and suspense, always something he was good at, yet felt even more than usual here. The stakes in the movie are as high as any in a Hitchcock story: a man has been accused of murder, and while he must escape the police he has to also find out information about a spy organization in order to prove his innocence. And yet, there is a great deal of 30s screwball action going on, more so than in most Hitchcock films. It's as funny as anything he ever did, yet I never lost a sense that I was watching a suspense story.

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