Readers’ Recommendations: The 39 Steps

thirty_nine_stepsHey everyone, it’s Friday, time for another entry in the Reader Recommendations series!

The Reader Recommendation series is intended to help me formally pursue all the great films that commenters bring up each week in discussion which I’ve never seen. If there’s a movie that comes up that I haven’t seen, but you think I should, email me @ or let me know in the comments that you’d like to participate!
PG Cooper 2This time up, our recommendation comes from PG Cooper of PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews! He’s recommended the Alfred Hitchcock film “The 39 Steps”. As a Hitchcock fan, I’m always up to check out a movie of his that I haven’t seen, so I’m psyched about this recommendation!
Click through to check out what we had to say!


My questions in bold, PG’s answers below!

1. Do you remember when you first saw the movie?

I first saw The 39 Steps on March 9th, 2013. I had a limited time before I had to go to work so I could only watch a short film, so I decided to throw on The 39 Steps.

2. Why do you think that it’s recommendable? What do you like about it?

Simply put, the film is a lot of fun. A high level of energy is maintained throughout, the leads are fantastic, and Alfred Hitchcock effectively crafts some great scenes.

3. Is the movie underappreciated, do you think? Or does pop culture have it fairly rated?

Sort of. I do really enjoy the film and wish more people knew of it, but at the same time it comes from Hitchcock, a man with so many classics under his belt I can see why the film is ignored. It also doesn’t help that The 39 Steps can be very easily compared to North by Northwest, which is on the whole a better film. Still, all that says more about the awesomeness of Hitchcock than it does anything negative about The 39 Steps.

4. Is there any particular reason you thought I should watch it, or were you just surprised I hadn’t seen it?

As I said, it’s a very fun film, that’s the main reason. But also because it is an Alfred Hitchcock film, and as a film fan I figured you’d jump at the opportunity to see more of his work.

5. Have you written about the movie yourself? (Insert plug here! LOL)

I haven’t, but if I ever do a Hitchcock retrospective (and it’s highly likely I will) then it will be discussed.

Thanks PG, my review is below!


In an attempt to be gallant, a man named Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) offers a woman safe haven at his apartment (at her request) after shots are fired in a club they’re in. Once they’re back at his place, she reveals that she’s the one who fired the shots. She’s a spy, being followed by foreign agents. She’s trying to prevent a secret being taken out of the country… something regarding the 39 steps. Hannay allows her to stay over night, but in the morning, he awakes to her find her dead. She’s been stabbed in the back, clutching a map.

He quickly finds himself on the run, wanted by the police for her murder. His only hope is to follow the map she was holding and find out for himself the secret of the 39 steps. If he can, he can expose the secret and prove his innocence. If he can’t, he’ll wind up in jail for a murder he didn’t commit.

Released in 1935, “The 39 Steps” is the earliest Alfred Hitchcock film I’ve yet to see. Hitchcock’s fingerprints are still evident, however. The plot deals with one of his favorite themes: an innocent man wrongly accused and on the run. You can also notice his impressive camera work, even though the film is still barely post silent era.

Which is the most impressive thing about the film, to me. Even though it was released less than 10 years after “The Jazz Singer”, Hitchcock manages to create some intense action sequences and put together a story that holds up well even after 80 years. It’s not exactly on the level of his later works in terms of staying viable, but the era of the film needs be taken into account. In 1999, BFI voted it the 4th greatest British Film of the 20th Century. I don’t know that it holds up that well, but reading up on it, I understand that this movie was a watershed moment in gaining British films exposure to American audiences.

As a fan of Hitchcock, I was happy to add this film to my resume, and I did enjoy watching it. As with all Hitchcock films, it tells an exciting story, and features impeccable direction. I’m uncertain whether it will have as much to offer modern audiences as the films of his later career do, but it’s still an impressive classic film.



26 thoughts on “Readers’ Recommendations: The 39 Steps

  1. Hitchcock! Yay, makes me smile 🙂
    I like The 39 Steps too, though it’s actually pretty low on my list of Hitchcock’s films because it is, as you say, pretty dang old. It is also the oldest one of his that I’ve seen so far. It was a pretty defining moment in his career though, that helped him make the transition to Hollywood. It’s pretty fun too, I like Robert Donat in it, he’s pretty cool. I’m a big fan of that move he does on the train. Also classic use of a MacGuffin with the secret plans there.
    Fun movie. Though last time I watched it I didn’t like it as much as I remembered, I still do like it a lot. Glad you could check off another Hitch film!

    • Thanks Melissa. Yeah, I was vacillating between a B+ and an A- on this one. The end really brought things up a notch for me. I think the pacing is off a bit in the movie, actually… there’s times when its very intense, and plenty of chase sequences, and Hannay is always in danger… and then once he crosses paths with the lead actress, it almost turns Rom Com a bit! That part really dragged for me. But the finale was awesome I thought, so that brought me back around in a big way. LOL 😉

  2. Sounds like a winner; I’ll have to seek that one out. Nice one PGCooper. Enticing review as always when they’re positive. 😉

    Sheriff Watson: And this bullet stuck among the hymns, eh? Well, I’m not surprised Mr. Hannay. Some of those hymns are terrible hard to get through.
    – 39 Steps (1935)

    • LOL! That WAS a funny line, actually.

      It isnt on the same level with a lot of the MTESS Hitchcocks, S, but if you’re a fan of the master, or have an appreciation for classic films, this is a good watch. 😉

  3. Classic from Hitchcock and one that I really wouldn’t mind seeing again. I’ve seen it a couple of times but it’s been absolute ages. Great recommendation.

    • It was my first time, but I thought it was pretty good myself. Might be my least favorite Hitchcock, but its the oldest one I’ve seen as well, so that has to be taken into consideration. It’s a quick one, if you do rewatch it! I was really surprised – its runtime is less than an hour and a half!

    • No doubt. I was impressed with some of the camera techniques he was playing with too. I caught a shot where they zoomed out of a car exterior, snuck a cut in and then trailed the car as it took off as if it was a seamless shot, an impressive crane shot in the finale, and a shot where he tried to catch the reflections in a bus window… but with black and white of that day, it just wasnt there yet 😉

  4. Its been 15 years since I saw this last. The opening was clunky but it picks up toward ths end. The early Hitchcock films build suspenss much like the later films do, a slow.reveal and then sudden acceleration.

    • That’s the man’s MO alright. “Clunky” is a good word for it, with the woman spy seeking refuge in his apt, then winding up mysteriously stabbed all of a sudden. LOL 🙄 Its alright though, it compensated quickly with the sequence on the train, which I thought was fantastic. 😉

  5. 39 Steps is the second Hitchcock film I ever saw as a burgeoning film geek. Our local library showed a print of The Lady Vanishes, (loved it!!) which was the first one I saw we’re talking maybe 7th grade here so Psycho and the Birds were not something I would have gotten into. But I remember 39 Steps particularly because it was the first time I decided to read a novel that a movie was later made from. The novel had some very cool elements (the flight in the heather and the plane is really well done in the book as I recall) but overall the movie was better – much more fun! It was a series, there were three books featuring Robert Donat’s character.
    Nice recky!

    • Yeah, I think I enjoyed “The Lady Vanishes” a touch more than this one as far as “older” Hitchcocks go…. but both were very good.

      I dunno, though, Jan, I was watching “Psycho” and “The Birds” in 7th grade! And I turned out just fine! LOL 😛

      It was a nice recommendation, PG did right by us. 😉

      • I was too chicken to venture into that territory at that age. Besides, we had to just watch whatever came on tv back in those olden times and my parents weren’t into taking us to movies as a family. So it was a lot of Abbott and Costello and The Incredible Mr. Limpet and whatever classics came on the syndicated channel. 🙂

  6. Hi, PG and Fogs:

    Good choice and critique!

    ‘The 39 Steps’ is a good representation of early Hitchcock just learning to appreciate and play with humor in telling a straightforward, suspenseful tale with the tools and technology at hand.

    Choppy and a bit uneven at times. The talent and trademarks are all there. Revealing greater stories, polish and refinements to come!

    • Exactly. It almost works better as an indication of how powerful Hitchcock will become later than it does as a film itself. It IS a but uneven. The portion of the film where they take shelter in the Inn overnight completely puts the brakes on things and almost derails the film before the exciting conclusion at the stage show 😯

      Still, as you mention, you can easily pick out the traits and talent that will define Hitchcock’s career!

    • Nah, man, I hear you. That is one thing I do love about classic films is that they rely on story much more than action, etc…. all the things modern films use to disguise their shortcomings. 😦

      As with all Hitchock films that I’ve seen so far, this one was really well told! (well, the stay at the Inn oculd have been cut down a bit, but…)

  7. Pingback: » Movie Review – The Company You Keep Fernby Films

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